Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 2
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
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Township Pursues Dialogue About University’s Contribution

Ellen Gilbert

At its Monday evening meeting Township Committee endorsed a resolution requesting “a meeting with the President of Princeton University to initiate a dialogue with the goal of achieving fairness and equality with Princeton University and the taxpaying residents and businesses of Princeton Township.” 

“We’re basically offering a handshake,” said Committee member Lance Liverman. “We’re hoping that the positive relationship the Township has had with the University will continue.”

Deputy Mayor Chad Goerner echoed Mr. Liverman’s sentiments, describing the University as “a tremendous partner” of the Township. “The real goal here is to create a dialogue. We’ve done the due diligence through the Citizen’s Finance Committee, and we’re prepared to move forward.” Mr. Goerner said that he regretted that the resolution lacked an acknowledgment of the University as “a critical partner.”

“This should just be a continuation of past discussions,” said Borough merchant Henry Landau, striking a similar note in an email. “Why does it have to be so formal? The University is the reason many of us have stayed here, and made a living. They understand we all have to work together, to maintain this environment.”

Other comments from Township Committee members and members of the public were less conciliatory. Committeewoman Sue Nemeth suggested that a failure to achieve “a long-term, fair arrangement” with the University could spell ever more economic hardship for the Princeton community. “We’re facing one of the harshest economic downturns in the history of our country, and it’s likely to get worse,” she commented.

Citing more generous arrangements between schools such as Harvard and Yale and their respective “host” cities, School Board President Alan Hegedus expressed “a debt of gratitude to Township Committee for bringing up this resolution.” He reported that a similar resolution will be introduced at the January 26 meeting of the Board of Education.

“Princeton University gives us valuable caché but it overestimates its contributions,” said Jane Sheehan, who has resided in both the Borough and the Township over the last 30 years. “The University gets people to come because of the quality of the public schools. Then they have the advantage of living in Princeton.”

Princeton University Director of Community and Regional Affairs Kristin S. Appelget said that she was troubled by some “negative connotations” suggested by the resolution and several of the comments made during the evening. She noted that since October, the University has paid over a quarter of a million dollars to support its participation in the local volunteer fire department, describing it as an “extremely unique” form of aid to the community. She also noted that “this is a tough time on both sides of Nassau Street,” with the University having to cut programs and lay off employees as a result of the difficult economy.

Objecting to the suggestion that other urban schools are doing more than Princeton in supporting their local municipalities, Ms. Appleget said that “that is absolutely not the case,” and asked that “some fair comparisons” be made.

Finally, she noted that in its request to meet with University President Shirley Tilghman, the resolution implied that Ms. Tilghman had been unwilling to meet with municipal representatives in the past. “That is not correct,” she observed. “She will be very pleased to sit down with you.” On a more positive note, she said that she appreciated Mr. Liverman’s and Mr. Goerner’s comments about a “long-term partnership” between the Township and the University.

Mayor Bernie Miller picked up on this this theme in his comments. “I’d like to emphasize the fact that Princeton Township is approaching this in a non-adversarial manner,” he said. “We hope to initiate a dialogue; no accusations are being made on either side. We recognize the long symbiotic relationship between the University and the community.”

“We’ve mentioned President Tilghman’s name not because she has declined to meet with us,” continued Mr. Miller, “but because she is identifiable to us as the CEO of the University, and just as we would ask to meet with the CEO of a corporation being asked to be a better citizen in the community, we are asking to meet with her. There is no implication that anyone at the University has refused to meet with us in the past.”

Acknowledging the generosity of the University in helping complete past municipal projects like the new public library building, Mr. Miller observed that “We’re all going to be here for many years, and I think that we have finally realized that rather than asking for support for specific needs, there is a need for a stable, ongoing financial relationship.” 

Former Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand is decidedly not among the proponents of taxing the University. “The University does so much for us; it’s a gift that money can’t buy,” she said in a recent interview. “I’m very much against this initiative. We stand to lose more than we will gain.”

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