“The waterfront of possibility is finally before us,” President David Skorton said on Friday afternoon to a room full of University administrators and members of the Board of Trustees. Skorton’s sense of optimism was prevalent among those in attendance at the “historic celebration,” where the University accepted a $35 million donation made by Trustee Andrew Tisch ’71 and his wife, Ann.
The gift will be used to create the Tisch University Professorships, an endowment that seeks both to preserve and expand the University’s faculty. According to the University, the donation represents the second largest gift to Cornell’s Ithaca campus during the current capital campaign. Additionally, The Tisch University Professorships marks the largest gift made to the University exclusively devoted to enhancing its faculty. 
“[The donation] is central to the $4 billion capital campaign, which is at its half-way point, thank goodness,” exclaimed Stephen Ashley ’62, co-chair of the two-year old campaign. Since its launch in October 2006, the capital campaign has raised $2.2736 billion of its $4 billion goal. The campaign aims to raise $1.885 billion for faculty and program support.
Ashley recognized the significance of the timing of the donation, citing that the recent financial crisis heightens the importance of strategic investments.
“This gift comes at a particularly important time,” Ashley stressed. “Juxtaposed with what is being discussed in Washington, there is a great, great future if we invest where it really matters.”
Aside from the monetary value of the gift, however, Ashley acknowledged, “The true capital of a university is its faculty.”
Skorton further emphasized that the gift should help quell fears regarding an impending reshuffling of University faculty.
“We do anticipate an enormous wave of retirements,” Skorton said. “The prospect of this wave of retirements further intensifies the competition [for replacement faculty].”
In January, The Sun reported that the University is anticipating the retirement of 600 tenured faculty members — or one third of its entire faculty — in the next ten years. Potential faculty losses, Skorton said, keep him up at night.
Skorton vowed to use the donation to energetically and strategically improve Cornell’s faculty. The Professorships, he said, highlight the “ethos of excellence” of the University.
Praising the Tisches for their commitment to Cornell and to higher education, Skorton recalled a conversation he had with Andrew about “how this day could occur.”
Both Andrew and Ann, Skorton said, have a “long distance vision for higher education”
As a member of the Board of Trustees, Andrew “understands the importance to connect more efficiently with alumni,” Skorton said.
Andrew, who is currently the chairman of the Executive Committee of the Loews Corporation, credited his wife as “an inspiration for education.”
Ann Tisch is the president and founder of The Young Women’s Leadership Foundation and The Young Women’s Leadership Schools, which has established four all-girls public schools for over 3,000 inner-city students to date. Ann is also the founder of CollegeBound, the college-counseling program, which places well-trained counselors in inner-city public high schools.
“We’ve been fortunate in our lives to have come from a family with more than modest means,” Andrew acknowledged. “The less obvious blessing [is to have] come from a family that emphasized higher education.”
“We come from a culture that understands the importance of higher education,” Tisch continued. “College is the realization of the American Dream.”
In 2002, Andrew and his brother James Tisch ’75 founded the Andrew H. and James S. Tisch Distinguished University Professorship, which honors faculty members who are approaching retirement and extends their career for up to three years. Prof. William Provine, ecology and evolutionary biology, was the second professor to be named to the post.
Provine said the Professorship rejuvenated his time at Cornell.
“It enables these professors to keep on teaching for three more years,” he explained. “My research has gone booming in the last three years.”
Provine described the Tisches’ most recent donation as “a wonderful gift,” which will benefit everyone at Cornell.
The donation was intentionally made with flexible provisions and few regulations. The specific allocations of the fund, which is to be used University-wide, will be determined by the provost.
“I have great faith in the president and provosts. They’re going to do the right thing,” Tisch told The Sun. “I have seen too many gifts with too many string attached. I’d rather the gift be as broad as possible.”