December 16, 2015

Eisgruber Talks to Council About Town/Gown Priorities

At a meeting between Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber and Princeton Council, Mr. Eisgruber touched on a host of issues ranging from expansion of the student body to sexual assaults on campus. The meeting was held at the former Borough Hall on Monday evening.

This is the third time in three years that the governing body has invited Mr. Eisgruber to speak about issues pertinent to “town and gown.” “Maintaining an open channel is important,” Mr. Eisgruber said in his opening remarks, adding, “Three years is sufficient to call it a tradition at this point.”

The University is still in the early stages of its new campus plan but will release a document providing a framework for the process in early spring of next year, Mr. Eisgruber said. While that document won’t list exactly what plans the University has, it will include “a set of priorities and a set of projects that might be evaluated,” he said. Reports from various task forces will be included. “There are many that matter to the town.”

Prominent among key issues are the robustness of the school’s liberal arts model, expansion of the student body, a continued commitment to affordability, a focus on public service, the impact of technology on education, and the increase of interest among students in engineering.

“Last year, we graduated 30 percent more engineers than in the previous year,” Mr. Eisgruber said. The recently completed Andlinger Center for Energy and Environment on Olden Street is an example of the University’s commitment to engineering. “I’m very proud of the new Andlinger Center and I hope the town is proud.”

Mr. Eisgruber said he hopes to change the fact that the University now turns down a higher number of qualified students than ever before. He said that the last time the school expanded the student body was in 2001, when 125 students were added to each class year for a total of 500. That is akin to the addition of one residential college.

The recent opening of the school’s Entrepreneurial Hub on Chambers Street has provided an important connection between the school and the town. “I think it really mattered to the students that it be located in the town,” Mr. Eisgruber said. “We need to be more outward-looking in forming those kinds of partnerships.”

Councilman Lance Liverman asked Mr. Eisgruber about hiring local residents for campus jobs. “My question is like a broken record,” he said, referring to the fact that he has asked it at previous meetings. “I’m glad you continue to push on it,” Mr. Eisgruber replied, saying there is no plan yet but he hopes he can come back with a better answer at next year’s meeting.

When Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller questioned Mr. Eisgruber about whether the University would support a policy of earned sick leave similar to one being considered for adoption by the town, he said he didn’t know enough about the University’s direction on the issue to comment.

Councilwoman Heather Howard asked about public safety issues, specifically policies regarding sexual assaults “I think we have a good set of procedures in place,” Mr. Eisgruber responded, adding that a lot of focus has been placed on bystander intervention. But the number of girls aged 14 to 18 who have been sexually assaulted is “shocking and astonishing,” he said. The school has begun running an extra shuttle bus with adult monitors on board between the eating clubs on Prospect Street and the campus dorms in an effort to create a safer environment.

Councilwoman Jo Butler asked Mr. Eisgruber his thoughts about lowering the drinking age to 18 as a way to lessen damaging incidents involving alcohol. While there is a correlation between alcohol consumption and sexual assault, “The critical question is how do you respond to that correlation,” he said, adding that he was not persuaded that lowering the drinking age to 18 would help.

Mr. Eisgruber praised the cooperation between Princeton police and the campus police. “This is really an area where conversations seem positive to me, and very different [from in the past],” he said, singling out Princeton Police Chief Nick Sutter for special mention. “I thank the town and the police force for the cooperation they’ve provided.”

Asked by Councilman Patrick Simon about concerns in the community regarding ongoing and new development by the University, Mr. Eisgruber said, “We appreciate that there is a sensitivity in a town we all care about,” adding, “I think campus planning will be reassuring on those fronts.”

Another topic brought up was diversity. Mr. Eisgruber criticized a piece by New York Times columnist Frank Bruni this past Sunday titled “The Lie about College Diversity,” calling it irresponsible. The column’s assertion that there are not gains to campuses with diversity is wrong, he said. Referring to the recent occupation of his office by the Black Justice League concerned about racism, he said, “I had to find other places to work. Those were tense days. But even that kind of thing, that interaction, comes out of the diversity of the college campus.”

Mr. Eisgruber said the University wants to make sure there is no sense of racial profiling between public safety officers and visitors to the campus. “It can take just one incident or misunderstanding,” he said. “Diversity in the public safety force is extremely important. One of the things we are paying more attention to on the campus is the kind of cues we send students about identity. We are finding ways to show we embrace a diverse identity through artwork, iconography, and examples invoked in public language.”