President David J. Skorton requested the crowd who gathered to listen his second annual staff address yesterday afternoon in Alice Statler Auditorium to call him “David.” The only exceptions, he noted, were the vice presidents in the audience who he requested to say, “Good afternoon, Your Immenseness” in exchange for their salaries. The laughter that followed set the tone for the next hour, which included both Skorton’s speech and his responses to a compilation of questions and concerns of Cornell employees.
Skorton’s speech was filled with praise for the Cornell community’s recent and upcoming achievements, awards and projects. He noted the ever-unfinished nature of success and the often under-appreciated role of Cornell employees in these institutional successes.
“People refer to schools like Cornell as small cities or … complex organizations … And I know and I want you to know that I know … this small city operates because of the things you do everyday, sometimes with recognition, most of the time without … direct recognition,” he said.
Skorton highlighted the Cornell Comprehensive Master Plan, revised plans for which were revealed last week, and the 1.7 billion dollars already raised in Cornell’s large fundraising capital campaign to raise 4 billion dollars. He also addressed the University’s growing international presence. This May, Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar will have its first graduating class, making them the first group of medical students to get an M.D. degree outside of the U.S. from an American university. Finally, Skorton praised Cornell for having the 13th greatest presence of international students in the country.
“I want to talk a little bit about diversity and inclusion,” he said. “Cornell is one of the places that really strives to make [advancement in diversity] a reality. Does that mean we don’t have farther to go? No, we have a lot farther to go. But it is important to take time to celebrate when things are progressing.”
Citing an array of recent awards demonstrative of Cornell’s accommodating work culture, like Working Mother magazine’s naming Cornell as one of the best 100 employers in ’06 and ’07.
“The [American Association of Retired Persons] — of which I am a proud member — selected us for one of the top 50 for workers over 50 in ’05, ’06 and again in In the latter half hour of the address, topics ranged from the implications for employee growth under Cornell’s CMP to testing the University’s new emergency response system, to Skorton’s vegetarianism and personal time-management tips.
The emergency response system is on its way to being tested, and Skorton, who presided over University of Iowa during a 1991 campus shooting spree, addressed the issue in depth, promising a future test run of the new procedure:
“Why haven’t we tested this thing already some time ago? ... We are trying to make sure that everyone has had time to register in the system … and finishing the protocols for when the system should be activated … Yes, it will be tested, and, yes, you will be alerted beforehand.”
As far as being a successful vegetarian is concerned, Skorton notes two absolute musts:
“You have to have variety…and you have to like rice and beans.”
More contentious issues including the rising cost of transportation and employee access to alternative transportation to and from campus were largely absent from the talk as Skorton implicitly mentioned them as examples of work that lies ahead for Cornell as a community.
However, in response to questions about Cornell’s relations with and dedication to the Tompkin’s County Living Wage Coalition, Vice President of Human Resources Mary George Opperman expressed active cooperation and mutual respect between the two organizations. Cornell offers a minimum employee wages and benefits package above what the Living Wage Coalition campaigns for.
“The main challenge we are facing right now,” said Opperman,”… is that there are periods of time when we don’t have work for the staff in the dining halls and residence halls … and we are working with [the coalition] to solve these problems this year.”
Various members of the staff agreed with one another over a pizza lunch following the address that Skorton was more than well informed, and his personal style was particularly appealing:
Ned La Celle, staff member in the CIT Information Systems department, thought Skorton seemed “very comfortable making speeches; he identifies with us on a basic level, that rings true with the staff.”