October 22, 2001

Rawlings urges campus to focus on core values

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In a break from the usual laundry list of numbers quantifying Cornell’s successes, President Hunter R. Rawlings III said at the State of the University Address that Cornell needs to focus on core values of community and responsibility in the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedy.

Rawlings spoke with characteristic compassion and composure at 9 a.m. Friday before an audience that nearly filled the Alice Statler Auditorium. The crowd included many of the 700-plus members of the Cornell University Council and the 64 members of the Board of Trustees.

Remembering the words of G.K. Chesterton, the British essayist — who said that the way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost — Rawlings challenged the Cornell community to band together and focus on core values.

He asked everyone to take a moment of silence to honor the lives of 16 Cornell alumni and four parents of current students, who were killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“We remain an open academic community within a free democracy,” Rawlings said. “Like our country, we prize our diversity, and we learn from our differences.”

“We have in the past taken this tradition for granted. But in October 2001, we should not take any of it for granted,” he added.

He praised Cornell for being a campus of “free and creative thinkers — a collection of individuals who regularly express strong beliefs and act upon them with commitment and vigor.”

The source of Cornell’s uncommon strength is its healthy tension between the community and the individual, he said.

By equating academic freedom with the First Amendment, Rawlings said Cornell continues to strive to educate students in open classrooms and campus-wide forums, conduct research and scholarship in open laboratories and libraries, and publish work in open journals.

Cornell’s core concept of freedom with responsibility is manifested in the North Campus Residential Initiative, he said.

Unlike many colleges, where students conform to campus norms and become less individualistic and interesting after they graduate, Cornellians remain an eclectic group which cannot be typecast, he said.

“On our campus — where iconoclasm is the campus norm — we expect our students to think for themselves beginning with the freshman year. We now have a way to encourage such thinking as part of each freshman’s introduction to Cornell,” Rawlings said.

Similarly, he praised Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin’s initiative to have all freshmen read Jared Diamond’s Pulitzer-prize-winning book, “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” which was a “roaring success,” he said.

Plans for the West Campus Residential Initiative, a $250 million project to create five living-learning houses where faculty and students live and study together, will extend living-learning opportunities to upperclassmen.

To further promote academic freedom and responsibility, the University is implementing faculty salary increases for the next five years, which are helping the University’s commitment to aid and recruit distinguished faculty members.

In recent years, average salaries for endowed Cornell faculty have been nearly $9,000 below competitor institutions, with an even higher disparity for statutory college faculty, The Ithaca Journal reported.

To place Cornell at the forefront of scientific research, Rawlings said the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced a $1.56-million donation to the University to build the central engine for the National Science Digital Library, an on-line resource that will make high-quality source materials in science available to students via the World Wide Web.

Cornell will also see its nanotechnology program strengthened through the completion of Duffield Hall in 2003 and another NSF grant for the new Center for Nanoscale Systems in Information Technology. NSF will invest $11.6 million to complete the center over the next five years.

Despite all these improvements, the Cornell community should be prepared for “tight times ahead,” especially for the statutory colleges, where significant state funding shortfalls are expected next year due to a state budget suffering from the New York City terrorist attacks, Rawlings said.

The University is preparing for tight financial times by examining its budget and planning for rigorous analysis of its cost structures, he added.

Rawlings concluded with a message of faith and hope by praising the University for its “creative tension, freedom and responsibility.”

He said Cornell’s spirit was manifested when some 13,000 students, faculty members, staff members, local alumni and their families gathered on the Arts Quad on Sept. 14 for a Memorial Convocation – a scene which made the cover of The Chronicle on Higher Education the following week.

“If ever there was a doubt about the underlying congruity of our large and complex university, it was erased by the events of Sept. 11,” Rawlings said. “We have demonstrated this fall that what unites us is far deeper than what divides us.”

“With the indomitable Cornell spirit,” Rawlings said, Cornell will continue to educate citizens from every country that believes in “the transforming power of critical thought.”

Archived article by Jennifer Roberts