You may think of the president as the “boss” of Cornell University but, believe me, I have many to whom I “report”: de jure, the Board of Trustees and de facto, the students, faculty, staff, parents and alumni of Cornell.
But perhaps the most interesting boss I have is the Associate Editor of The Sun, Sammy Perlmutter. At a recent meeting, Sammy told me that students would like to know more about how I spend my days at work. So, herewith, a day in the life of the current Cornell University president (note: in order to protect the innocent and myself, I will not comment on a day in the life of my wife and almost all names have been changed to protect confidentiality … and because I forgot most of the first names):
5:45 a.m.: I am awakened by the sounds and the wet nose of our younger Newfoundland, Billie. She is ready to “go” and I mean NOW. I struggle out of bed, gently wake the older Newfie, Miles, and we head out the door for a first morning walk. A quick check of the weather, and I’m ready for whatever comes … not! I fight the urge to climb back into bed and decide to further refine my finely tuned athletic skills.
6:15 a.m.: 30-45 minutes in the home gym, some days the universal machine, some days the treadmill or the elliptical, every day wondering why this was so much easier when I was 30 …
8:30 a.m.: Cleaner and as groomed as I can be, full to the brim of shredded wheat and Cheerios, out the door and on the way to the campus. I enjoy the beauty of Cayuga Heights and the grandeur of the morning … unless it’s one of the rare (say, 90 percent) days when I wonder whether I could actually do my job just as well from home … maybe even from bed … know what I mean? Bet you do.
10:45 a.m.: On my fourth meeting of the day (one with a vice president; one with a visiting alumnus; one with a consultant from Bain & Co. about reconfiguring our administrative operations for greater efficiency; one with a foreign dignitary interested in establishing an academic exchange program for students and faculty), grab a banana, feel self-righteous about my healthy snack choice.
10:47 a.m.: Just learned that my 11 o’clock has cancelled. I run down to the Cornell Store to find and quickly devour an enormous chocolate chip cookie, get rid of the evidence and return to the office, ready for anything.
11:06 a.m.: My colleague, Pat Driscoll, has scheduled another appointment in place of the one that was cancelled. Have to explain to the dean of faculty why I have chocolate chip crumbs on my shirt.
12:04 p.m.: 30 minutes for a lunch at my desk, a brief phone conversation with a member of the Employee Assembly, and finally getting caught up with today’s Sun. Aggravated at the editorial because the editorial staff has again decided to think for themselves instead of slavishly following my preferences and, to boot, their prose is crisper and more to the point than mine … consider returning to the Cornell Store for another cookie but decide against it … not sure why.
1:00 p.m.: Sit down with a small group of faculty members whose expertise spans food and nutrition, international agriculture, development sociology, economics and several other fields in preparation for a meeting at the State Department, where I will make a case on their behalf for enhanced government support for building human and institutional capacity in the developing world. Am grateful for their insights on world hunger and glad I resisted the urge for that second cookie.
3:32 p.m.: In the midst of an hour of “desk time,” ostensibly devoted to catching up on phone calls, e-mail and handwritten notes to alumni, four of my VP colleagues have decided they each need to see me for “five minutes,” devouring the remainder of my desk time. Oh well … no sweat. I’ll catch up on notes and e-mail after my last appointment of the day and will look forward to reading the latest issues of The New England Journal of Medicine and Circulation and other professional literature when I get home.
4:45 p.m.: The reception area in my office seems unusually busy for late in the afternoon. And then I remember that today I’m holding “office hours” for students who signed up in advance. There are eight of them here now, along with Vice President Susan Murphy ’73, and we’re going to spend an hour talking and listening to each other. I’ll probably learn more from them than I would have from those journals anyway.
6:49 p.m.: My other desk time having disappeared so that I could talk with some individuals concerned about “Reimagining Cornell,” I finally open my e-mail and stare in disbelief at three screens of inbox. Sigh, groan. No journals tonight, but who wants to keep learning and thinking when I can do all that tomorrow?
8:58 p.m.: After a quick dinner at my desk, delivered by a sophomore Hotelie who is on duty at Banfi’s (I have a personal account at Banfi’s and they sort of consider this “room service”), I settle down to another hour or so of e-mail and paper homework; I realize that I’m only four days from the due date of my next Sun column. Shoot an e-mail with my brilliant suggestions to my trusted research and writing colleague, Connie Kintner, who reminds me I already have written three welcome columns, four year-end columns and two on strategic planning this year and suggests I read literature to get some better ideas. Maybe tomorrow.
11:29 p.m.: Crawl over Miles, who’s sleeping next to my bed, and settle in, anticipating another day in just a few hours. Billie looks at the clock as if to say, “Better bed down, pops, I’ll be getting you up soon!”
David J. Skorton is president of Cornell University. He may be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org. From David appears monthly.