Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman, the first woman to lead the Ivy League university, said she will retire next year.
Tilghman, 66 and a molecular biologist, was a faculty member for 15 years before being named to run the university in 2001. She will step down at the end of the current academic year in June 2013, the Princeton, New Jersey-based school said today in a statement on its website.
Tilghman has been an advocate for women in the sciences and has appointed women to prominent roles at Princeton, including two who went on to lead other schools in the Ivy League, made up of eight private colleges in the U.S. Northeast. In a telephone interview today, she said she built on a record her predecessor Harold Shapiro had established -- identifying women leaders and giving them an opportunity to try out their leadership skills.
“The secret of appointing women is to be able to close your eyes, and when you think of the word leader, to imagine a woman as often as you would a man,” Tilghman said.
The Ivy League is undergoing a changing of the guard, with two other schools -- Yale and Dartmouth -- looking for presidents, while Brown University has a newly installed leader. Richard C. Levin said on Aug. 30 he will retire from Yale University after leading the New Haven, Connecticut-based school for 20 years. Dartmouth College is also searching for a new leader after Jim Yong Kim left the Hanover, New Hampshire-based school on July 1 to run the World Bank.
Economist Christina Hull Paxson became president of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, on July 1, 2012. She replaced Ruth Simmons, who led the school for more than a decade. Paxson left the deanship of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
Kathryn Hall, chairman of the Board of Trustees, will lead the search for Tilghman’s successor, according to the statement. The search committee will include nine members of the board, four faculty members, two undergraduates, a graduate student and a staff member.
“We will provide further information soon about the process and the composition of the search committee,” Hall said.
After taking a year’s leave, Tilghman said she plans to return to the Princeton faculty and “to my other passion” -- teaching.
Tilghman informed the university’s board of trustees of her decision this weekend at the board’s regular September meeting, according to the statement.
Princeton’s endowment was valued at $17.1 billion in June 2011. It is the fourth largest in higher education, behind Harvard University, Yale and the University of Texas system, according to an annual survey of endowments by the National Association of College and University Business Officers and Commonfund Institute.
The endowment probably earned zero to 5 percent on its investments in the past fiscal year, Tilghman said Sept. 12 in an interview at Bloomberg LP’s headquarters in New York. The school is expected to report its performance by next month. The endowment returned 22 percent in fiscal 2011 and 15 percent in the prior period.
Under Tilghman, Princeton completed a five-year fundraising campaign on June 20, raising a record $1.88 billion.
Tilghman, a native of Toronto, received an undergraduate degree in chemistry from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, in 1968. After two years of teaching secondary school in Sierra Leone, West Africa, she earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Temple University in Philadelphia.
During postdoctoral studies at the National Institutes of Health, she made a number of discoveries while participating in cloning the first mammalian gene. She also continued to make breakthroughs as an independent investigator at the Institute for Cancer Research in Philadelphia and an adjunct associate professor of human genetics and biochemistry and biophysics at the University of Pennsylvania.
There is a “natural rhythm to university presidencies,” Tilghman said in a letter to the college community. “It is time for Princeton to turn to its 20th president to chart the path for the next decade and beyond.”
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