Princeton University

Princeton Weekly Bulletin   September 25, 2006, Vol. 96, No. 3   prev   next   current

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Q&A with President Tilghman

Taking a stand

Tilghman at Commencement

President Tilghman delivering her 2006 Commencement address (photo: John Jameson)

Princeton NJ — In her 2006 Commencement address, President Tilghman lamented the “adamantly polarized” nature of today’s world and urged the new graduates to take stands on important issues while retaining the spirit of inquisitiveness and open-mindedness that Princeton seeks to instill in its students. Below, she addresses her own and the University’s contributions to the public discourse.

As a university president, are there certain issues on which you feel it’s important to speak out publicly?

I’ve been careful to restrict public pronouncements to two areas where I have professional expertise. I have felt that I had the right to speak about stem cells and evolution, which as it happens were two very important public policy issues over the last five years. I certainly didn’t speak about them on behalf of Princeton, but I felt that I had the professional credentials to speak about them publicly. The other areas I’ve addressed are directly related to higher education, such as: the status of women in science and engineering; the importance of investing in science and engineering generally; the importance of the partnership between the federal government and universities to create innovation; the importance of access, which I feel particularly strongly about.

This relates to an issue that you brought up at Commencement: the lack of thoughtful public dialogue on key issues. What does Princeton do to address this?

We’re doing two things that come to mind immediately. One is just the way we educate students: The fact that our educational methodology involves a great deal of conversation — conversation among students, conversation between students and faculty members. The fact that the seminar and the individual one-on-one are two of the most important venues we have for teaching our students how to engage in discussion in a respectful, civil way — using your brains and not your belly.

The other is the kind of things that come out of, but are not restricted to, the Woodrow Wilson School — bringing a broad cross-section of people to campus to meet with students, to give public lectures, to teach in some cases. And it’s important to take the research that is going on in the Woodrow Wilson School, which is highly relevant to the issues of the day, to Washington or to Trenton or to wherever the appropriate place is. I think Dean Slaughter has been particularly aggressive about ensuring that our faculty members are in those cities talking to policy-makers from the perspective of the public policy research they are conducting.

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