On a Saturday in Newark in November 1748, Aaron Burr Sr. transitioned into his new role as University president with a flair: speaking for 45 minutes in Latin from memory.
Two hundred and sixty-five years later and 40 miles farther south, Christopher Eisgruber ’83 follows in Burr’s footsteps.
This Sunday, the University will formally install Eisgruber as the University’s 20th president in a ceremony that dates back to Burr’s time as the second president of the College of New Jersey, Princeton’s original name. While the inaugural speech will be in English and likely scripted, the purpose of the event remains the same: to introduce the new leader to the University he serves.
The University expects 1,000 people to attend the formal ceremony on the green in front of Nassau Hall on Sunday at 1 p.m., according to University Spokesperson Martin Mbugua. The day will feature a ceremony highlighted by Eisgruber’s inaugural address, a reception and a concert featuring the band Grace Potter and the Nocturnals.
Before his address, Eisgruber will publicly take the oath that he previously took at the June meeting of the University’s Board of Trustees.
“I do solemnly affirm that I will support the Constitution of the United States,” the University’s charter’s oath says. “I do solemnly affirm that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the government established in the State of New Jersey under the authority of the people. I do solemnly affirm that I will faithfully, impartially and justly perform the duties of the Office of President of Princeton University to the best of my ability.”
The University’s charter requires that Eisgruber say the oath — which will be administered by Chair of the Board of Trustees Kathryn Hall ’80 — but the installation ceremony is not a required event, Mbugua explained. No Bible will be used during the oath, though a Bible has been used in previous administrations of the oath.
Among the 1,000 attendees will be other University presidents with Princeton affiliations, including Penn President Amy Gutmann, who preceded Eisgruber as Princeton’s provost, and Brown President Christina Paxson, who was dean of the Wilson School from 2009 to 2012. Mark Burstein, Princeton’s former executive vice president who left to become president of Lawrence University in Wisconsin this past summer, will also attend.
Not all presidents affiliated with the University will make the trip to Princeton, however. Purdue President and former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels ’71 and Maria Klawe, the former dean of Princeton’s engineering school who is now president of Harvey Mudd College, will not attend, their staffs said.
Some other Ivy League presidents, including Lee Bollinger of Columbia and David Skorton of Cornell, will not attend the ceremony, their staffs said. New Dartmouth President Philip Hanlon will be inaugurated himself this Friday and will not attend Eisgruber’s ceremony two days later.
Eisgruber has also invited individuals close to him personally, Mbugua said. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Patrick Higginbotham, whom Eisgruber clerked for after he graduated law school, will attend the ceremony, his staff said. Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, whom Eisgruber also clerked for and whom he counts as a mentor, will not attend, the Supreme Court spokesman said.
Though the governor of New Jersey, an ex officio member of the University’s Board of Trustees, has attended and spoken at some presidential installations in the past, Gov. Chris Christie’s spokesman said that he will not attend Sunday’s ceremony.
Sunday’s installation is the latest in a series of ceremonies that have diminished and then expanded in grandeur throughout Princeton history. Called inaugurations in earlier days, the ceremonies reflected Princeton’s desire to establish itself as the most storied institution in the country, according to Barksdale Maynard ’88, a University historian.
“Princeton helps pioneer this idea of academic pomp — the robed gowns, the mace that gets carried along, all of the rituals — Princeton embraces these. And it’s doing that in part to be the American Oxford,” he said.
Like Burr’s speech, the inaugural address of John Witherspoon, Princeton’s sixth president, was delivered in Latin at commencement in the fall of 1768 in front of a “vast Concourse of People,” according to a letter written by Witherspoon recounting the ceremony, according to The Princeton Companion.
By the time Woodrow Wilson, Class of 1879, was installed in 1902, inaugural addresses were delivered in English. Wilson delivered his speech, “Princeton in the Nation’s Service,” from the steps of Nassau Hall, the same place where Eisgruber will deliver his on Sunday. A century ago, John Hibben, Class of 1882, formally succeeded Wilson in a ceremony featuring national dignitaries including President William Howard Taft.
“One hundred years ago, the president of Princeton was a figure of great national importance. Ordinary people might have known the name of the president of Princeton,” Maynard explained.
In recent years, installation ceremonies have become larger. William Bowen GS ’58 was installed in June 1972 in a brief ceremony in Nassau Hall’s Faculty Room without a formal procession. Fifteen years later, Harold Shapiro GS ’64 was installed in a small, intimate ceremony in Richardson Auditorium. Shirley Tilghman’s installation returned the ceremony to the lawn in front of Nassau Hall and, like Eisgruber’s, featured a concert.
Bowen, Shapiro and Tilghman will all attend the installation on Sunday, according to Mbugua.