Welcome to the start of the 2012-13 academic year — an exciting time for all of us, whether we have been at Cornell for many years or are new to the Hill. The new academic year is a time to consider how we can make the most of the wonderful opportunities available to all of us here.
Each of us has our own interests, hopes and dreams. Here are three things I’m excited about as I look to the year ahead:
First, this year marks the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act of 1862, which established land grant universities to provide people in every state with a sound and practical education. The sesquicentennial of the Morrill Act seems an ideal time, individually and institutionally, to renew and extend our land-grant roots and apply our knowledge and skills to lift the world’s burdens.
I am proud of what we have already achieved. Last spring, for example, we formally joined with CARE, the international humanitarian organization, to launch the CARE-Cornell Partnership and its Impact through Innovation Fund. Spearheaded by our Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, the partnership links CARE’s development professionals in more than 70 countries with Cornell researchers, creating a feedback loop that delivers assistance to the most vulnerable populations, especially women and children.
Another example is Cornell NYC Tech, the applied sciences campus that we are developing in New York City in partnership with Technion-Israel Institute of Technology; our announcement soliciting applications for the “beta” class of computer science master’s students just went out last week. Cornell NYC Tech will accelerate New York City’s emergence as a leader in high technology, focusing initially on three multidisciplinary academic hubs: healthier life, built environment and connective media. In the process Cornell NYC Tech may provide a new model for collaborations between research universities, the private sector and government.
Students have long played a major role in carrying out Cornell’s commitment to service. Each year, Cornell students contribute more than 400,000 hours of service to our campus and the larger community. This year, some students came back a week early to participate in the Pre-Orientation Service Trips program, volunteering in the community while bonding with other Cornellians. And in this Presidential election year, there will undoubtedly be many opportunities to become engaged with the political process. As you decide how to spend your time this semester, I encourage you to build on Cornell’s land grant tradition — whether through service-learning courses, research projects or volunteer opportunities through Cornell Public Service Center or student organizations and teams.
Second, the new academic year offers opportunities for shared learning experiences that cross disciplinary boundaries. Many of us — whether we are new students, returning students, members of the faculty, staff, alumni body or greater Ithaca community — have enjoyed reading and discussing the new student reading project book, The Life Before Us (Madame Rosa) by Romain Gary. And new, multidisciplinary University courses, piloted last spring and expanded for the current academic year, offer students in all schools and colleges a way to explore various topics from multidisciplinary perspectives. This year’s courses range from the “History of Exploration: Land, Sea and Space,” taught by Professors Mary Beth Norton and Steve Squyres, to “Hip Hop: Rhythm, Words and Life,” taught by Professors Lyrae Van Clief Stephanon, Steve Pond and Travis Gosa.
Throughout the year, there will also be lectures, presentations and performances by distinguished visitors, including Eric Schmidt, former CEO and current executive chair of Google, who will be presenting the 2012 Hatfield Lecture on September 20. The Cornell Concert Series will offer four concerts during the fall semester, beginning with the Tia Fuller Quartet on September 14. I hope to see you at some of these events.
Third, at a large university like Cornell it is important to find smaller communities in which we can feel comfortable and at home, whether in one of the more than 1,000 recognized student groups on campus, a sports team, a fraternity or sorority or a residential house. But we also gain so much by extending ourselves in new directions, by interacting with people whose backgrounds and perspectives may be very different from our own, and by being open to new opinions and ideas.
The Tapestries of Possibility workshops available at the beginning of the semester explore the challenges and benefits of living in our community. I introduced a session last week, and learned a great deal from members of the Ordinary People theater troupe and from the students in attendance.
Unfortunately we began the semester with reports of two bias incidents within the span of a few days that reportedly involved verbal slurs and physical harassment of Cornell students, leading to one charge and further police investigation.
Shortly after the first incident, Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick '09 and I issued a statement welcoming newcomers to our community, expressing our dismay and concern about the incident in Collegetown and reaffirming our community values of civility and tolerance. We remain committed to addressing such incidents through enforcement, education and outreach.
Together we can reinforce Cornell’s commitment to being a caring community, where we look out for each other and treat others with civility and respect while also widening our horizons. I look forward to seeing you around campus and to working with you to make this an extraordinarily positive year for Cornell and all members of our community.
David J. Skorton is president of Cornell University. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. From David appears bi-monthly this semester.