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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[…]

Tilghman is concerned that many students studying science are becoming discouraged over the amount of time and the competitive nature of becoming a scientist. She is also worried about the federal regulations that are making it difficult for international students to study science in America.

I think before I became the president of the university, I was very focused nationally on how to encourage not just women, but men and women to continue in careers in science. One of the things I was most concerned about as a working scientist was seeing too many young men and woman discouraged by the length of time it took to become a scientist; by the competitiveness that is inherent in seeking research funds in order to conduct science; and I was worried that this career path which was looking increasingly difficult was turning away the very best students who, after all, have lots and lots of options. So I spent a lot of time before I became president really working on that particular education issue. Since I have become president, I am really focused on making Princeton the very best place that it can be. That is my most important job and role as the president of Princeton. But I’ve also been interested in a number of national issues that affect higher education, like commencement addresses _________ was addressing concerns that I have about federal regulation of higher education today, which I think is problematic. And I hope we are able to figure out a way out of the mess that we’re currently in.

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