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Eisgruber ’83 addresses alumni, defends value of Princeton education

While the media and public often take a short-term view of the benefits of a college education, the University is a long-term enterprise, University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 told an alumni audience on Thursday at the Class of 1959 Reunion Seminar.

“We’re investing in our students … with the idea that 20, 25, 30 and beyond years after their graduation, they’re going to make a difference in the world in a way that justifies the extraordinary investment that this University makes in them,” Eisgruber said. “And they’re going to make that difference in ways that we can’t possibly predict.”

University faculty are encouraged to pursue the most fundamental and interesting questions in their fields, Eisgruber said. He said these types of questions do not always need to have immediate practical applications.

The University’s investment in basic research can, however, pay off. As an example, Eisgruber mentioned chemistry professor emeritus Edward Taylor’s research on the pigmentation of butterfly wings. The research ultimately resulted in the discovery of a drug for the treatment of mesothelioma, and the University’s share of the proceeds from the resulting patent paid for the construction of Frick Chemistry Laboratory.

With regard to the University’s future, expanding the size of the student body will be an important issue to consider, Eisgruber said.

“There are extraordinary students every year whom we turn down, whom we’d be proud to have on this campus,” he explained. “One of the questions that we always have to be asking ourselves is, ‘Would it be possible for this University … to take a few more?’”

Regarding the country as a whole, supporting public universities, whose budgets have been widely strained in recent years, will be critical to fulfilling the mission of American higher education, Eisgruber said, explaining that a college education is still a highly valuable investment. It may be possible to achieve some cost savings by mixing online and residential education, he noted.

The University contributes to the betterment of the country’s education system through its alumni who work for Teach for America and in education policy. Campus research on education is also valuable, Eisgruber said.

Eisgruber added that he credited alumni for helping to make the University the most affordable college in the country.

Keith Wailoo, vice dean of the Wilson School, and Vincent Poor, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, spoke at the seminar about the goals and successes of their respective departments.

Wailoo explained that the Wilson School hopes for its Master in Public Affairs students to graduate without debt, so they can pursue public service opportunities without feeling financially pressured to take a private sector position. He added that the department’s successes include collaboration with other departments, the depth of its faculty’s experience, accepting more students as part of its open enrollment policy and the success of its graduates.

Poor said the engineering school has organized its investments around four key research areas: energy, environment, health and security. These investments, he said, are reflected in the establishment of the Keller Center, the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment and the Center for Information Technology Policy.

Major changes to the engineering school’s curriculum will be focused on integrating other departments and disciplines, such as the social sciences and humanities, into the engineering coursework, Poor said, noting that engineering is the application of scientific principles to practical applications.

Poor said the attrition rate of engineering students from their first year to graduation is 15 percent, explaining that this number is very small compared to those of other engineering schools.

The talks took place in McCosh 50 at 2:30 p.m.

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