Remarks on being named Princeton's 20th president

April 21, 2013

Let me first say how happy I am to be here today. I am grateful to the Board of Trustees for their confidence in me. And I am especially grateful to my friend and mentor, Shirley Tilghman, whose leadership has made Princeton University stronger today than at any point in its history.

This University has shaped my life ever since I was a freshman here 34 years ago, and over the years I have developed a heartfelt appreciation for the characteristics that make it special. These include what I consider to be — with some possible bias — the best alumni in the world and the most cohesive and collegial campus community of any major research university. Most importantly, this University aims like no other to be simultaneously a great research university and the world's best liberal arts college, and we insist on the audacious belief that these are not merely two equally important goals but mutually reinforcing parts of a single ideal.

Over the last four decades — beginning in the Goheen administration in general and with co-education in particular — Princeton has added another important commitment, to inclusivity and access. That commitment has many manifestations, including our unsurpassed financial aid program. But we also know that this is an area where we have more work to do. A place at Princeton is a gift, one that can transform the life of any student, faculty member, or other scholar lucky enough to receive it, and we need to be sure that this gift is fully available to the entire range of people who can benefit from it.

Not surprisingly, the education we offer is getting a lot of public attention these days. This is an exceptional time at Princeton and in higher education more generally. On the one hand, places at Princeton are now more highly sought after than at any previous time. On the other hand, residential liberal arts education is increasingly the subject of public criticism and concern about its cost and efficacy. And people are talking about online education as bringing with it unprecedented change to the higher education sector.

I expect Princeton to thrive in response to these challenges, but to do so we will need to ask ourselves some tough questions. For example:

* How can we make the gift of a Princeton education accessible and beneficial to a greater range of people?

* How can we ensure that our research addresses the questions that matter most to this nation and to the world?

* What can we do to engage fully every student who comes to this University?

* What does the advent of online education mean for Princeton, and how do we wish to participate in it?

* How can we cooperate with and assist other universities and colleges that share our scholarly ideals but face severe financial or political pressures?

On a more local level, I hope that we can find ways to strengthen the University's civic partnership with the town of Princeton and surrounding communities. Lori, Danny and I moved to Princeton even before I joined the University faculty, and we are proud to call this our home. I look forward to working together with Mayor Lempert and her colleagues in the years ahead.

All of this will require a lot of conversation and discussion, which I regard as a good thing. People in my academic field of constitutional law debate whether there is such a thing as "a living Constitution." Whatever you think of that debate, I am very sure of this: Princeton's traditions are living things. They are constantly reinterpreted, recreated, refreshed and reinvigorated by a devoted body of students, alumni, faculty, staff and friends who are drenched in every possible shade of orange and who care about this University like no other. That, to me, is Princeton's not-so-secret weapon and its greatest advantage. So I'll conclude where I began: I'm so honored, and so happy, by the opportunity to lead the Princeton community as it writes the next chapter in this University's extraordinary history. I am thrilled to accept this appointment.

Thank you.