University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 spoke in a conversation with alumni about the three priorities that he came into office with: reaching out to the larger Princeton community, building his administrative team and continuing the execution of key initiatives that Shirley Tilghman had launched during her time in office. He specifically answered questions with regard to the expansion of class size, the value of a liberal arts education, the University’s legacy admissions policy and grade deflation.
“This place was great when we were students here. But, it’s even better now,” Eisgruber said. He pointed to alumni contributions for the strength and development of the University.
Eisgruber discussed the possibility of increasing class size as a way to expand and strengthen the University community. He said that he believes a place on this campus is a gift for every student, every faculty member and something he hopes that other people can also experience. He added that he believes a spot at the University can make a difference in society, noting that Princeton is currently turning down a large number of students that could greatly benefit from this experience that has the ability to so deeply affect students’ lives. However, he posed the question as to whether the University can maintain standards of excellence and the ties of community that make the University so intimate if class size increased.
The Class of 2014 has a 95 percent pledge rate in contributions, Eisgruber noted. He also said that graduates of recent classes are giving back and coming back to the University at rates higher than any other class.
“We give financial aid that has our students graduating with little or no financial debt,” Eisgruber said.
He discussed the unique value of the liberal arts education that Princeton provides and cited educators and institutions across the globe that point to the University’s unique ability to promote creativity, research and the value of a liberal arts education differently from any other institution.
Eisgruber went on to discuss the University’s strong legacy admissions policy, noting that legacy students are as competitive as any other students on campus and as deserving of a spot at the University as any other student. He recognized that the University admits legacy students at four times the rate other students are accepted, noting that if the admission rate for Princeton is 7 percent overall, legacy students are admitted at approximately 30 percent.
However, he said that this higher admission rate does not mean that it is easier for legacy students to gain admission. He explained that students’ legacy status simply breaks the tie in competitive admissions decisions, but that those students once accepted come into the door with as much of a competitive edge as any other student. Eisgruber noted that both Pyne Prize winners this year were legacy students and are proof that students that come in as legacies are no less competitive or ambitious. Selection for the Pyne Prize is conducted blind of factors such as the student’s background or race.
On grade deflation, Eisgruber noted that, 10 years ago, the adoption of the University’s current the grading policy was in an effort to distinguish between students that are excellent, very good, good and just fair. The University’s grade deflation policy allows faculty to appropriately evaluate students and to distinguish among students that are all very qualified, he said.
Eisgruber said that this grading policy is consistent with the University’s obligation to provide a challenging environment for students who strive to reach their full potential.
He said that, while there are reasons to keep practicing grade deflation, there may be ways to achieve objectives of the policy without maintaining grade deflation. He noted that the University has a committee in place currently reviewing grade deflation and will follow up with a decision in September.
“We need rigorous evaluation and feedback in some form,” Eisgruber said.
Eisgruber also said that the University is engaging in a campus planning and review process to evaluate the physical landscaping of the campus, noting that human contact is an important factor to doing so. Eisgruber recognized the importance of density on campus and said that it is something the University will surely look to if plans to expand the student body become more concrete.
“A lot of what we have at Princeton depends on the character of the spaces here at the University,” Eisgruber said, adding that he is confident that Princeton can maintain the character of the campus that makes the University unique, even with an expansion of the student body.
The conversation with alumni took place Saturday morning of Reunions weekend at 10:30 a.m. in Richardson Auditorium.