PRINCETON — Princeton was surprised on Saturday to learn that President Shirley Tilghman, who led the school for twelve years, would be stepping down in June. When asked why she felt that now was the time to retire, Tilghman told The Princeton Tiger, “I just got really sick of everyone calling me Shirley.”
Students, alums, parents, and faculty members took to calling President Tilghman by her first name almost immediately after she took office. The practice became a tradition as generations of Princeton students came through the Orange Bubble without ever referring to Tilghman, who holds a Ph.D in biochemistry from Temple University, by any other title.
“I think she really liked it,” said one student. “It was like we were equals, friends even, and calling her by her first name really made everyone comfortable.”
“Nope,” said Tilghman. “It just pissed me off.”
Tilghman was generally well-liked by students who didn’t participate in Greek life, and she kept up her image as someone who put students first by continuing to teach classes throughout her tenure as president.
“You would think at the very least they’d call me ‘Professor,’” she said. “I mean, seriously. Even just ‘Professor Shirley would be nice.’”
Around the time of the Aspire campaign, a wildly successful fundraising initiative that allowed Princeton to increase the number of students on financial aid and ensure that every undergraduate could receive no fewer than ten free t shirts per year, students began to call Tilghman by a new nickname, Shirls.
“Look,” Tilghman said of the new moniker. “We have the E Quad, the Orange Bubble, the Dinky; people here like to nickname things, I get it. But really? Shirls? That could be the name of a Bratz doll or something.”
Tilghman cited her various accomplishments as something that she thought might have gained her enough respect to at least be called by her last name.
“I was a member of the team that cloned the first mammalian gene,” she said. “I demonstrated that the globin gene was spliced. We have, like, six new buildings on campus, and a new major, thanks to me. Oh yeah, and, maybe you haven’t heard of it, but-Whitman College. I’m not even going to mention the zillions of dollars I raised so you could keep getting free cookies from Murray-Dodge and free condoms from your RCAs.”
Tilghman says that she plans to take a year off before returning to her teaching duties.
“I’m giving you all a year,” she said. “Get the whole calling me Shirley out of your systems now, because when I come back-I mean it-you have to stop calling me Shirley.”
University Vice President and Secretary Robert Durkee ’69 said he completely understood Tilghman’s decision.
“She did a lot for this university over her twelve years, all while having to put up with that nickname,” said Durkee. “I think after a while she got sick of it. Some people need to learn to give Shirlz the respect she deserves.”
- SBW ’15