Interim President Hunter Rawlings emphasized the need for collaboration between Cornell’s three campuses and unity across racial divides in his annual address to the Employee Assembly Tuesday.
“My mantra this year is ‘one Cornell,’” Rawlings said. “It’s a very simple and straightforward one.”
This ‘mantra’ includes reviewing undergraduate curriculum, mending racial divisions and encouraging Cornell to act as an example by being a “unified community” — all ideas that Rawlings has previously addressed before the Faculty Senate and Graduate and Professional Student Assembly.
Rawlings also updated the assembly on the search for the Cornell’s next president, saying it is “going well” and that the committee has been “winnowing” candidates.
“They are looking forward to a successful conclusion sometime in the next several months,” he said. “I’m pretty confident that they will be able to announce a new president by the end of this year and that the new president will start as soon as possible.”
He also announced that the the first ever recipient of the President’s Award for Innovation in Diversity and Inclusion will be named this November.
Rawlings also spoke about recent events around the United States, that have generally created tension between different groups, and called for unity to counter the influence of these incidents.
“It is very important that we in this community make sure that those events do not happen here,” he said. “And that when they do happen anywhere, we are a single community, one Cornell, confronting such things with our own views and our own cohesion, celebrating and seeking to understand both our differences and the things we hold in common.”
This unity is important in light of current divisions in American society — which manifest themselves in newspapers, television and presidential debates — according to Rawlings.
“It’s especially important that we set a better example — that we show that we are a united community, that we do have values and principles that are common to all of us that we believe in and that we exhibit,” he said. “Not just talking about them but doing them.”
Rawling identified collaboration between Cornell’s different campuses as another facet of ‘One Cornell.’ The Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island — which is set to open next year — will increase the University’s visibility in the city, becoming one of very few institutions with a strong presence in both upstate and downstate New York, he said.
“That’s a remarkable opportunity for us to reach across the line that is so prevalent in New York State history dividing upstate and downstate,” he said. “There is a palpable difference in New Yorkers views of upstate and downstate. Cornell is one of the very few institutions that bridges that gulf. I think it’s important for us to do it well. Cornell staff can help us do this.”
He added that the University has the “responsibility” to serve New York in its role as the state’s land-grant university, and that this role is best fulfilled through both upstate and downstate efforts.
Collaborative projects like the Lean Process Improvement project — which allows staff to learn how to improve a process— are examples of the partnerships Rawlings envisions. He said almost 600 Cornellians have participated in these process improvement teams since 2013, and that the work has taken place in New York City as well as Ithaca.
“Eighty-five teams so far have improved work-flow and made it possible to do more work that actually adds value,” Rawlings said. “That’s a big deal for us to have staff actually come up with the ideas that help us save time and energy, because you all are the ones who are closest to the work.”
The lean process approach has contributed $5.5 million in “added value benefits” to the University, according to Rawlings.
Other examples of Cornell faculty and staff working together to serve the community include the Tompkins County United Way campaign — contributions from Cornell students, faculty and staff comprise almost 40 percent of funds raised each year — and donations to the Cornell Elves Program, which provides local families with toys and clothes around the holidays and school supplies at the beginning of the school year.
“If you look around our area of New York State, there are areas that are clearly impacted by poverty,” Rawlings said. “The more we can do to help them, the more we are carrying out our service responsibility as New York State’s land-grant university.”
Ulysses Smith, the lead diversity and inclusion strategist for the Department of Inclusion and Workforce Diversity, stressed the importance of taking risks in a speech to faculty and staff before Rawlings’s address.
“I want you to be bold,” Smith said. “If we want this institution to sail beyond excellence, we are going to need the innovation and ingenuity of our staff. How can we take the initiative to do things differently, and to have each of you just try something- take a risk- without fear of failure?”