Princeton University named Christopher Eisgruber, a constitutional scholar and provost of the Ivy League school since 2004, as its 20th president.
Eisgruber, 51, takes over on July 1, the Princeton, New Jersey-based university said today in a statement. He replaces Shirley Tilghman, Princeton’s first female leader, who took charge in 2001.
A Princeton alumnus, Eisgruber is one of three new presidents in the eight-member Ivy League, all of whom step into their roles in a few months. Yale University Provost Peter Salovey takes the helm there, and Philip Hanlon, provost at the University of Michigan, takes over at Dartmouth College. Eisgruber will join them in the effort to build and maintain endowments hit by uneven markets and increased spending, nurture research programs, integrate online courses into their curricula and address the ballooning cost of higher education.
“I worry sometimes that this focus on cost, which is understandable, may lead people to look for cheaper education,” Eisgruber said in a telephone interview. “High-quality education is expensive, and it is expensive for a fundamental reason. Education is dependent on student-faculty engagement, very good students in contact with very good faculty.”
If there are ways to slow down the cost, “it’s an important thing to do,” he said.
Eisgruber said he wasn’t interested in seeking out the presidency of other universities. Several elite schools outside the Ivy League were also looking for new leaders over the past year, including Carnegie Mellon University and the University of California, Berkeley.
“I have been associated with Princeton for 34 years,” he said. “This university has a special part in my heart. My reasons for wanting to be president of this university had to do with my attachment to Princeton.”
Eisgruber has all of the qualities the search committee was looking for in the school’s next president, Kathryn Hall, chair of Princeton’s Board of Trustees and chief executive officer of Hall Capital Partners LLC in San Francisco, said in the statement.
“He has keen intelligence and excellent judgment; he cares passionately about teaching and research of the highest quality; he is deeply committed to principles of excellence, equity and integrity; and he is devoted to Princeton,” Hall said.
Princeton’s 17-member search committee began meeting in October, soon after Tilghman announced she would step down at the end of the current academic year. The committee included nine trustees, four faculty members, three students and a staff member.
As provost, Eisgruber is Princeton’s second-ranking official and its chief academic and budgetary officer. In the first semester of the academic year, he taught a freshman seminar on the Supreme Court and constitutional democracy.
Eisgruber became provost when Amy Gutmann vacated the job to become president of the University of Pennsylvania.
He is the Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Public Affairs in Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School and the University Center for Human Values. From 2001 to June 2004, he served as director of Princeton’s Program in Law and Public Affairs.
After graduating from the university in 1983 with a degree in physics, Eisgruber became a Rhodes Scholar. He earned a law degree at the University of Chicago, where he was editor-in-chief of the law review. He was a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.
Eisgruber taught at New York University’s law school for 11 years before coming to Princeton. He is the author of several legal books. He examined the Supreme Court nominating process in “The Next Justice: Repairing the Supreme Court Appointments Process,” published in 2007.
His wife, Lori Martin, is a securities litigator with the firm of WilmerHale, and they have a 14-year-old son, Danny.
Princeton is the fifth-wealthiest school in higher education, with an endowment of $17 billion as of June 2012, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers and Commonfund Institute.
The university was the first to replace loans with grants that don’t need to be repaid in financial-aid packages for undergraduates. Unlike its Ivy peers, Princeton doesn’t operate a medical school and has few graduate schools, making its finances less complicated than a university such as Yale with more than a dozen professional schools.
Before taking over as president, Tilghman, 66, was a faculty member for 15 years. A molecular biologist, she said in September that she would step down at the end of the school year. Tilghman said at the time she planned to return to teaching at the school after a sabbatical.
Alumni of Princeton include three current Supreme Court justices, Samuel Alito Jr., Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, and first lady Michelle Obama. The school was founded in 1746 as the College of New Jersey.