Presidential search committee gathers input at open forums

The University’s presidential search committee did plenty of listening last week, holding four open forums in three days to seek suggestions and comments.

The first, which took  place during a meeting of the Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC), drew observations from students, faculty, and staff on a successor to President Tilghman, who is stepping down at the end of the academic year. The other forums targeted specific groups — members of the local community, staff, and graduate students.

The committee heard a wide range of views, with some common themes but sometime contradictory recommendations. At the CPUC meeting, one speaker urged the committee to consider endorsing a candidate from outside academia — a businessman or scientist “with a fresh perspective” — while another said experience with research and the faculty was most important.

Other advice: Select a candidate who values “interaction among different departments,” who embraces diversity, who is concerned about mental-health issues, who will ensure that Princeton continues to play a leading role in higher education, who will pay more attention to the humanities and social sciences, who has a vision of “where Princeton fits in the technological society of the 21st century,” who is more than just a competent leader but is willing to take some risks and “can inspire us to excellence,” and who has a “strong tie to the traditions of Princeton.”

And then there was what might be called the X factor — that the search committee should pick a candidate who “will excite you … You are our great hope.”

A different theme emerged from the forum for members of the local community, reflecting some of the tensions that emerged during the University’s contentious battle to win approval for its arts and transit neighborhood plans and a move of the Dinky station.

Liz Lempert, the mayor-elect of the consolidated Princeton that will be formed in January, said she hoped the next University president would be more concerned about town-gown relations, and other residents said they hoped that Tilghman’s successor would be more involved in community issues.

The graduate-student forum drew an audience of about 40, with speakers expressing support for Tilghman’s leadership style, urging that her successor have an academic background, offering pros and cons of adding professional schools at Princeton, and voicing some frustrations with graduate housing, parking, and transportation.

At the forum for staff — which drew about 80 people — and other sessions, there were many questions about how the committee planned to go about its work, but few details were divulged.

“We’re approaching this with a very open mind,” said Kathryn A. Hall ’80, the chairwoman of the University’s board of trustees who is also heading the search committee. “We don’t have a specific set of criteria.”

The committee has not retained an outside firm to assist with the search, Hall said. “We think that with the depth of our committee, we have really great sourcing and we don’t need an external source,” she said. “By the end of December we will have quite a list of candidates.”

The committee said that other open meetings will be scheduled. A website has been created to gather suggestions and comments on challenges facing the University, characteristics that the new president should bring, and names of specific candidates who should be considered.

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