Shirley Tilghman, who has just announced that she will step down as president of Princeton at the end of the academic year, was chosen as the successor to former president Harold Shapiro in part because the powers that be thought it about time that the university had a female in that office. She was the first president of Princeton not to have been a former student (graduate or undergraduate) and she didn’t come with extensive administrative experience.
Among her accomplishments is the increased financial aid package that Princeton now offers to students from lower and middle income circumstances. Undergraduates at Princeton overwhelmingly come from upper-middle-class and affluent families, and there has been a push under Tilghman’s watch to bring in students (including whites) from less affluent backgrounds student body. The idea is a good one and Princeton has enough money in scholarship aid to pull it off.
And under her presidency the undergraduate student body expanded by over 500 through the addition of Whitman College (named after benefactor and Princeton grad Meg Whitman). The big advantage of this is that the ratio of recruited athletes to other students goes down. While racial affirmative action still prevails, in keeping the number of athletes constant while increasing the total number of students admitted, a higher proportion of students who get into Princeton now make it on their brains, not athletic ability.
One of her biggest mistakes: Her claim in the face of the Larry Summers affair that “the data that would suggest there are innate differences in the abilities of men and women to succeed in the natural sciences is nonexistent.” This is ludicrous. Textbooks (e.g. Diana Halpern’s Sex Differences in Cognition, and Doreen Kimura’s Sex and Cognition) have provided exhaustive data. Only the wilfully blind could ignore the facts.
Another dubious decision: her refusal to allow the student Love and Chastity group to set up a center on campus that would be comparable to the feminist-oriented Women’s Center and the LGBT center. The purpose of the center would be to present a haven from the campus hook-up culture and a place for students of traditional values regarding sex and marriage to have a place where they could share ideas and feel comfortable talking with students of the opposite sex. The students even offered to pay for the center with donations from supportive alumni but Tilghman nixed the idea. Her response, an open letter printed in the student newspaper, seemed remarkably weak. Shirley Tilghman is a nice person without a strong political or ideological compass. In academia, this indicates someone who will almost automatically absorb the secular leftism of the dominant campus ethos and the New York Times editorial page.