On a slightly overcast Saturday morning, President David Skorton gave his State of the University Address to a crowd of alumni in Bailey Hall. In a speech that focused on issues of sustainability, Skorton presented strengths and the challenges that Cornell will face in the coming years.
Board of Trustees Chair Peter Meinig ’62 welcomed all of the alumni who were on campus for Reunion Weekend and introduced Skorton.
“At this magical and mystical place we began to figure out who we were,” Meinig said of Cornell. “We played like children and became adults … we will always be something larger than ourselves.”
Meinig also saluted esteemed guests Frank H. T. Rhodes, Cornell’s ninth president, and Dale Corson, the eighth president of the University, both of whom were seated in the audience.
“We drove into town a year ago Tuesday. It was an incredible introduction, and you have outdone yourselves again,” President Skorton told the alumni. “You can all be proud of the role you played in making Cornell what it is.”
Skorton called attention to Cornell’s increasingly stringent admittance rate, saying that applications were up 7.5 percent from last year. He said that Cornell’s popularity and selectivity are due to its breadth and depth of the academic programs, the pedagogy of the professors and the totality of the undergraduate experience. The undergraduate experience includes the residential programs, which Skorton said he has been involved with and hopes to continue working on.
The President also credited the faculty and deans for maintaining quality academic programs while crossing disciplines and “arbitrary barriers.” He said that as current professors retire, Cornell has the opportunity to recruit about 600 new faculty members. One goal during this period of change is to increase racial diversity, as well as hire more female faculty. According to Skorton, Cornell recently received funds to increase the number of female engineering professors.
“We have barely tapped our long-term potential to engage the world,” Skorton said. “We are uniquely suited to ameliorate and stop inequalities throughout the world, such as global health and poverty.”
Skorton talked about the importance of sustainability, saying that the world needs economic growth that will not inhibit future generations. Cornell students, he said, have been especially effective on issues of sustainability on and off campus. In February, Skorton signed the student-prepared Kyoto Now! resolution, which calls for a reformed energy policy that will commit to carbon neutrality. Cornell Center for the Environment promotes interdisciplinary studies that focus on sustainability as well.
The President also remarked that many of Cornell’s colleges, including the College of Engineering, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Johson Graduate School of Management, list sustainability and the environment as among the most important issues to study.
This affects the student experience on campus, Skorton said. He mentioned two student groups – the Solar Decathlon Team and Engineers for a Sustainable World – that have each worked towards sustainability.
Nearly all of the Ithaca campus’ cooling needs are provided by the Lake Source Cooling Project, which uses cold water from Lake Cayuga rather than refrigeration, and have reduced energy needs by 86 percent, according to Skorton. Cornell Transportation has helped coordinate group commuting to save money on gas and new residential halls are being built with green technology as well.
The speech mentioned little about the humanities at Cornell, and one questioner from the audience expressed concern for the state of non-scientific study on campus. Skorton assured the audience that the College of Arts and Sciences is in a good state and said that many top administrators, including Provost Biddy Martin, have put the arts college on the top of their lists. He expressed the utmost interest in the humanities, saying that “all fields come from humanities fields.”
The audience seemed to have a favorable reaction to the address, giving him a standing ovation at the end.
“It was very inspiring,” said Roy Paine ’52. “The speech made me proud to be a Cornellian.”