February 14, 2024

Eisgruber Delineates “State of the University”

By Donald Gilpin

In his eighth annual “State of the University” letter last month, Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber described “a challenging political landscape” for universities with “increasingly virulent threats to academic freedom and institutional autonomy,” as he highlighted Princeton University’s ongoing commitment to inclusivity, free speech, and academic excellence.

In the wake of campus conflicts across the country, including protests, charges of Islamophobia and antisemitism, and congressional hearings leading to the resignations of the presidents of the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard, Eisgruber pointed up a “healthier” campus climate at Princeton. He described that climate as “a credit to faculty, students, and staff who have searched for ways to communicate civilly about sensitive issues, to support one another, and to comply fully with Princeton’s policies that facilitate free speech in ways consistent with the functioning of the University.”

Noting the University’s policy, in line with the First Amendment, to protect even speech that may be offensive, he wrote, “Free speech and academic freedom are the lifeblood of any great university and any healthy democracy.”

He added, “Universities must protect even offensive speech, but that does not mean we must remain silent in the face of it. On the contrary, we must speak up for our values if we are to make this campus a place where free speech flourishes and where all our students can feel that they are ‘hosts’ not ‘guests.’”

Calling for a forceful response to criticism recently faced by universities, Eisgruber went on to enumerate a number of remarkable accomplishments at Princeton University in the past year. “Antagonism toward higher education has been especially intense over the last three months,” he said. “We must speak up for what we do and for our extraordinary institutions, which are so valuable to learning, to research and to the future of our nation and the world.”

Recent achievements at Princeton that he cited include exceptional faculty scholarship and research; ongoing expansion and increasing socioeconomic diversity of the undergraduate population; significant improvements to undergraduate financial aid, graduate student stipends,

and postdoctoral salaries; new facilities under construction for the School of Engineering and Applied Science and Environmental Studies, the Princeton University Art Museum, and the Omenn-Darling Bioengineering Institute; and the recent establishment of an artificial intelligence hub in partnership with Gov. Phil Murphy and the State of New Jersey Economic Development Authority.

A dominant theme of Eisgruber’s letter was “this relentless quest for excellence” at Princeton.  He noted, “Princeton’s academic excellence has increased substantially across every segment of its undergraduate population.” 

In pointing out the outstanding quality of faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates, Eisgruber concluded, “In short, the Princeton of today is better than that of yesterday, and the Princeton of tomorrow will be even better than the Princeton of today.”

Addressing directly recent attacks on diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, Eisgruber insisted that inclusivity and excellence go hand in hand. “America’s leading universities are more dedicated to scholarly excellence today than at any previous point in their history, and our commitment to inclusivity is essential to that excellence,” he wrote.

Two upcoming open meetings will provide opportunities for community members to discuss the State of the University letter with Eisgruber and to ask questions: at a session of the Council of the Princeton University Community on Monday, February 19 at 4:30 p.m. in the Frist Campus Center multipurpose room and in a town hall meeting for University staff members at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, February 21, in Richardson Auditorium.

Eisgruber, a 1983 graduate of Princeton, has served as Princeton University’s 20th  President since 2013. Before that he was Princeton University provost for nine years starting in 2004 and a member of the University faculty for three years before that. He earned his MLitt in politics at University College, Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, and his law degree from the University of Chicago Law School.