Shirley Tilghman
Molecular Biologist; Pres., Princeton University

Science in America

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Tilghman feels as though financing research in science, which used to be a social contract, is declining among universities. She links economic vitality with research and development, and sees the lack of financial assistance as detrimental.

Shirley Tilghman

Shirley Tilghman is the nineteenth president of Princeton University, and is the first woman to hold the position. Tilghman served on the Princeton faculty for fifteen years before being named President. A native of Canada, Tilghman was educated at Queen's University and Temple University. She is a renowned molecular biologist, known particularly for her pioneering research in mammalian developmental genetics. She served as a member of the National Research Council's committee that set the blueprint for the U.S. effort in the Human Genome Project and was one of the founding members of the National Advisory Council of the Human Genome Project Initiative for the National Institutes of Health.

In 2002, Tilghman was one of five winners of the L'Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science.  In the following year, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for Developmental Biology, and in 2007, she was awarded the Genetics Society of America Medal for outstanding contributions to her field.  Tilghman is a member of the American Philosophical Society, the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the Royal Society of London. She chairs the Association of American Universities and serves as a trustee of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, and as a director of Google Inc.

The other major issue in higher education that I am concerned about is the financing research in science and engineering. If you go back 50 years, you will see that there was established after the Second World War kind of a social contract between the federal government and research universities where the government provided the resources to conduct the research, and the university provided the infrastructure and the labor force. What has been happening over the last 25 years is that social contract is beginning to erode. The percentage of total research dollars that the federal government now provides to the universities is declining as a percentage. And at some point the universities are gonna have to cry uncle and simply say that we cannot afford to fill in the gap that is left by the decline in federal dollars. And if you believe as I do that the economic vitality of the United States over the last half-century is directly related to the degree in which this country invested in research and development, then a decline in research is really not a good prognosis of the future health of the United States.

Recorded on: 8/7/07