November 5, 2014

Eisgruber, Council Have Candid Conversation On Town/Gown Issues

The wisdom and kindness of the Dalai Lama came up more than once at Monday’s special meeting of Princeton Council with Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber. Council members were also joined by University Vice President and Secretary Robert K. Durkee and Community and Regional Affairs Director Kristen Appelget.

The special meeting took place in Monument Hall and members of the public were asked to comment before Mr. Eisgruber and the Council got down to conversation on topics ranging from the impact of University expansion on the character of Princeton; community service by students; lengthier train commutes between Princeton and New York City; student representation on Council; public safety; and possible future stress on the town concomitant with University expansion.

Mayor Liz Lempert kicked off the proceedings by congratulating Mr. Eisgruber on his first year as the University’s 20th President (he was appointed April 2013) and welcoming him to his second public meeting with Council; the first was last December. The meetings are designed for discussion of areas of shared interest and concern.

Ms. Lempert cited last week’s visit of the Dalai Lama to the University, which was attended by students, faculty, and members of the public, in which the Tibetan leader spoke about “building trusting relationships to work at disagreements with mutual respect.”

In his opening remarks, Mr. Eisgruber welcomed open channels of communication between Town and Gown and then launched into a description of the University’s campus planning process currently underway. Details of the plan can be viewed at:

Noting that the University has doubled in size since 1965, Ms. Lempert asked how the town could retain its distinctive character in view of future campus expansion. “We have both grown and developed since I was a student at Princeton from 1979 to 1983 and the character of the town matters to the University,” offered Mr. Eisgruber, adding that as time goes on, the University will continue to add areas of study and would need to engage in conversation with Council as “we move forward.”

Council President Bernie Miller raised the possibility of additional stops on the NJ Transit rail line between Princeton Junction and New York City. If new stations were added, this could potentially result in a longer commute between the two. Mr. Miller asked whether there was anything the University could do to make sure that the accessibility to New York City that Princeton now enjoys isn’t diminished. Mr. Eisgruber agreed that this was a shared interest and would consider the possibility, suggested by Mr. Miller, of talks with NJ Transit about increasing the number of non-stop or limited-stop trains between the Junction and Manhattan’s Penn Station.

Prompted by a question from Heather Howard, Mr. Eisgruber provided an update on the handling of sexual assault on campus. In September, the University announced changes to its sex and gender discrimination and sexual misconduct policy following an investigation by the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education (OCR), which had told the University that its current procedures failed to meet the requirements of applicable federal laws, including Title IX and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

“We now have a set of practices that are fair to both accuser and accused,” said Mr. Eisgruber, adding that in addition to the changes made to comply with law, “bystander intervention” programs were being considered.

At one point in the proceedings, Jo Butler asked whether Mr. Eisgruber had read the New York Times Sunday Review article (“The Missing Campus Climate Debate” by Evan J. Manderynov) criticizing universities for their stance on climate change and suggesting that endowment investing such as that which influenced the demise of apartheid in South Africa could be used by universities to effect change.

Mr. Eisgruber said that he had read the article over Sunday morning cereal and, as on similar occasions when media directed criticism to the nation’s universities, had felt that he was being addressed personally. However, he added, there is a protocol for such issues, involving a committee and the Board of Trustees, to assess concerns with respect to the University’s mission and values.

In this case, he said: “The analogy to South Africa is wrong. We all have a responsibility to sustainability.” The University’s duty, he said, was to tell the scientific facts of climate change “rather than take a political stance with endowment dollars.”

To Patrick Simon’s request to predict where there might be future stress for the town as a result of University expansion, Mr. Eisgruber spoke of the need to expand the University’s computer science programs for which more space and re-use of existing space would be needed. He also anticipated the growth of the student body. “We turn down more students today than ever before and our capacity to help socio-economically disadvantaged students will grow as the student body grows,” he said. “This is where we will have to work together.”

This March, Princeton University offered admission to just 1,939 (7.22 percent) of the 26,641 who applied for the class of 2018. Applications have been rising for the past decade and it seems inevitable that the student body will increase from its current number of some 5,200. The impact of such growth is among the items being examined by Urban Strategies, the firm hired by the University to manage its strategic planning process. Since freshmen and sophomores are required to live on campus, it seems likely that more student housing will be needed.

Mr. Durkee pointed out that Urban Strategies will be engaging the Princeton community via a new website and blog which will “seek comment from anyone who would like to be involved.”

Toward the end of the meeting, Jenny Crumiller asked Mr. Eisgruber to give his personal opinion of the Dinky station relocation, the University having announced Monday that the new permanent station is to open November 17.

As a Dinky user, Mr. Eisgruber anticipated that once all of the construction was over, the new Arts and Transit neighborhood would be an improvement. “I’m excited about it,” he said.