February 2, 2006
“We’re working to say what still needs to be said,” Art Department Chair Buzz Spector told me when I asked if his faculty had any sort of mission in its new exhibition at the Johnson Museum. If indeed there is still something left to learn about beauty, thoughtfulness, and the complexity of life, these artists have certainly been working successively. To write about art like this is immediately to degrade it: the only way to understand how this art can make you feel is to see the exhibit. But what is this show trying to tell us, and how is it an important part of life at Cornell? Spector and his friend Frank Robinson, Director of the Johnson Museum, agreed to show me around the exhibit and discuss their thoughts this past week.
Both agree that one of the exhibit’s primary purposes is “wedding beauty and form to questions of values,” as Spector described. “Each piece is its own universe,” says Robinson, and arouses an incredible breadth of emotions that only multiply as the piece gets a repeated or closer look. Elisabeth Meyer’s For My Father evokes unexpected tenderness in her simple prints, many emphasizing grids. Will Pergl and Barry Perlus merge modern technology with classical master technique, as does Jean Locey in her painstakingly touched-up Scarista Beach, Isle of Harris, Scotland. There is the beautiful draftsmanship of Todd McGrain and a meticulously composed collage, Comeback, by Graham McDougal, but also the innovative use of papermaking and yarn developed by Spector himself. The sheer variety is enough for an entire afternoon.
Yet perhaps the most exciting part of the exhibit is left in the hands of the viewer: how to respond, how to unify the works, if such cohesiveness is even possible, and how to make the artist’s aesthetic explorations a reflexive event.
Although as Spector and I wandered the room I was given hints to the artist’s motivation, my personal reaction was, strangely, one not unlike the calmness that is felt after the death of a loved one. Many of the works feature mortality, or at least some form of finality – mourning the philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard with what is probably the last-captured video footage captured of him in Renate Ferro’s art, McGrain’s rendering of two recently extinct avian species, a father’s death in Meyer’s, and the unanswered questions of Martin Luther King, Jr. In a more abstract sense, the two pieces that feature landscapes seem to suggest the increasing difficulty of finding such untouched havens in a globalized world. Yet there is too much beauty in the show, too many exciting uses of color, placement and altogether talent, to feel let down by the works our faculty has presented. Death is, in a hair-raising Schopenhauerian way, unavoidable, but what these artists have done is overcome its inevitability by demonstrating how powerful the creative human mind can, and always will, be.
Nevertheless, it is each artist’s hope that their piece will undergo a wide range of individual interpretations. With 80,000 visitors a year, there certainly will be. As Spector eloquently surmised, “The faculty’s work is typical in its unexpected effects.”
Spector and Robinson are especially excited about the increasing presence fine arts are achieving at Cornell. The department is preparing to hire two tenure-track faculty, in painting and sculpture, which would be a sizable increase considering its current eight-member staff. And while Cornell offers multiple Masters of Fine Arts degrees, each department enjoys minimal discourse with one another. Spector plans to unify the programs in much closer contact, and has already planned a week of cooperation beginning February 12.
The College of Architecture, Art, and Planning and the Johnson are changing the physical, as well as intellectual, nature of Cornell. Plans are already set for Millstein Hall, which will be behind Sibley, and will serve as the new architecture center. Designed by the internationally renowned Rem Koolhaas, the structure should be a vast improvement over the parking lot that sits there now. And just days ago Robinson began work on an addition to the Johnson. Originally, architect I.M. Pei wanted to extend the underground galleries to the Fall Creek Gorge, complete with a viewing area housed in the gorge’s wall. Although the plan is now deemed structurally and environmentally questionable, new underground galleries will allow several thousand more pieces from the permanent collection to finally receive public display.
“The Johnson is a central part of our commitment,” Robinson told me. “It can preserve the memory of human race: what we think and care about.” With its finger on the pulse of what it means to be human, Cornell’s art faculty and administration has shown us what matters to them. It is their hope that, as art becomes a greater part of being on campus, we will realize what is important to us as well.
Archived article by Elliot Singer Sun Staff Writer
February 2, 2006
In the last half-century, administrative searches in higher education have changed fundamentally.
Committees are bigger and more representative of campus communities. They solicit and select administrators from outside the ivory tower, and, as average administrative tenures become shorter, they convene more frequently.
According to Edward B. Fiske, an education writer and consultant and former Education Editor at The New York Times, the modern university presidency is demanding and daunting.
“It’s a very, very difficult job,” Fiske said. “I’m not sure why anyone would want it. Having said that, it’s really important for a university president to have some sort of an educational vision. Presidents can be influential.”
Today’s university presidents must mingle with alumni, fundraise, supervise campus expansion, answer to regents and trustees and work with students, faculty and staff. In short: they have more to do than ever and a lot of individuals and constituencies to whom they are held accountable.
Fiske counts Cornell’s ninth President, Frank H. T. Rhodes, among a handful of notable university administrators in recent memory who performed well as presidents.
“Rhodes was the kind of guy that other presidents would call up when they had issues to deal with,” Fiske said.
During his 20 years at Cornell’s helm, Rhodes was responsible for important diversity initiatives, capital campaigns and institutional reforms. He helped craft national science and education policy and wrote about the academy in articles and books.
According to Fiske, Rhodes’ heir apparent was Nannerl O. Keohane, who retired from Duke’s presidency in 2004.
“Nan Keohane was the president’s president after Frank Rhodes,” he said.
Keohane, who became Duke’s first female president in 1993, worked tirelessly to improve Duke’s international reputation and influence, reorganize the institution’s healthcare system and better residential life. She capped her tenure with an incredibly successful capital campaign: Duke raised $2 billion.
Prof. Jeffrey Krolik, electrical and computer engineering, joined Duke’s faculty in 1992, and served as a faculty representative on the search committee that selected Keohane’s successor, Richard H. Brodhead, in 2004, only a year after Jeffrey S. Lehman assumed Cornell’s presidency.
“She was a superstar president,” Krolik said. “No question.”
In many respects, Cornell and Duke are similar. They are top-tier academic institutions with world-class hospitals and professional schools. Both schools were founded within twenty years of each other, have similarly large endowments and are among the most selective universities in the country.
There are certainly differences between the two institutions. Chief among them: Cornell has more than twice as many undergraduate students, several of its composite colleges are state funded and hockey is more popular than basketball.
Still, the two places, and the way each chose its most-recent president, are worthy of comparison.
When Keohane announced her resignation in 2003, Duke was an institution-on-the-rise. Under her leadership, Duke lost much of its provincial reputation, hired eminent faculty, rose to the top of US News & World Report’s annual rankings and saw its endowment grow significantly.
According to Krolik, members of the search committee did not have to do too much to sell Duke to prospective presidents.
“It helped to have had a very good past president,” Krolik said. “People don’t want to come in and take over a mess.”
When its search committee began its work last fall, Cornell was hardly a mess, but it was in a much different position.
After Lehman resigned in June 2005, the board of trustees and administration revealed little about the circumstances surrounding his departure to the university community and press. All parties involved signed non-disclosure agreements.
At an open meeting with the presidential search committee in August, members of the faculty worried about how candidates might react to such secrecy.
Prof. Steven L. Kaplan, the Goldwin Smith Professor of History, was among the 200 in attendance.
“How do you speak to people about the future if you don’t talk about the past?” Kaplan asked.
At the meeting, Diana Daniels ’71, chair of the presidential search committee, told Kaplan and his colleagues that the top two finalists for the presidency would be briefed on Lehman’s resignation.
The two search committees had different compositions
At Duke, Krolik sat on a committee of 19 that included eight trustees, six faculty members, two students, one alumni member and two members of the administration (one of whom was non-voting).
At Cornell, there were 24 members: 18 trustees (two student-elected, one faculty-elected and one staff-elected), five members of the faculty and one administrator. The addition of two faculty members came only after the faculty at the August meeting made the demand.
At Duke, unlike at Cornell, a professor helped chair the committee.
Dr. Nancy B. Allen, rheumatology and immunology, Duke, praised her colleagues on the search committee.
“We had a broad and representative committee,” Davis said. “And that was wonderful.”
In early August, Cornell announced that it had chosen Korn/Ferry International, a corporate consulting firm, to help it with its search. In its previous search, Cornell used another firm, Boston-based Isaacson, Miller.
In a news release, Daniels described what role the consulting firm would play.
“The education practice of Korn/Ferry has a strong track record of identifying candidates who are the right ‘fit’ and have the appropriate professional and personal skills to work with members of the university community and lead their respective institutions forward,” Daniels said.
Search firms also make the process easier by handling “a lot off the busy work”, according to Fiske.
Requests for an interview with R. William Funk of Korn/Ferry International were declined.
At Duke, the search committee chose not to employ an outside consultant. Instead, according to Krolik, it relied on current administrators to offer suggestions and contact their colleagues at other institutions.
“They call their counterparts at other universities and ask who might be a good candidate,” Krolik said. “I think that nobody wants to lose somebody good, but they recognize that people will move on as these opportunities come up. People want to be helpful.”
After a year in office, Brodhead seems to have fallen into his position. Krolik was optimistic in his assessment of the new president’s tenure.
“I think that it worked out,” Krolik said. “I hear good things. Brodhead is a very good fit with the other administrators. You can’t predict that. Given the fact that Nan had assembled a very good team, you wanted someone who could fit in. And I hear from people under him that they’re thrilled.”
Archived article by David GuraSun Senior Writer