May 1, 2016

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Presidential Search Committee Needs to Represent Broader Interests

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To the Editor:

Provost Kotlikoff says that the presidential search committee “will be composed in a broad way.”

Among its nineteen members and three advisors I count six MBAs (five from Harvard and one from Penn) and two JDs (both from Harvard). Not surprisingly, every one of the MBAs is involved in banking, investment or high level corporate work. Both of the JDs are corporate lawyers. There are two students on the committee. One is in ILR; her bio strongly suggests she is more interested in industry than labor. I classify six members of the committee and its advisors under “miscellaneous.” Every one is either a corporate executive or a professional investor. There are three more or less mid- and upper-level Cornell administrators. Two of the three Cornell faculty members are from science or engineering areas. Only one, Isaac Kramnick, professor emeritus of government, who is a historian of politics and political ethics, is a humanist. The arts, either as areas of creation or study, are not represented. Neither are philosophy, classics or indeed any of the traditional humanities.

Broad? No indeed. Rather the committee seems designed to select a “leader” (in the business sense) for a wildly heterogeneous research campus that would fare better with a scholar and educator who acts more as catalyst than boss. As it stands, the corporatization of the University is likely to be accelerated by the next administration. Advantageous as this may seem in the short term, in the long run it is likely to be disastrous — and sometimes in the short run too.

Donald Mintz, B.A. ’49, Ph.D. ’60

  • David Moriah, B.S. 1972

    Good research and good analysis. Anyone who followed the disgraceful situation at the University of Missouri last year when the University President was a businessman with no academic experience could see what that led to – a tone deaf response to the Black Lives Matter protests and an eventual resignation in disgrace. Looks like it’s time for the University to reconsider the composition of this search committee, asap!

    • George

      It sounds like you would like a weak kneed, pathetic President, like the one at Missouri, who capitulated to ignorant demands with barely any resistance. The result is that the University has seen a dramatic fall-off in enrollment leading to a severe budget shortfall.

      • Alum ’98

        “Ignorant demands”? What, pray tell, do you think the purpose of a university is?

        • George

          Among other things, the purpose of a university is to impart knowledge, help students to develop critical thinking skills, and facilitate the transition from dependent child to self-reliant adult. Why do you ask? Do you think that indulging in the teen-age fantasy that the world is going to cater to your every whim is why universities exist?

  • Alum

    Spot On!

  • Donald Mintz

    I should like to add something to my letter shown above. Princeton has had eight presidents since the beginning of the 20th century. Seven of them came from the faculty. The eighth had earned his PhD at Princeton not many years before his appointment as president. These eight people have seen the university through its transition from what was essentially a finishing school for rich, white, Christian southern gentlemen to a world renowned research university that remains powerfully committed to undergraduate education. The combination is not easy to maintain, and few do it as well as Princeton. In the past few months Princeton has turned a potentially explosive racial conflict into what I suppose one must call a “learning experience” for everyone from the president to freshman. This was accomplished under a president from the faculty who understood from experience become instinct how one deals with situations like this in a university. Few could have done so well, and I suspect no one not deeply immersed in the traditions of the university (small “u” here) could have begun to deal with it constructively. Cornell, take note. Look to the faculty for the next president.

  • The Deans hold that roll at Cornell, as does the Faculty Senate and Student Assembly. The President of the University is the corporate head and works with the Dean’s regarding the allocation of assets for the academic part of the Universities functions. I worked as Assistant University Counsel for Cornell and left in part because I was not part of the main function of the academic community. I protected them from outside law suits, and defended the University, but I and most of the administration in this public/private corporation performed tasks that allowed the academic units to flourish without being disrupted. By the way what were the undergraduate majors of these people?