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Princeton's first woman president to step down

September 22, 2012|By Matt Pearce
  • Princeton University President Shirley M. Tilghman waves as she marches with some alumni during a May 2008 parade in Princeton, N.J. Tilghman, the first woman to serve as president of Princeton University, says she'll leave her post at the end of the academic year.
Princeton University President Shirley M. Tilghman waves as she marches… (Mel Evans / Associated Press )

Princeton University’s first woman president, Shirley Tilghman, announced Saturday that she plans to step down at the end of the school year in June.

After an 11-year run, Tilghman, 66, informed the university’s Board of Trustees on Friday before taking the announcement public in an emailed message to students, faculty and alumni on Saturday. She wrote that “there is a natural rhythm to university presidencies” and that hers was drawing to an end.

“I intend to take a year’s leave, and return to the faculty and to my other passion — teaching — in the years to come,” she wrote.

The plaudits soon rolled in. “Shirley Tilghman has provided exceptional leadership for Princeton over these past 11 years,” Kathryn A. Hall, chair of the Board of Trustees and expected leader of the search for the next president, said in a prepared statement.

 “An amazing amount of what's good about Princeton today is due to Shirley Tilghman,” tweeted Zachary Woolfe, a writer and music critic.

Tilghman, a biology professor for the school before her unexpected nomination to the presidency in 2001, presided over a significant expansion of the university’s financial aid progrm for the student body, which  increased during her tenure. She also guided an overhaul of Princeton's  residential college system.

She had continued to teach throughout her term, which draws to an end after the recent completion of a $1.88-billion fundraising project.

“We didn’t know this was going to be the precise time, but we knew once the campaign was over it was probably time for the president to move on," University Vice President and Secretary Robert Durkee told the Daily Princetonian. "We all hoped it would come a little bit later.”

Tilghman, a Canadian, graduated from the Queen’s University in Ontario before receiving a PhD from Temple University in Philadelphia and joining Princeton as a professor in 1986.

The committee to replace her will consist of the university’s nine trustees, four faculty members, two undergraduates, one graduate student and a member of the university’s staff.

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Twitter: @mattdpearce

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