It’s great to greet all of you from my first column in The Cornell Daily Sun. In our short time in Ithaca, my wife, Robin Davisson (professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine and in the Weill Medical College), and I have already begun to feel right at home. The students, faculty, staff, and the larger community have all made us feel welcome and a part of this scene. Like you, we were drawn here by the egalitarian ideal of Cornell, the distinction of the faculty and the uncommon sense of larger purpose that pervades the University’s every endeavor. It is a pleasure to be starting with the Class of 2010.
Most important to us, as faculty members, and to me, as president, is fostering interaction and communication with all students. In this first Daily Sun column, I will write about this interaction and communication. How will we communicate with each other? How will you be able to affect university policies and procedures? How can your perspective help to guide the course of Cornell?
First, I appreciated the meetings I had last spring with undergraduate, graduate and professional student leaders, and I intend to continue those meetings on a regular basis throughout the year. Second, I will sponsor regular, open evening meetings where any student may come to discuss issues of importance to our campus and to our aspirations as a University. Vice President for Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy will join me in hosting these regular meetings, and we will view them as a place to confront problems as well as to explore opportunities. Third, this column will appear on a monthly basis in The Sun, and you are welcome to respond to it in print or online (as space and the editors will allow). Fourth, I will respond to e-mail sent to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, either personally or by forwarding your question, suggestion or concern to others in senior positions in the University. Fifth, as time permits, I look forward to meeting many of you in my office.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the response of the university administration to student activism.
Student involvement in campus and in larger societal issues is a proud and effective tradition around the world. The legacy of that tradition is felt strongly here at Cornell. You have unusual and unusually important perspectives on the issues of the day: as young adults, you have the fresh viewpoints of a new generation. Student bodies in our great research universities are often quite diverse — racially, politically, in gender and sexual orientation, philosophically, spiritually, economically, internationally. That diversity may lead, in turn, to a diversity of worldview that can inform effective and stimulating debate. Moreover, students have an important stake in the actions and policies of our University, including those that affect the campus and those that may have a broader economic, political or social impact. Some students will choose to act on that stake and participate in shared university governance by seeking election to our board of trustees, or to positions of representative leadership for the student body in general, for the Greek system or for other organizations. Others will choose to be grassroots participants, seeking to have an impact through their involvement and action. Still others will choose to influence decisions, policies and actions through organization and protest. All of these means are effective; all of these means are welcome.
We have all witnessed the potent effect student activism has on a whole range of issues of importance to our community. I participated in activism during the 1960’s, when I was an undergraduate at UCLA and at Northwestern University and when the Vietnam War and civil rights were topics of protest and impassioned debate. I have no doubt that you and I will have our chances to deal with issues, large and small, that affect Cornell, Ithaca, Tompkins County, New York State, our country and the world. Of course, it is likely that we will not agree on every issue, but I welcome — I genuinely welcome — the dialogue. I ask only one thing of you: that we continue to honor the university as a marketplace of ideas — a marketplace that displays its wares from every part of the political, economic, spiritual and philosophical spectra. No debate, no issue, no opinion, no matter how strongly felt, should lead to stifling of other opinions, to censorship, to inhibition of open discussion. And civil discourse should be the rule. Reasonable people will disagree, and often, and we can all learn from that disagreement. So, let the dialogue begin!
I’m looking forward to your feedback, to learning from you and to meeting many of you on campus every day.
Hope you have a great semester ... be talking with you soon.
David J. Skorton is the President of Cornell University. He can be reached at email@example.com. From David will appear every month.