May 3, 2002

AIP Director Leaving C.U.; Moving to Vanderbilt

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After 22 years at Cornell, Prof. Daniel Usner, history, is leaving his position as director of the American Indian Program (AIP). He will relocate to Vanderbilt University’s history department before next fall.

In what students described as an “emotional” final lecture, Usner announced his departure to the students in History 329: Indians, Settlers and Slaves in the Early South. Michael Bronstein ’03 took Usner’s History 329 class this semester and called the final lecture “a powerful moment.”

“[Usner] was a tremendous academic,” said Bronstein. “His teaching, I think, meant a lot to all of us.”

Usner commented on his departure as well.

“I’ve been teaching and enjoying my career here at Cornell … I’ll be sorry to leave,” Usner said.

He cited several reasons for leaving Cornell.

“[It is] an opportunity to teach in a different setting, a somewhat smaller university,” he said, adding that he will be “happy to re-energize both my scholarship and my teaching. My research is mainly on American Indians in the Southeast, so I’m hoping that at Vanderbilt I’ll be able to work with graduate students on American Colonial and American Indian history.”

Although Usner will work only in the history department at Vanderbilt, he cited a scarcity of faculty members in the AIP as a source of frustration.

“At Cornell, there’s still a too-small number of scholars on the faculty,” he said.

The AIP consists of history professors along with two permanent positions — senior lecturer and visiting lecturer.

The program has “very few people who are spread rather thin and have other commitments,” Usner said.

The history department will find a new AIP director by next semester. Currently, a successor hasn’t been announced, but Usner said that Prof. Jane Mt. Pleasant, crop and soil sciences, “has been asked.” Mt. Pleasant would not comment on the directorship.

Additionally, Usner currently serves on the Ethnic Studies Task Force.

“I hope that someone will represent the AIP on the task force,” Usner said.

Usner’s departure is being felt among professors as well as students.

“We will miss him greatly,” Mt. Pleasant said. “He has been a wonderful colleague … one of the hardest-working and [one of] our greatest supporters.”

Bronstein emphasized Usner’s relationship with students.

“He cares about his students in ways that many professors don’t,” he said. “He taught his own sections actually — that’s really unusual.”

Usner commented on areas of his career that he wants to focus on.

“At this stage in my career, I am drawn to working … more closely with students,” Usner said.

Archived article by Andy Guess