Search Committee Seeks Community Input for New Cornell President


Members of the Cornell Presidential Search Committee listen to community input on important qualities for the next president. (Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor)


This story was first published on May 5 here.

Members of the Cornell community requested that the presidential search committee select a University leader who values transparency and will promote the humanities at open forums on May 4.

Following President Elizabeth Garrett’s death March 7, President Emeritus Hunter Rawlings III will serve as interim president until the committee selects a candidate. The search will take about six to nine months, but its progress is confidential, according to committee chair Jan Rock Zubrow ’77. However, Zubrow added that the committee considers the Cornell community’s input “critically important.”

The open forum — which the committee held in an effort to make the search process more inclusive — sought input from Cornellians about the attributes that the committee should seek in a president. Zubrow said these criteria will be published by the committee when they have been finalized.

The University’s new initiatives — such as the College of Business and Cornell Tech — and Cornell’s standing in the international community are particularly important issues that the new president must address, according to Zubrow.

Prof. Adam Smith, anthropology, added that the need for new professors to replace the University’s retiring and aging faculty is an ongoing problem.

“We’ve increased the scale of that problem over the last two or three years, though, with reductions in faculty recruitment and retention,” Smith said. “As a result, what was a real success five years ago is now a critical challenge to be able to rededicate Cornell to that original vision.”

Smith also called for the new president to rebalance the relationship between Cornell’s liberal arts and professional schools — which he said is currently skewed toward professional schools — saying that Garrett began attempting to fix this national trend during her term.

“Cornell can be a leader in reversing this,” Smith said. “We need someone who can really make a national case for the role of the liberal arts education.”

Another concern Cornellians focused on is the need for transparency between the administration and the community.

“There is a seeming disconnect, whether it is genuinely there or perceived, between the vision makers in the University and the fulfillers, meaning the workers charged to carry out that vision,” said Prof. Ding Xiang Warner, Asian studies. “I think one of the major challenges not just for the incoming president but for the administration as a whole is to figure out a way to rebuild the mutual trust and understanding that I first saw when I joined Cornell in 2001.”

Zubrow said that over the course of the two open forums, the Cornell community expressed the desire for a communicative president who emphasizes diversity and the humanities.

“In a situation where resources are tight, we need someone who is decisive, strategic, transparent about their decision making, a good communicator, great fundraiser, someone who appreciates the importance of diversity and can make that embedded in the institution, someone who is a very effective spokesperson for the University and large and for the arts and humanities,” she said. “That’s what I’ve heard so far.”

Zubrow added that she believes the position of a university president is one of the hardest that someone can hold.

“It’s harder than being a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, in my mind, because you’re never off-duty,” she said. “Wherever you go, you are recognized, and it’s really an extraordinary role, but we are a unique institution and a wonderful institution and we will attract someone marvelous.”

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