April 8, 2002

Cornell Follows Trend of Ivy Presidential Turnover

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The last two years have witnessed presidential turnover at five of the eight universities that comprise the prestigious association of universities known as the Ivy League. In addition to Cornell, Brown, Columbia, Harvard and Princeton have all lost presidents and have had to embark upon the extensive presidential searches which Cornell will begin this month.

“There is quite a turnover in the Ivy League. Many of us [presidents] are pretty good friends, and now we’re seeing a new generation come in,” said President Hunter R. Rawlings III.

Rawlings will retire as president having served eight years, a relatively standard tenure for the presidency at large research institutes.

“It’s an enormously taxing job. Hunter has raised $1 million a day for the last three years … heavy wear and tear on a human being,” said J. Robert Cooke, dean of the faculty.

The presidential turnover within the Ivy League is not abnormal considering the high demands of the presidency and the relatively average tenure.

“There are cycles in presidencies. If people are hired at roughly the same time, they will tend to turn at roughly the same time,” said Prof. Ronald G. Ehrenberg, industrial and labor relations and economics, the director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute. “The tenure of presidents at Ivy Schools is actually longer than the tenure at most other places. After all, these are the best jobs for presidents.”

Richard L. Levin is serving his ninth year as Yale’s president and will be the Ivy League’s longest serving current president after George Rupp, Columbia’s president, retires after nine years this June. Lee C. Bollinger will replace Rupp at Columbia. Lawrence H. Summers, former secretary of treasury, replaced Neil L. Rudenstine at Harvard. James Wright entered the presidency at Dartmouth in 1999.

Judith Rodin, the first female president of an Ivy League university, began her tenure as the President of the University of Pennsylvania in 1994. Two other Ivies have followed UPenn by installing women in that position. Shirley M. Tilghman replaced Harold T. Shapiro as president of Princeton when Shapiro left the university last June after 12 years. Ruth J. Simmons became president of Brown after E. Gordon Gee also resigned last June after only two years to become president of Vanderbilt University.

“Cornell was the one that began with women and minorities…. It does require a conscious effort to change tradition. After a while, I hope it will become less conscious, more natural. We were founded as a co-educational institution. We have a broader constituency than the other Ivies do,” Rawlings said.

Cornell currently has several high-ranking female administrators including Provost Carolyn A. (Biddy) Martin, vice presidents Mary George Opperman, Polley A. McClure, Susan Murphy ’73, Joanne DeStefano, Carolyn Ainslie, Inge Reichenbach and the dean of the graduate school Alison Powers.

Regarding the possibility of Cornell following this trend of hiring female presidents, Cooke said, “I am sure that will be given high consideration and the community will be delighted if that happens [but] I think we will go for the best candidate…. As far as filling a quota, I don’t think there’s a quota to be filled.”

“Cornell, thanks to Hunter Rawlings, is very deep in female administrators,” Ehrenberg said.

According to Ehrenberg, Cornell is one of two Ivies that has never had a Jewish president.

“Diversity has many dimensions including race, ethnicity and religion. While diversity is important, I suspect that the committee will decide what the key issues are that are likely to face the university over the next decade and then find the person that has the best qualifications to help address those issues. If that person proves to be a female, an under represented minority, or a member of a religious group that never has provided a Cornell president, more power to the committee. That will not, however, be their primary objective,” Ehrenberg added.

13.5 years is the average tenure of Cornell presidents, including President Rawlings who will have served the University for eight years when he retires next June. His term ranks the third shortest of the ten presidents since 1865. Jacob Gould Schurman had the longest tenure as president, from 1892 to 1920. James Alfred Perkins served as president for the shortest period of time from 1963 to 1969 before his tenure came to a close immediately following the student takeover of Willard Straight, a relative time of crisis for the University.

“Cornell has had a relatively small number of presidents. We were spoiled by Frank Rhodes [Rawlings’ predecessor] who spent almost two decades here. We are lucky to have had Hunter Rawlings for eight years. These are very strenuous and demanding jobs,” Ehrenberg said.

Archived article by Laura Rowntree