Shirley M. Tilghman

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Shirley M. Tilghman
Shirley Tilghman 2.jpg
Shirley Tilghman (Photo: Jane Gitschier)
19th President of Princeton University
In office
June 15, 2001 – July 1, 2013
Preceded by Harold Tafler Shapiro
Succeeded by Christopher L. Eisgruber
Personal details
Born Shirley Marie Caldwell
(1946-09-17) 17 September 1946 (age 68)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Residence Princeton, New Jersey, U.S.
Profession Molecular biologist
Academic Administrator

Shirley Marie Tilghman, OC FRS (/ˈtɪlmən/; née Caldwell; born 17 September 1946) is a North American scholar in molecular biology and an academic administrator. She is now a President Emerita of Princeton University. Tilghman was the 19th President of Princeton University, she was the first woman to hold the position and the second female president in the Ivy League.[1] Tilghman was also the first Biologist to hold the Princeton presidency. She is the fifth "foreign born" President of Princeton, and the second academic born in Canada to be elected to the position.

A leader in the field of molecular biology, Tilghman was a member of the Princeton faculty for 15 years before being named president. She has returned to the Princeton faculty as a Professor of Molecular Biology; while she is not currently engaged in research, Tilghman actively advises undergraduates in their independent research, including the junior papers for juniors and the senior thesis for seniors.[2]

Early life and family[edit]

Tilghman was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She graduated from Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, Manitoba[3] and received her Honours B.Sc. in chemistry from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, in 1968. After two years of secondary school teaching in Sierra Leone, West Africa, she obtained her Ph.D. in biochemistry from Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania under Richard W. Hanson. Tilghman was Hanson's first graduate student.[4] Her PhD Dissertation was entitled "The Hormonal Regulation of Phosphoenolpyruvate Carboxykinase." [5]

Personal life[edit]

She married Joseph Tilghman in 1970. This marriage ended in the early 1980s, leaving Tilghman with custody of their young daughter (Rebecca) and infant son (Alex). She attributes her successful balancing of a scientific career and caring for her family to organization and focus. Her goal was to not feel guilty while at work or at home, instead focusing on the task at hand.[6]


Tilghman's work in molecular genetics focused on the regulation of genes during development, particularly in the field of genomic imprinting.

During postdoctoral studies at the National Institutes of Health, Tilghman made a number of discoveries while a member of the team which cloned the first mammalian gene. She went on to demonstrate that the globin gene was spliced, a finding that helped confirm some of the revolutionary theories then emerging about gene behavior. She continued to make scientific breakthroughs as an independent investigator at the Institute for Cancer Research in Philadelphia and as an adjunct associate professor of Human Genetics at University of Pennsylvania.[citation needed]

Tilghman went to Princeton University in 1986 as the Howard A. Prior Professor of the Life Sciences.[7] Two years later, she also joined the Howard Hughes Medical Institute as an investigator.[8] She was a leader in the use of mice to understand the behavior of genes by researching the effect of gene insertion in embryonic cells.[citation needed]

In 1998, she took on additional responsibilities as the founding director of Princeton's multi-disciplinary Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics,[9] while continuing to study how male and female genomes are packaged and the consequences of the differences for regulating embryo growth.[citation needed]

Tilghman's extensive series of published research papers are catalogued on the PubMed government website of the United States National Library of Medicine, the NLM division of the National Institutes of Health.[10]

President of Princeton University[edit]

A 2006 interview with Tilghman on her presidency.

Tilghman succeeded Harold Tafler Shapiro and became the 19th President of Princeton University in 2001. She was elected Princeton's first woman president on May 5, 2001, and assumed office on June 15, 2001. Under her administration, the University built a sixth residential college, named in honor of alumna Meg Whitman, to accommodate an 11 percent expansion of the undergraduate student body (an increase of some 500 students), as recommended by a special committee of the Board of Trustees chaired by Paul M. Wythes. In 2012, Tilghman announced that she would step down from her presidency in June 2013.[11] She was succeeded by the university's then-Provost, Christopher L. Eisgruber.

For Tilghman, Princeton has two essential missions. "One is to ensure that our doors are open as wide as possible to every talented student in the world who is capable of doing the hard work we ask of them. And that means maintaining our commitment to financial aid, which is the tool – the critical tool – to get those students to Princeton. And the second thing is that we must address the most critical issues, and push back the frontiers of knowledge, and not just in science and technology, but in social policy, and in public policy, and in understanding the nature of the human condition." [12]

The establishment of Whitman College, together with the reconstruction of Butler College, accompanied a significant reconfiguration of Princeton's residential college system, which now incorporates upperclassmen as well as freshmen and sophomores, providing new residential options and increasing opportunities for social interaction across the student body. In addition, an effort has been made to strengthen the relationship between the university and Princeton's independent eating clubs, where most upperclassmen take their meals, with the goal of enhancing the undergraduate experience of all students. In 2009, she appointed a committee chaired by Nannerl O. Keohane to review undergraduate women's leadership at Princeton.[13]


Tilghman has presided over a number of academic initiatives at Princeton, including the creation of a Center for African American Studies, the Lewis Center for the Arts (named after alumnus Peter B. Lewis), the Princeton Neuroscience Institute and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment (after alumnus Gerhard R. Andlinger). Along with the renewal of the Department of Chemistry, these steps have both capitalized on Princeton's existing strengths and broken new ground, ensuring that the university will, in Tilghman's words, continue "to make the world a better place through the power of the mind and the imagination." [14]


More broadly, Tilghman's presidency has placed an emphasis on increasing the diversity of Princeton's faculty and students; widening access to the university through improvements to its generous financial aid program and the elimination of admission through "early decision"; fostering a multidisciplinary approach to teaching and research; and strengthening the university's international perspective through a wide range of initiatives – from the Global Scholars Program, which brings international scholars to campus on a recurring basis, to the Bridge Year Program, which gives incoming freshmen an opportunity to defer their studies for a year in order to devote themselves to public service overseas.

Funding Higher Education[edit]

Tilghman became a visible spokesperson and leader among university Presidents on the topic of funding university education. As her Presidency started the university accomplished the long hoped for goal of eliminating the need for student loans. Princeton became the first American university to replace student loans with grants from its endowment, which theoretically meant that students earning a Princeton degree could graduate debt free.[15] During her tenure the percentage of students receiving some form of financial aid increased and the size of the average award also increased. These policies were partially facilitated by the growing size of the University's endowment, whose income is used to finance the university's mission alongside with tuition, and the annual funding of the operating budget through alumni donations from Princeton's Annual Giving campaign. The size of the endowment and the success of these programs prompted some to question whether Tilghman would implement a policy of eliminating tuition altogether. In her Wall Street Journal article on this matter, she indicated that Princeton would continue to charge tuition, and that she felt that charging tuition was a morally and economically correct policy to maintain.


Although President Tilghman has been accused of favoring women in her hiring practices, in fact, most of her appointees have been men.[16] The women she has hired to senior positions include Amy Gutmann as Provost, the second-most-powerful administrative position in the University, Anne-Marie Slaughter as Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs as well as her successor Christina Paxson, Maria Klawe as Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Janet Lavin Rapelye as the Dean of Admission. Gutman would go on to lead the University of Pennsylvania as their President in early 2004; Klawe was chosen President of Harvey Mudd College in 2006. Slaughter too a leave from the university to serve as Director of Policy and Planning at the US Department of State reporting to Hillary Clinton. Paxson became President of Brown University in 2012.

Tilghman has appointed prominent men to leadership positions at Princeton, such as Charles Kalmbach as the Senior Vice President for Administration, the highest non-academic administrative post, David P. Dobkin as Dean of the Faculty, Gutmann's replacement Christopher L. Eisgruber, and Klawe's replacement Vincent Poor. She initiated a review of undergraduate women's leadership at Princeton, chaired by Nannerl O. Keohane.[17]

During her Presidency, Tilghman was embroiled in a court case pitting her against the family of a major donor to the university, the Robertsons. The children of the original donors, who were themselves Princeton alums, alleged that the University failed to apply the funds donated by their parents to the intended purpose, and asked for the funds to be restored to the family for use elsewhere. The donated funds had become joined with the University's general endowmment, resulting in efficiencies and benefits in fund management and performance, which were not the subject of the Robertsons' complaints. The case was amicably settled in 2008 with a return of some funds to the family.[18]


Tilghman signed on to the Ivy League-wide Seven-week athletic moratorium, in which intercollegiate athletes were enjoined from taking part in supervised practices and other obligatory athletic activities for seven weeks during the academic year in order to encourage them to participate in other activities.[19] Supporters of the proposal pointed to studies by former Princeton president William G. Bowen, whose book The Game of Life described the widespread academic underperformance of college athletes. Detractors claimed that it represented an encroachment on students' freedom to use their time as they saw fit.

While Tilghman has disquieted some alumni by promoting a more diverse university community, establishing a single admission process, and broadening the range of residential and dining options available to students, she has also found strong support for these actions and the vision that underpins them. Tilghman presided over a major effort to advance the growing community of Princeton Alumna, culminating in a campus conference entitled "She Roars." [20] In her final year Tilghman led the first major university celebration for "alternative genders" resulting in an immensely successful on-campus LGBT alumni gathering; this was the first of its kind on any campus in the United States and set a precedent for the advancement of the LGBT community nationwide.[21]

Outside Activities[edit]

While serving as Princeton, Tilghman accepted membership on the board of directors of Google since October 2005. As compensation for joining the board, she received 6,000 shares of stock that by 2005 were worth in excess of her Princeton compensation package that by 2003 had reached $533,057.[22]

She also serves on the Queen's Chemistry Innovation Council in order to help the development of the Chemistry program at Queen's.[23]


On September 21, 2012, Shirley informed the Princeton Board of Trustees that she planned to step down as the 19th President of Princeton University at the end of the 2012 academic year.

On April 21, 2013, it was announced that Christopher L. Eisgruber would succeed Tilghman as Princeton's president, effective July 1.[24] "“Ideally, she’d be remembered for grooming a terrific successor,” [alum] Lewis said in the Daily Princetonian, May 30, 2013 article "Princeton’s biggest fan, Princeton’s biggest critic."

Awards and Honors[edit]

Tilghman's honors include election to the following organizations:

She serves as a trustee of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. From 1993 through 2000, Tilghman chaired Princeton's Council on Science and Technology, which encourages teaching science and technology to students outside the sciences. In 1996, she received Princeton's President's Award for Distinguished Teaching.

Tilghman was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by Harvard University in 2004.[28] She was awarded the honorary Doctor of Human Letters from Amherst College in 2008.[29]

Nineteen Princeton graduating classes, from 1941 to 2005, have made President Tilghman an honorary member. In 2014, Tilghman was given IEEE Honorary Membership.[30]

In addition Tilghman has earned the following awards during her career:

Roles after Princeton Presidency[edit]

Tilghman continues as a member of the Princeton faculty in the Department of Molecular Biology.

Upon leaving the Princeton presidency, Tilghman initially retained her seat on the Google board.[35] At the time, Google's Eric Schmidt supported this retention by emphasizing the benefits Google had received from Tilghman generally in her service on the Board.

She is a member of the Board of the Brookhaven Science Associates,[36] the organization that manages Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, New York. [37]

She is a Trustee of the Institute for Advanced Study.[38] Tilghman serves on the Board of the Broad Institute,[39] founded to encourage a unique model of collaborative, inter-institutional research, initially through joint efforts between Harvard and MIT.

In 2013, Tilghman was elected to serve as the 2015 President of the ACSB [31]


"What made it truly thrilling was that the genes were organized in a way that was totally unexpected. So nature took us by surprise."[40]

"There are 25 years of good social science that demonstrate the many cultural practices that act collectively to discourage women from entering and continuing careers in science and engineering. The research is overwhelming, and it is there for anybody to see. On the other hand, the data that would suggest there are innate differences in the abilities of men and women to succeed in the natural sciences are nonexistent."[41]

On how she hoped to spend her time during her sabbatical before returning to the faculty in 2014, Tilghman said, “I’m going to be an attentive grandmother." (In the Daily Princetonian Article "Princeton’s biggest fan, Princeton’s biggest critic" by Luc Cohen, May 30, 2013.)

Key publications[edit]

Tilghman's publications as a research scientist are referenced in the Research section. Her other major publications are as follows:


  1. ^ The announcement of the selection of Ruth Simmons as president of Brown University was made before Tlighman's, but Simmons was not sworn in until July 3, 2001 (after Tilghman took office on June 15, 2001). The first female Ivy League president was Judith Rodin of the University of Pennsylvania.
  2. ^ "Department of Molecular Biology Faculty Shirley M Tilghman". 
  3. ^ PAW September 12, 2001: Features
  4. ^ "Case Western Reserve Office of the Provost Distinguished University Professor Current Recipients". 
  5. ^ "PROQUEST Dissertation Search Shirley Tilghman". 
  6. ^ Angier, Natalie (June 6, 1996). "SCIENTIST AT WORK: Shirley M. Tilghman;Fighting and Studying Battle of the Sexes With Men and Mice". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ "Trends in the Early Careers of Life Scientists". 
  8. ^ "HHMI Our Scientists Shirley Tilghman". 
  9. ^ "Lewis-Sigler Institute and Carl Icahn Laboratory to be dedicated, May 8-9". 
  10. ^ "Tilghman SM". 
  11. ^ "Tilghman to step down as University president in June" (PDF). Princeton University. October 8, 2012. 
  12. ^ Dilshanie Perera, "At the Frontier of Knowledge: Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman," Princeton Magazine, August/September 2010
  13. ^ ,
  14. ^ Shirley M. Tilghman, "Aspire: A Plan for Princeton," Princeton University, 2007.
  15. ^ "Shifts in Financial Aid follow Princeton's lead". 
  16. ^ Goldfarb, Zachary (April 7, 2003). "Gender at center of discussion about Tilghman's appointments". The Daily Princetonian. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ "Princeton Settles Money Battle over Gift". 
  19. ^ "PAW February 26, 2003 President's Page Athletics in an Ivy Context". 
  20. ^ "'She Roars' conference celebrates women at Princeton; Justice Sotomayor featured". 
  21. ^ "'Every Voice' conference celebrates LGBT alumni". 
  22. ^ Davis, Matt (October 18, 2005). "Tilghman nets at least $1.8m from Google". The Daily Princetonian. Retrieved 2009-07-27. 
  23. ^ Second Innovation Council Meeting Department of Chemistry Minutes May 5th, 2001
  24. ^ "Christopher L. Eisgruber named 20th president of Princeton University". Princeton University. Retrieved 21 April 2013. 
  25. ^ "APS Member History Shirley Tilghman". 
  26. ^ "National Academy of Sciences Membership Search". 
  27. ^ "The International Mammalian Genome Society". Mamm. Genome 1 (1): 2–4. 1991. doi:10.1007/BF00350841. PMID 1794042. 
  28. ^ Honorary Degrees | Harvard University
  29. ^ "Shirley M Tilghman Doctor of Humane Letters". 
  30. ^ "IEEE Honorary Membership Recipients" (PDF). IEEE. Retrieved 21 December 2014. 
  31. ^ a b "Shirley Tilghman Elected as ASCB 2015 President". 
  32. ^ "Developmental Biology - Society for Developmental Biology Lifetime Achievement Award". Society for Developmental Biology. 
  33. ^ "Dr. Shirley M. Tilgham". Laureates. Friends of Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Retrieved 1 March 2013. 
  34. ^ "Order of Canada Appointments". June 30, 2014. Retrieved July 1, 2014. 
  35. ^ "Google Investor Relations Board of Directors Shirley M Tilghman". 
  36. ^ "Brookhaven Science Associates". 
  37. ^ "Laboratory Administration Brookhaven Science Associates BSA Board of Directors Shirley M Tilghman". 
  38. ^ "Institute for Advanced Study Trustees". 
  39. ^ "". 
  40. ^ Dreifus, Claudia (July 8, 2003). "A Conversation with -- Shirley Tilghman; Career That Grew From an Embryo". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-07-27. 
  41. ^ The Wall Street Journal, July 17, 2006 (interview)

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Harold Tafler Shapiro
President of Princeton University
Succeeded by
Christopher L. Eisgruber