After the Cornell University Board of Trustees elected Harold Tanner ’52 as its chair in 1997, he set a goal to ensure that the University would be stronger when he left his chair than when he started. When he leaves his position this summer, after five years as the leader of the University’s governing body, Tanner said he will “feel comfortable that this goal has been attained.”
Peter C. Meinig ’62, who has served as a trustee since 1991, will assume the chair in July. He currently serves as the chair of the Board’s Executive Committee.
“Peter Meinig is a great Cornellian, a sound and dedicated trustee and a good friend,” Tanner said. “He will be an outstanding chairman.”
Tanner, who received his master’s degree in business administration from Harvard University in 1956 after graduating from Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, has spent his professional career as an investment banker. In 1987, he founded Tanner & Co., a private investment banking firm in New York City.
Self-described as “not particularly active as an undergraduate at Cornell,” Tanner became involved in alumni affairs after the Willard Straight Hall takeover of 1969.
“After the Straight incident, I believed the University would lose its traditional support,” he said.
As a member of the Cornell Council and the chair of his class’s 25th and 30th year reunion campaigns, Tanner became “increasingly impressed with the University.”
He was appointed to the Board of Trustees in 1982.
Tanner later served as co-chair of the Cornell Campaign, which raised $1.5 billion for the University and set a record for the most money raised in a university campaign when it ended in 1995.
“[During the campaign], the alumni were educated about the importance of the endowment to the University,” Tanner said.
Since 1995, the University has raised more than $100 million every year in endowment money.
“It’s very important for the future of the University,” Tanner said.
Tanner also served as vice chair of the presidential search committee that selected President Hunter R. Rawlings III as Cornell’s tenth president.
“Fortunately, Cornell has had a strong president throughout my term [as chair]. It’s been a pleasure to work with Hunter Rawlings. He is an outstanding leader,” Tanner said.
Rawlings reciprocated Tanner’s praise by describing him as “an absolutely wonderful chairman.”
“[Tanner] is not only enormously dedicated and loyal but completely committed in terms of spending time and resources on our behalf,” Rawlings said. “He has devoted thousands of dollars to Cornell, and he has helped us sort through difficult policy issues. I can’t say enough good things about him.”
During his tenure as chair, the University has seen the completion of many important projects, Tanner said, including the North Campus Residential Initiative.
The North Campus Residential Initiative situated the entire freshmen class on North Campus and added two residence halls and a community center to the area.
“The concept of the residential housing program was something the University had been struggling with for years,” Tanner said. “There were no easy solutions. The concept of North Campus and the way that it has been executed is something we’re very proud of.”
Tanner said he is excited about the West Campus Residential Initiative, which will make West Campus a “living/learning environment.” Plans for the area include building new residence halls in which students and faculty will live alongside one another.
“The residential education program is the key to improving the heart and soul of the University,” Meinig said.
In addition, the Board was “heavily involved” in the controversial Lake Source Cooling (LSC) project during Tanner’s tenure. LSC recently received the Governor’s Award for Pollution Prevention since it dramatically reduced Cornell’s reliance on cooling technologies that release ozone-damaging chloroflorocarbons (CFCs).
“[LSC] worked out better than projected,” Tanner said. “I am very pleased with how it is functioning.”
Under Tanner’s leadership, the Board announced plans last year to establish the Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar in conjunction with the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani.
“The plans are to go forward with construction [despite the events of Sept. 11],” Tanner said. “The first group of pre-medical students will begin in 2002, and the first medical students will start in 2004.”
The Board also made a commitment to need-blind admissions and raised $200 million in endowment money to support financial aid while Tanner was chair.
Meinig said that it is important for the University to retain its need-blind admissions policy.
“Students should be admitted on their ability to do the academic work and their promise rather than their ability to pay tuition,” he said.
Since Tanner assumed the chair in 1997, endowed tuition rates have increased from $21,840 for the 1997-98 academic year to $27,270 for the 2002-’03 academic year.
“We need the money to deliver the services that students wish to receive,” Tanner said. “Cornell is not the highest in terms of tuition and it is not as heavily endowed as other schools. Ideally we would not like to increase tuition, but it is impractical to think of that with expenses increasing all the time.”
Tanner’s successor is in a strong replacement for Tanner, according to Rawlings.
“Peter Meinig has a long and strong record as a Cornell alumnus. He has chaired the executive committee very ably, and he knows Cornell University inside and out,” he said.
Like Tanner, Meinig received a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard after majoring in mechanical engineering at Cornell.
“I had a wonderful experience as an undergraduate. The coursework was challenging and difficult, and the associations and friends I made there have been lifelong,” Meinig said.
Meinig and his wife Nancy met in high school and attended Cornell together. When Meinig’s job sent the couple to Mexico City, they became involved in the city’s local Cornell Club.
“When you’re a foreigner, you look for affinity groups to latch on to,” Meinig said, explaining that participating in the club signified the beginning of his and Nancy’s involvement as alumni.
The Meinigs have been involved in Cornell ever since, making a large donation to the Cornell National Scholars program in 1998.
During his one-year term as chair, Meinig said the Board should “strive to maintain and improve the University’s status as a research-based institution.”
Meinig also said that the Board is dedicated to its educational and research initiatives, including the Life Sciences Technology building, which will advance the University’s role in genomics and nanotechnology research. “We also want to enhance the University’s position in humanities and liberal arts,” he said.
However, Meinig said that the Board of Trustees currently faces budgetary challenges.
“Today’s immediate issue is to live within our means,” he said. “We have budget pressures from the reduced support from the State of New York,” which, Meinig claimed, were due in part to the events of Sept. 11.
Among the future goals for the University, both Tanner and Meinig said that raising the compensation of the faculty is a priority. “The University should continue with Rawlings’ program to improve the economic situation of our faculty,” Meinig said.
In order to avoid feeling removed from the University, Meinig said that the Board should have as many interactions with the students and faculty as possible.
“The Board makes a big effort to stay in tune with the University, but it’s never enough,”
he said. “We can always do more.”
Tanner said that he wants to “ensure an absolutely seamless transaction,” when Meinig assumes the chair this summer.
“A five-year term was fine,” said Tanner, who plans to serve the University in a more average alumnus capacity after his term ends. “It was a privilege to have the opportunity to serve as chairman. It has been one of the great joys of my life.”
Archived article by Stephanie Hankin