President's Statement on the Trustee Diversity Report

Sept. 12, 2013

President Eisgruber's statement on the Report of the Trustee Ad Hoc Committee on Diversity, Sept. 12, 2013

Princetonians have powerful reasons to care deeply about the diversity of the University community. Only by drawing the best talent from every sector of society can we achieve the scholarly and educational excellence to which we aspire.  Only by integrating multiple, divergent perspectives into our discussions can we realize a fully vibrant intellectual and residential life. And, as United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor rightly observed a decade ago, only if "the path to leadership [is] visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity" can our nation's universities "cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry."

Beginning with the presidency of Robert F. Goheen '40 *48, Princeton has acted aggressively to make its community more inclusive. The undergraduate student body is now vastly more diverse than it was in the past. The University has done less well, however, with other segments of its population. Recognizing both that Princeton has achieved great change, and that more could be accomplished, President Shirley M. Tilghman convened a special committee composed of trustees and members of the campus community in January 2012 to examine issues related to the diversity of Princeton's faculty, staff and graduate student body.

That committee, co-chaired by Trustee Brent Henry '69 and Deborah Prentice, the Alexander Stewart 1886 Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs and chair of the Department of Psychology, today publishes its report. The report comes with the unanimous endorsement of the Board of Trustees, and it has my full support.

I urge every member of the Princeton community to read the report. Those who do will find insightful observations about the challenges we face and creative thinking about how to make further progress.

One of the report's great strengths is its acknowledgment that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The report recognizes that Princeton's capacity to make progress will depend upon the pipeline of available talent. In some academic departments, for example, progress toward diversifying the faculty will be limited until Princeton and other universities diversify their doctoral programs.

The report contains numerous detailed recommendations for heads of academic and administrative departments to consider. Underlying these recommendations are three critical themes:

  • Departmental responsibility. Academic and administrative departments know best how to diversify and sustain high standards of excellence in their own area. They should be given the freedom and the responsibility to determine how to focus their efforts to achieve maximum impact.
  • Central support. Effective action will require resources. The University must be ready to provide these resources so that departments can pursue diversity in ways that sustain or improve the quality of their research and teaching programs.
  • University-wide accountability. University leadership should monitor departmental efforts and provide regular progress reports.

These three themes provide a promising strategy for real progress toward a more diverse and inclusive Princeton. I am wholly persuaded by the report's emphasis on the importance of departmental responsibility. This point has special relevance to faculty hiring and graduate student recruitment. Our academic departments have the expertise to make the judgments about quality on which Princeton's excellence depends. We necessarily rely on that expertise in our personnel processes. The committee's diversity strategy both respects and leverages this critical element of Princeton's academic culture.

The Department of Molecular Biology's impressive graduate recruiting program provides a compelling illustration of how a departmentally based approach can succeed. As the report describes in detail, the department set out to increase the diversity of its doctoral program through a variety of measures, including an innovative, on-campus summer program for underrepresented minority students.  The department sought and obtained central resources to support this effort, which has rapidly transformed the racial demographics of its doctoral program.

Because the report's strategy is departmentally based, its implementation will depend crucially upon discussions and actions in the departments. I will launch this process at an upcoming meeting with the chairs of all of the academic departments. The report recommends that Princeton begin its efforts by sponsoring multiple pilot projects, and I have asked Provost David S. Lee and Dean of the Faculty David Dobkin to solicit proposals from departments interested in conducting such pilots. Dean Dobkin is creating a special advisory committee that will help to select, support and monitor these projects.

I have also asked Dean of the Graduate School William Russel and Vice President for Human Resources Lianne Sullivan-Crowley to identify immediate steps that their offices can take to move in the directions recommended by the report. The Graduate School will create a Diversity Committee composed of students, faculty and staff. The school also plans to work closely with academic departments on three major topics: graduate student recruitment; retention and climate issues; and fostering faculty collaboration with minority-serving institutions. The Office of Human Resources has begun working with administrative departments to develop a stronger overall staff diversity and inclusion strategy, including specific guidance on creating unit-level diversity plans. University Services and Campus Life are commencing with piloting the proposed approaches.  

I am grateful to Trustee Henry, Professor Prentice and the entire committee for their exceptional work on this report. They have provided our entire community with thoughtful guidance about a commitment critical to the University's future and, indeed, the nation's future. The committee's work is now done, but our community's work is only beginning. The committee has given us recommendations, not a blueprint or a set of instructions, much less a self-executing plan. The report will produce results only if we embrace its challenges, give careful thought to its proposals, devise our own strategies and programs, and make diversity and inclusivity integral components of this University's commitment to scholarly excellence. I look forward to working with all Princetonians to build upon this important report's insights and recommendations.