Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber discussed plans to expand the undergraduate student body, the new campus plan, sexual assaults on campus, diversity, public safety, transit issues and more at his annual public meeting with town officials on Monday night.
In the early part of 2016, the board of trustees for Princeton University will release a document that provides “a flexible framework” for the decision making process regarding the new campus plan that will be of interest to residents in the town, Eisgruber said.
“The document doesn’t include a list of what the University is going to do, but a set of priorities and a set of projects that might be evaluated,” he said.
“In this campus plan we have asked the planners to think about a 10-year plan within a 30-year framework,” Eisgruber said. “I underscore this because it requires a plan to have optionality within it…Doing this campus plan is unlike the last one. We don’t know what projects are going to be moving forward. The strategic planning framework document is meant to accommodate a variety of possibilities. Decisions we make over the shorter term may the have very large implications for what happens in longer term.”
The school’s current football stadium was built where Palmer Stadium used to be located, for example. Eisgruber said the school could have put the stadium on property it owns in West Windsor and that would have meant different options in Princeton.
“How is the campus going to relate to peripheral lands?” Eisgruber said.
One option is to use them for athletic facilities. Another option is to “park people over there (in West Windsor) and bring them into the university. Those properties could also have other kinds of mixed uses that might be complimentary to what is going on over on this side of Lake Carnegie, but with a direct connection to our teaching and mission,” Eisgruber said. “We’ve asked the campus planner to think about all those possibilities.”
Councilman Patrick Simon told Eisgruber members of the Princeton community have raised concerns about University properties on the edge of the campus like the Butler Tract, Alexander Road, and the Springdale golf course.
“There is uncertainty about what is planned, people are concerned about demolition and construction, people are concerned about changes to streetscapes and neighborhoods, and then there is the conversion of some University properties to tax-exempt status,” Simon said, adding that despite school meetings with residents, people still feel frustrated. Simon asked Eisgruber how the school could improve community relations proactively to address concerns.
“We appreciate that there is a sensitivity in town and we all care about about the uses of the properties,” Eisgruber said. “There is a lot of concern about the future of the Butler Tract. I expect it to be residential in character. We don’t know exactly what the plans are, but the strong likelihood is it will be residential in character. I understand the concerns and sensitivities where properties are located in residential neighborhoods.”
Eisgruber said the school will get feedback from residents during the planning process, and find ways to partner and cooperate with the town. At the same time, he said the school needs to think about its own priorities.
“There are imperatives that cause universities like ours to think about what it is we need to do to seize research opportunities that are important to us and the world,” he said. “There will continue to be growth…I can’t say anything globally or specifically but the direction of the campus plan will be reassuring on the issues you describe.”
Asked how many students the school plans to add to the undergraduate student body, Eisgruber did not provide numbers and said it is possible the school will have figures in the spring. The last time the student body was expanded in 2001, 125 students were added to each class year, for a total of a 500 students, or roughly an addition of one residential college, Eisgruber said.
“That’s a natural kind of unit for a University like ours to think about,” Eisgruber said. “If you want to make sure you are supplying students with the same kind of support students have currently, you have to be attentive. It’s harder to do things quickly. It’s the reason those numbers are relatively small compared to large state institutions.”
Eisgruber said the school already has been adding the faculty and graduate students needed for any expansion, and that those additions have been driven by intellectual concerns.
“I think we have the teaching capacity in most of our departments to meet student demands,” he said. “We will have new academic initiatives that are going to require new faculty…growth will be in direct student support. The McCosh Health Center is jammed to the gills. If we add students we need to support the healthcare needs of those students…The fitness center is the most densely used square footage on campus. More potential exercise equipment could not fit in the space without blocking someone’s access to something.”
Councilman Lance Liverman asked about efforts to hire local employees.
“I wish we had time to sit down in front of a fireplace with marshmallows and hot cocoa together,” Liverman said. “I know I sound like a broken record, but have you tried to hire some of the local people here in town?”
Eisgruber said it is important to hire locally when the school can, but it is also important to hire the most diverse talent pool the school can hire. He said the school can look for ways to do both.
Asked by Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller whether the school would adopt an earned sick leave policy similar to one the town is planning to adopt, Eisgruber said he could not comment because the issue is at a level of detail he is not familiar with.
Eisgruber praised the relationship between the town police department and the University, and said the school has a good set of disciplinary procedures in place. He said the diversity of the school’s public safety department is increasing. He said the number of sexual assault complaints has increased since the school adopted new procedures. “On the policing side I feel we have our house in order,” he said.
“We should get more reports, because want to be able to respond where there are problems and issues,” he said. “This affects not only universities. It affects especially young women and some young men.”
He said the number of girls ages 14 to 18 who are sexually assaulted is shocking and astonishing, and that both the town and the University must consider more broadly the cultural roots of the issue. “We focus a lot of our attention on what it is we can do to keep these kinds of assaults from occurring in the first place,” he said, adding that the school has emphasized bystander intervention. The school started running an extra shuttle bus between the eating clubs on Prospect Street and the campus dorms in October. Eisgruber said adult monitors ride the bus, which also serves food and water to students in addition to providing safe transit home. “Adult supervision is involved where things otherwise might go badly,” he said.
Councilwoman Jo Butler asked Eisgruber about the role of alcohol on campus and whether he thinks the minimum drinking age should be lowered to 18.
Eisgruber said there is a correlation between alcohol assumption and sexual assault, adding that the issue of alcohol should not be analyzed in a way that blames victims. “Alcohol can be damaging without sex assault being involved,” he said. “If you put rules around it that make it prohibitive, you can just drive behavior underground.” He said he is not convinced reducing the drinking age would reduce binge drinking or improve issues related to sexual assault.
During comments about diversity on campus, Eisgruber criticized New York Times writer Frank Bruni for his recent piece “The Lie about College Diversity”, calling the column irresponsible.
“He asserted with no evidence that there are not gains to campuses with diversity,” Eisgruber said. “During the occupation of my office, I had to find places other places to work. Those were tense days. But even that kind of thing, that interaction, comes out of the diversity of the college campus.”
Eisgruber said the Black Justice League sit-in was a movement by students who are concerned about entrenched stereotypes and systemic racism in society. He said the movement was directly related to the Black Lives Matter campaign and discrimination on campus. “Even if we disagree with the tactics or some things they said, it is important for us to come together as University and community around that, and be sensitive and attentive,” he said.
School officials, including the head of public safety, are concerned about contact between public safety and visitors to campus, he said.
“We want to make sure there is not a sense there is profiling. It can just take one incident or misunderstanding,” Eisgruber said. “Diversity in the public safety force is extremely important. One of the things we are paying more attention to on the University campus is the kinds of cues we send to students about identity. We are finding ways to show we embrace a diverse identity through artwork, iconography, and examples invoked in public language.”
Regarding partnerships with the town, Eisgruber agreed that the town and University can work together on issues like public transit and biking. The new entrepreneurship hub has created an important connection between the school and town, he said.
“It is an important site in town to students. It makes them feel they are crossing the boundary out of the orange bubble,” he said. “I’m hearing from students, faculty, and alumnithat in order to execute the educational and research mission of the school, we need to form the kind of partnerships the hub exemplifies. The impact we want to have in the world depends on that kind of relationship. How is it we can be a partner to the town and the surrounding region? Technology is an important theme in that.”