University of Cambridge nominates provost of Princeton University, Professor Deborah Prentice, as its next vice-chancellor
The provost of Princeton University, Professor Deborah Prentice, has been nominated as the next vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge.
The current vice-chancellor, Professor Stephen J Toope, will leave the post after five years on October 1, and Dr Anthony Freeling, currently president of Hughes Hall, Cambridge, will step in as acting vice-chancellor.
The University Council has formally nominated Prof Prentice to take up the role for a seven-year term from July 1, 2023. The appointment needs approval from the Regent House, the body comprising academic and senior administrative staff of the university and colleges.
Prof Prentice, an eminent psychologist, has been provost at Princeton in the US since 2017 with primary responsibility for all academic, budgetary and long-term planning issues.
She said: “It is a huge honour to be nominated to lead such a renowned institution. I welcome the challenge of helping Cambridge write the next chapter of its long and proud history.
“Higher education around the world faces many challenges but I firmly believe there are also great opportunities to demonstrate how our leading universities can together harness their expertise to solve global problems. I hope that I can play some part in leading that dialogue."
Prof Prentice was selected after the University Council interviewed three candidates on September 20.
Prof Pippa Rogerson, master of Gonville & Caius College, who chaired the advisory committee on the vice-chancellor’s recruitment, said: "We were privileged to be able to meet and consider an exceptionally strong field of applicants from around the world. Professor Prentice was an outstanding candidate from the start and we had no hesitation in putting her forward for consideration by the University Council."
Prof Prentice joined Princeton as a lecturer in psychology in 1988 and was appointed assistant professor of psychology the following year, having completed a PhD at Yale.
She was appointed associate professor in 1995 and professor of psychology in 2000. Before becoming the Alexander Stewart 1886 Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs in 2012.
She had chaired the Department of Psychology for 12 years until her appointment as dean of faculty in 2014.
Academically, her expertise is in the study of social norms that govern human behaviour. She explores the impact and development of unwritten rules and conventions and how people respond to breaches of those rules.
Prof Prentice has edited three academic volumes and authored more than 50 articles and chapters, specialising in the study of domestic violence, alcohol abuse and gender stereotypes.
Mark Lewisohn, deputy chair of the University Council, said: “In making its nomination, council is confident that the university will be gaining a highly experienced and formidably talented academic and leader who will be able to guide Cambridge through the many opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.”
Prof Toope, a legal scholar from Canada who has been vice-chancellor since 2017, said: “As I step down as vice-chancellor, I am delighted to know the university is appointing a successor of such academic distinction, and with an experience of leadership at all levels of university life that will stand her in good stead at Cambridge.
“I am confident that Professor Prentice will bring fresh perspectives and new ideas to Cambridge, and I look forward to seeing our world-leading university continue to flourish under her guidance.”
Dr Freeling said: “I look forward to passing on the baton from Professor Toope to Professor Prentice, and to working closely with Professor Prentice as she prepares to take on the leadership of our university later this academic year.”
Princeton president Christopher L Eisgruber said: “Debbie Prentice is a brilliant choice to be the next vice-chancellor of Cambridge University. She combines wisdom, skill, collegiality and scholarly values, and she has been a spectacularly good provost, dean, and department chair at Princeton.
“Debbie has played a critical role in many aspects of university life, including guiding it through the pandemic, redesigning our undergraduate financial aid and graduate stipend packages, strengthening the university’s academic quality, and making our community more diverse and inclusive. I am delighted by the prospect that she will lead another of the world’s great research universities.”
If approved, Prof Prentice will become the third female vice-chancellor at the university.
The first, Dame Rosemary Murray, took on the role in 1975 after 765 years in which men had held the post. Dame Alison Richard was the second, serving as vice-chancellor from 2003-10, having previously been provost at Yale University in the US.
What has Prof Prentice achieved at Princeton?
Prof Prentice has spent her 34-year academic career at Princeton, including the last five as provost.
During her time as Princeton’s chief academic officer and chief budget officer, with special responsibility for long-range planning, Prof Prentice helped expand the undergraduate student body, worked on the creation of the new Princeton University Art Museum, and strengthened the university’s oversight of and partnership with the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory - a US Department of Energy laboratory focused on the study of fusion energy.
She also worked on the creation of the Emma Bloomberg Center for Access and Opportunity, a new Princeton branch of the Ludwig Cancer Institute, and the High Meadows Environmental Institute.
“I’m proud of having brought people closer to the university, I’m proud of all the people I’ve hired and who are doing wonderful jobs,” she said. “I’m thrilled with the financial aid and graduate stipend increases. As provost, I wanted to make Princeton more open to the world, more legible to the world and more connected.”
Princeton also credits Prof Prentice with strengthening its partnership with the Mpala Research Centre, a research station in Kenya, as part of global initiatives, and aided its diversity, equity and inclusion programming.
She launched an initiative to expand the university’s support for innovation and entrepreneurship and more recently led the early development of an initiative that will extend the opportunities of a Princeton education to adult learners from under-served populations.
After 25 years as a psychology professor, she said she still sees herself as an academic “first, last and always” and admitted it would be a wrench to leave Princeton, but looked forward to a “great new adventure”.
“I’ll always love Princeton,” she said. “I have many, many friends here. I look forward to returning and to welcoming people to visit me in Cambridge.”