Since President Hunter R. Rawlings III announced his resignation on March 15, faculty and administrators have looked back on his seven-year career with awe and respect. While many of Rawlings’ achievements are undeniable improvements in the eyes of many, segments of the Cornell community have expressed regret and concern over some of his policies and decisions — many of which have spurred debate and disagreement.
The issues that have perhaps seen the most attention are the North Campus Residential Initiative and its companion program, the West Campus Residential Initiative. The administration has recently begun hearing students’ opposing views on the program at forums such as one held by the Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) sorority on March 30.
“The North Campus Initiative I think clearly is a problem,” AKA president Natalie Hardnett ’04 said, adding that it was put into action “without any test run, without any research.”
“[Rawlings] doesn’t seem to take any responsibility for anything,” she added.
Prof. Emeritus Donald J. Barr, policy analysis and management, agrees.
“I was on the Residential Initiative committee that met for over a year to plan and discuss what was going to happen with … North Campus, West Campus,” Barr said. “It was a damn good committee, there were a lot of students on it.” He said the committee stressed “the importance of having upperclass mentors living with freshmen,” and that “the committee, after a year, recommended that it stay the way it is … if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
“My recommendation went to [President] Rawlings and two to three days later he came out and announced the opposite — it never really got explained to us [why he made the decision],” he said, adding that some members of the Residential Initiative committee suspected that it “may have been a done deal from the start — it happened too quick.”
Barr also noted the impact of the Initiative on program houses, making it “difficult for them to survive.”
“In ’97 … it was going to be official University policy that no freshmen students would be allowed to live in program houses,” said Ryan Horn ’02, chairman of the Cornell Review, describing a move initially “hailed” by conservatives on campus. “[But] as soon as he had made the decision, he waved the white flag and reversed course.”
“I think the North Campus Initiative … to some extent was modeling [after] these other schools [such as Harvard] — [citing those schools’ similar programs] makes everything ‘right,'” Barr said.
Horn had other problems with the Initiative, mostly involving the plan’s execution.
“At first, I think, it was a decent idea … the way it was executed … it really turned out to be a botched transition,” he said. “A lot of students who preferred to stay on North were unhappy … they were forced out.”
As an alternative, Horn suggested allowing upperclassmen who already lived on North Campus at the time of the Initiative’s start to stay, “but no new [upperclassmen] on North Campus.”
Hand-in-hand with the Initiative is the required reading begun by the University with this year’s freshman class — Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond for the Class of 2005. Hardnett suggested that Cornell instituted the requirement as a response to other universities.
“The administrative rush is just to follow suit, join the bandwagon,” Hardnett said, who served as a book discussion leader last fall. “Cornell has gone under many changes … more geared toward making [the University] just another Ivy. Maybe they’re trying to move us up in the ranks. They fail to do that when they take away the things that set them apart.”
Two other topics of debate are the institution of eCornell, an online distance learning program and the closing of the Ward Reactor.
Many debated the former’s validity as a for-profit initiative but much of the controversy has since ended.
J. Robert Cooke, dean of the University faculty, previously voiced his opposition to the profit motive but has since shown his support for eCornell.
“I’m supportive of eCornell and believe it evolved into a form that is acceptable to most of the faculty,” Cooke said. He would not comment on any other policies approved by Rawlings during his tenure.
“I think that the Ward Reactor, seeing that there are only two of its kind in upstate New York … is a part of our prestige,” Horn said, calling Rawlings’ support of the reactor’s shutdown “less than admirable.”
Another source of contention is Rawlings’ actions immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks.
“I have a real problem with the way that he handled things,” Hardnett said. “After the attacks, he sends out an e-mail saying it’s up to the professors whether to cancel classes. [His speech] sounded like a speech he prepared earlier, plugging the University.”
Another major area of concern, especially this year with an increasing number of bias-related incidents, is the University’s response to racial discrimination and violence.
“I think the administration has reacted, at times, too slowly to [incidents] on campus … around race,” Barr said.
Another major initiative put forth during Rawlings’ tenure is the institution of the Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar. The decision to create a school in the Middle East drew fire from many students and faculty across campus.
“My biggest problem was that I would be a little skeptical about putting a medical school in the Middle East, especially now,” Horn said. He said there is reason to reconsider the school, citing the Emir of Qatar’s opposition to the United States’ actions in Afghanistan.
In addition, Horn cited problems he has regarding conservative representation on campus and Rawlings’ public treatment of the Cornell Review.
“Moderates and conservatives are really underrepresented at Cornell,” he said, mentioning the government department’s single conservative professor as an example. “[Rawlings has] allowed the curriculum to become politicized. I don’t think it’s being true to Cornell’s mission statement. It’s clear that he does not mean intellectual diversity [when referring to the mission statement].”
Although various groups on campus have expressed problems with certain decisions on the part of President Rawlings, they also seem to appreciate his positive attributes.
“I identify with and respect his decision to move away from administrating and to writing and teaching … I did the same thing,” Barr said.
“I think Hunter is probably … a wonderful professor, I hear good things from him in the classroom,” Hardnett said.
Archived article by Andy Guess