March 1, 2023

Eisgruber Visits Council For Annual Dialogue About Town and Gown

By Anne Levin

Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber delivered his annual update on the University to Princeton Council at its meeting Monday evening, marking the 10th year of what has become something of a tradition.

Echoing some of the issues put forth in his recent State of the University letter to faculty, students, and staff, Eisgruber spoke briefly about the campus since returning to full, post-pandemic enrollment. A continued commitment to diversity, increases in stipends and financial aid, engagement with the town, and the value of a liberal arts education were among the topics he spoke about before listening to comments and concerns from members of Council.

Eisgruber expressed his gratitude to the town for its work with the University during the pandemic. “Obviously, we’re not completely out of it yet,” he said. “On the other hand, I’ve been very happy over the last week to watch the numbers dropping in Mercer County and New Jersey, and it’s great to be able to collaborate in the way we did. So thank you for that.”

The addition of two new residential colleges and the largest incoming freshman class in University history are among the achievements of the past year, Eisgruber said. More students from low- and middle-income backgrounds are enrolled. Students who use the University’s Pay with Points program, which allows those with unlimited meal plans to use some dining points at selected off-campus locations, have brought “fresh enthusiasm for interacting with the town,” he said. “I think they’re also very interested in engaging with the town in other ways, including volunteer efforts.”

Among Eisgruber’s concerns for the future is the effect of technology on attention spans. “One of the most profound questions right now is how you take the ethos of a liberal arts university and project that into this rapidly evolving technology we are dealing with right now,” he said. “Distraction has risen to the top of my list.”

Councilwoman Leticia Fraga thanked Eisgruber for listening to concerns from the governing body over the years, and making good on them. As an example, she recalled describing to him the Habitat for Humanity project to build two

houses in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood, and the University’s resulting contributions of funding and “sweat equity” to get the job done. Fraga also told Eisgruber that the town is exploring options for a community center. “This will require collaborations with several entities including the county as well as many of our community partners, which I’m hopeful will include the University,” she said.

Councilman David Cohen told Eisgruber he has had discussions with University Architect Ron McCoy about collaborations related to resilience and reducing the effects of climate change, specifically regarding stormwater planning. “I know it’s on Ron’s radar, and I want to put it on yours and hope we can get full support,” he said.

Councilwoman Eve Niedergang asked Eisgruber if there is any thought to developing housing for low-income workers at the University who can’t afford to live locally and have to commute. Council President Mia Sacks focused on the importance of maintaining the quality of the town’s public schools. She asked if certain resources, such as the expertise of engineering students, could be channeled in an advisory capacity, especially related to the expansion of facilities that will be necessary as new affordable housing is built.

Councilman Leighton Newlin also brought up the possibility of collaborations with the University, specifically involving the Princeton Housing Authority. “For the future that I think is very bright for public housing in Princeton, I hope that we will continue to collaborate and use the Princeton Housing Authority as a petri dish for the School of Architecture and School of Engineering, and other schools that might have some sort of adaptability to public housing in Princeton,” he said.

The next meeting of Council is March 13 at 7 p.m.