The Presidential Search Committee held a sparsely-attended forum yesterday afternoon in Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium in Goldwin Smith Hall to allow students to voice concerns and suggestions about the search for Cornell’s 11th president, who will replace President Hunter R. Rawlings III when he steps down next year.
Chaired by Presidential Search Committee member Jan Rockzubrow ’77 and attended by about 25 students, the forum allowed attendants to express their opinions on University-related issues such as recent initiatives that have been critical to Cornell’s success, structural or policy changes that would improve their experiences, the single most important thing that Cornell must do in the future and necessary attributes of the person who will lead Cornell in the future.
The feedback that the committee received at the forum, as well as information that will be gathered at three additional forums for different Cornell constituencies in the coming weeks, will help its members prepare a case statement which identifies its criteria for a future president and describes Cornell’s current challenges, according to Rockzubrow.
The committee began the process of finding a replacement for Rawlings in mid-April. It recently hired search firm Isaacson, Miller to assist in the process.
Many attendants of yesterday’s forum expressed a need for the next president to be more accessible to the student body.
While acknowledging that the president has to meet many demands, such as fundraising and development, Lauren Morgens ’02 said that the next president should be a more visible presence on campus.
“After four years, some of my friends still don’t know what the president of Cornell looks like,” she said, adding that if students knew the president as a person, it would “open up channels.”
In addition to being accessible, some attendants said that the future president should be headstrong.
“[He or she] should not be afraid to do something that people will question,” said Jonathan Ludwig ’03. “The new president needs to not be afraid to shake up the structure. They shouldn’t inherit the job. They should reinvent it.”
While some students conveyed that the next president should be adept at fundraising, others stated that he or she should emphasize academics rather than money.
“President Rawlings has been good at fundraising from alums,” said Haakon Larsen ’04. “It’s crucial that the next president be equally active in bringing money to the University … and making sure the money is well spent.”
However, other students disagreed, noting that the University’s economic focus compromises education and dehumanizes students.
“The University is more concerned with the money it can earn from students rather than the students themselves,” Ludwig said.
He noted that although students pay thousands of dollars for tuition, they must still pay to print from computers and rent University-owned space.
The next president should value Cornell’s ethnic studies programs and work to improve them, according to many students at the forum.
“The ethnic studies programs are stagnant,” said Carl Jones ’03. “[The next president] needs to focus money on those departments.”
Jones emphasized that the programs need more space, explaining that some of his professors have offices as small as his double-sized dorm room.
“It’s a disservice to the brilliant minds that are there,” he said.
Kristin Vyhnal ’02 agreed, noting that Cornell’s ethnic studies programs are some of the strongest in the Ivy League.
“They must maintain their status and continue to expand,” she said.
Forums will take place in the coming weeks for other Cornell constituencies to provide input about the future president. Cornell faculty can attend a forum on May 7 in Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. An open meeting for Cornell staff will be held in Bailey Hall on May 8 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Members of the Weill Cornell Medical College and the Graduate School of Medical Sciences can attend a meeting on May 16 at 5 p.m. in Uris Auditorium.
Archived article by Stephanie Hankin