Wave of the future

Shapiro advances full agenda

Ruth Stevens


The Shapiros have been on hand for everything from P-rades to presidential visits during their 13 years at Princeton. They will continue their strong ties with the University after he completes his presidency next year.

As far as President Shapiro is concerned, this year should be like any other in his administration.

"I expect to just move along as if I was going to be president in 2001-02," said Shapiro, who Sept. 22 announced plans to complete his term as Princeton's leader at the end of this academic year in June.

"I do not think we should skip a year just because I will not be here to see the fruits of these developments," he said. "I think it is very important not to mark time."

His key priorities, he said, are to bring to completion as many initiatives as possible -- and to start some new ventures. He mentioned taking the next steps with the new Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts, Lewis-Sigler Institute in Integrative Genomics, Center for the Study of Religion and Frist Campus Center. He also discussed celebrating the Graduate School centennial, improving a variety of academic programs, and considering the intellectual property issue.

He said he would continue to implement the Wythes Committee recommendations, which provide several important strategic directions for the University. A key issue this year is deciding where to locate a new residential college to house the eventual 10 percent increase in the undergraduate student body. When that facility is completed in three or four years, additional students are expected to be admitted one class at a time.

"We are working on not only the physical siting and the nature of that college, but what should it be in a programmatic sense -- should it be a two-year college or a four-year college, and how will it relate to the existing colleges?" he said. "It could be just another one exactly like we have or it could have some distinctive aspects. There is a committee of faculty, students and administrators this year working on that."

He also hopes to continue initiatives aimed at recruiting high quality students and faculty as well as improving undergraduate student aid programs to more effectively meet the needs of lower- and middle-income families.

"I would like to, if at all possible, extend our commitment to financial aid to students and do what I can in terms of recruiting faculty and next year's entering class to be sure academic year 2001-02 is even more exciting than this year," he said.

For some time, Shapiro has been scheduled for a tour to celebrate the successful completion of the 250th Anniversary Campaign. He plans to visit alumni and friends around the country and in such places as Hong Kong and Tokyo to thank them for their support.

When asked if he was at all concerned about losing momentum during the final year of his presidency, Shapiro responded, "Our agenda is so full, I cannot imagine that. There is just too much movement and too much to be done. And there are too many other people working hard on these issues."

Looking ahead to June

Because he is still very focused on the matters at hand, Shapiro has not had much time to think about his plans after June.

He has said he will take a sabbatical leave next year to prepare for returning to the faculty in the Department of Economics and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He could return to the campus as early as the spring semester.

"I very purposefully kept up my writing and my teaching because I knew I would be coming back to the faculty sometime," he said. "I felt if I did not keep that up during the time I was president, it would be very hard later."

Although Shapiro and his wife, Vivian (see related story), plan to stay in Princeton, they may spend some time away from the campus next year.

Shapiro expects to teach and conduct research in bioethics -- an area of interest to him since the early 1990s. An economist by training, he first began doing work on the periphery of this field when he looked at the ethical background of various national healthcare plans. Then, in 1996, he was asked by President Bill Clinton to chair the National Bioethics Advisory Commission.

"I could not have been more surprised," he said. "I cannot say why I was appointed, but it seemed like an interesting thing. Fortunately for me, there were 17 other wonderful members of this commission who had spent their lives in this area. They educated me and I educated myself over the succeeding four or five years, and I have now become quite focused."

He is primarily concerned with the interface between bioethics and public policy. "I am particularly interested in how that interface works out in a society where the moral high ground is occupied not by one single set of beliefs, but by different beliefs which have to co-exist peacefully," he said.

Although his interest is in other areas, such as stem cell research, he plucked an example from current events to illustrate his point.

"Take RU-486 (the controversial abortion pill recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration)," he said. "Here is an issue on which there are very reasonable moral positions on both sides. We have to occupy the moral high ground together. We cannot just banish one. Obviously, public policy has to take one stance or the other, but it has to do so in a way that extends as much respect as possible to other thoughtful views."

Shapiro, who has been a member of many other federal and state panels as well as higher education groups, said he is not sure how active he will be in those pursuits in the future.

"I hope I will continue some of that," he said. "It is hard to say whether or not I will scale back. Until I get a little practice at a new life, I am not quite sure. I have been a university president for over 20 years. It is hard for me to even remember exactly how I divided my time before. So I will just have to wait and see.

"I do not know if I will end up having more free time or not," he continued, "because there is so much I want to do. But I will have more flexibility with my time. My time will be, in some sense, more my own."

Shapiro said he is looking forward to spending more time with his family. He mentioned the possibility of some hiking trips with his wife, and visits with his four daughters and 11 grandchildren.

As he spoke with enthusiasm about his plans for the future, he also looked back at the Princeton presidency with a bit of nostalgia. "Whoever gets appointed will have one of the great opportunities in American higher education," he said. "I hope that he or she will enjoy it as much as I have."

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