Photos by Seth Affoumado and Steve Freeman
In a pair of conversations with Princetonians on both U.S. coasts, President Christopher L. Eisgruber ’83 provided updates on the state of the University during the first year of the Venture Forward campaign and welcomed the Princeton community back to in-person alumni events and activities.
On March 23 at the Westin St. Francis hotel in San Francisco, Eisgruber spoke with Mellody Hobson ’91, co-CEO and president of Ariel Investments, about an array of topics, including the impact of the pandemic on Princeton, the future of the University, and the decision to remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA).
And in New York City’s Alice Tully Hall on April 12, Eisgruber chatted onstage with David Remnick ’81, editor of The New Yorker magazine. Their discussion touched upon college rankings, affirmative action, the University endowment and free speech.
The events opened with the Venture Forward video, and Alumni Council President Mary Newburn ’97 provided post-interview remarks that included an invitation for alumni to gather together on campus at Reunions next month. The evenings in both cities featured pre- and post-event receptions as well as special recent alumni receptions.
“The energy, excitement and enthusiasm at both venues was electric and palpable,” said Andrew Sun ’17, co-chair of the ACEC’s Ad Hoc Committee on Recent Alumni who helped plan the receptions. “It was profoundly moving to see so many tigers, of all stripes, join together in what felt akin to a long awaited and much needed family reunion. There’s nothing more special than having an opportunity to celebrate in the orange and the black and with these receptions, we showed just how ready and eager recent alumni are to engage in and with Princeton.”
The events themselves signified that Princeton is back and in-person, and a series of similar presidential chats has already been scheduled for Princeton (Oct. 22), London (Dec. 6), Boston (Feb. 6, 2023), Chicago (March 9, 2023) and Washington, D.C. (April 18, 2023) as part of the Venture Forward campaign.
Here are some of the top takeaways from the two conversations:
Next fall, Princeton will welcome the largest number of undergraduates in history when the University opens two new residential colleges adjacent to Poe Field. Enrollment will increase by approximately 10 percent, and the new colleges will allow the University to rebuild or rehabilitate some of the older residential colleges, including First College, which will be renamed Hobson College.
At the San Francisco event, Hobson asked about the impact of expansion, and Eisgruber said he believes the University can expand carefully, without losing its unique academic environment, and extend the transformative Princeton experience to more students.
“If our aspiration is to make audacious bets on talent and to make a difference in the world and reach the highest levels of excellence, we have to recognize that there is talent in every sector of American society,” Eisgruber said. “And only if we cultivate that talent and enable it to go out in the world and make a difference is this country going to be as good as it needs to be. That, to me, is the motivation [for expansion].”
Eisgruber pointed to plans for Hobson College, which will stand in the footprint of what was once known as Wilson College, and Toni Morrison Hall — formerly West College — as opportunities to celebrate a more inclusive Princeton. “I think we at Princeton need to be proud of who we are as a community today and who we aspire to be,” he said.
In New York, Remnick asked about U.S. News & World Report magazine’s college rankings, which had prompted Eisgruber to write an op-ed in the Washington Post about the limitations of such ratings. “It doesn’t make sense to compare universities the way you compare football teams,” Eisgruber said. “Universities are carrying out different missions in different ways that benefit students differently.”
“Our mission should be to make a difference in the world for the better, through unsurpassed teaching and research and with a profound commitment to service,” he added, “and we should be willing to do that wherever that puts us in the rankings.”
The audiences at both gatherings participated in a question-and-answer session and mingled afterwards at an alumni reception — a preview of what’s to come at Reunions and other upcoming events.
“Education is about bringing people together. It’s about these serendipitous interactions, the rituals, the traditions, the things that you can do together on stages, in classrooms and on athletic fields, and we had to give all that up for a period of time,” Eisgruber said. “It’s been wonderful this year to get people back together on the campus again and to interact in person with the kinds of energy that are so important to the place.”