Provost Christopher Eisgruber credits Princeton University with helping influence the way he has led his life. Now, he’ll get the opportunity to influence the direction of the school.
Princeton introduced Eisgruber, its current No. 2 administrator, as its 20th president Sunday, promoting a graduate and veteran in-house administrative hand to lead the Ivy League school.
Eisgruber, a 1983 Princeton graduate, is a former Rhodes Scholar and a constitutional expert who has spent the last nine years as Princeton’s provost, or chief academic and budget officer, and had always been considered among the likely contenders. He will take office July 1, succeeding Shirley Tilghman, who announced last fall she planned to step down after 12 years.
“Princeton has shaped my life ever since I first set foot on this campus 34 years ago,” Eisgruber said at his introductory news conference Sunday at the university’s Nassau Hall. “It is such an honor to lead this university.”
Eisgruber said he would focus on several key issues, citing his commitment to creating greater “diversity and inclusivity” and stressing the importance of a liberal arts education. He also discussed how the school could use online education to reach more people.
The appointment closes out a year of exceptional turnover in the presidencies of Ivy League and other elite universities, with Yale, Brown, Dartmouth and MIT all selecting new leaders within the last 12 months. Several have chosen to go with familiar faces rather than outsiders. Yale recently named its provost, Peter Salovey, as president, and the University of Georgia also promoted its provost, Jere Morehead.
Eisgruber will be the first Princeton president who received his undergraduate degree from the university to serve as president since Robert Goheen, who served from 1957 to 1972. The next two presidents, William Bowen and Harold Shapiro, both had graduate degrees from Princeton, which has exceptionally close ties to its alumni.
Eisgruber also has a law degree from the University of Chicago, was clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and taught at New York University Law School before joining the Princeton faculty in 2001. He became provost in 2004.
Tilghman’s tenure saw the university navigate the global financial crisis, which dented Princeton’s $17 billion endowment — the fifth largest overall and by far the largest per-student of any major university — but did not prevent substantial investments in financial aid, programs and buildings. Princeton has substantially increased financial aid in recent years, and replaced loans entirely with grants, so students don’t have to borrow.
Tilghman oversaw the expansion to a four-year residential college system and the construction of a new residential college. She also pushed the arts, and her administration spent substantial time in contentious negotiations with local authorities over plans to rebuild an entire neighborhood on campus as a new arts and transit center. The plan received final approval late last year.
Tilghman will continue to serve as president through June. She plans to take a sabbatical before returning to the faculty as an instructor.
“April 21st will go down as a great day for Princeton,” Tilghman said, referring to Eisgruber’s appointment. “He is the leader we need for the next decade.”
Eisgruber “has played a central role in many of the key initiatives of recent years, some of which he now will be responsible for bringing to fruition,” said Kathryn Hall, the chair of Princeton’s board and head of the search committee, in a statement released by the university. “He is well prepared to provide strong leadership as Princeton makes important decisions in areas ranging from online learning to globalization to increasing the diversity of our campus community, as well as in addressing challenges and pursuing opportunities that we cannot foresee.”
However, she added: “As valuable as this preparation is, the principal reason we selected Chris was because of the personal qualities that make us confident that he will lead Princeton with vision, imagination, courage, and conviction.”