July 19, 2002

Search for Cornell's 11th President Continues

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Since President Hunter R. Rawlings III announced his decision to retire to the Board of Trustees March 15, the Cornell University Presidential Search Committee has been working to find Cornell’s next president. Rawlings’s eight year tenure as the tenth president of Cornell will come to an end on June 30.

At the March press conference announcing Rawlings’s retirement, Peter C. Meinig ’62, who became chair of the Board of Trustees this July, announced the appointment of vice-chair Edwin H. Morgens ’63 as the chair of the search committee. Harold Tanner ’52, then chair of the Board, Meinig and Morgens announced the members of the Presidential Search Committee March 29.

The Committee — which met for the first time April 18 — is comprised of nineteen members, two advisors and an executive secretary. Members include Board-elected trustees; faculty, employee, student and alumni members of the Board of Trustees; as well as other members of the University faculty, a graduate student and a senior administrator.

While Prof. Sandra Greene, history, was named in March as one of the non-trustee faculty representatives to the committee, she is no longer a member of the committee and Prof. Kenneth A. McClane, Jr., English, has filled her position, according to Henrik N. Dullea ’61, vice president for University relations.

The Committee has avowed to make the search process one of community inclusion in which various University constituencies would have voice. In keeping with this goal, the Committee divided into five subcommittees to gather input from the various constituencies within the University, including faculty, students, staff, alumni and the Medical College. A series of four forums, advertised to students, faculty, staff and faculty of the Medical College, were held during April and May as a setting to answer questions and receive suggestions.

The input gathered from the informational forums served to aid the committee in the development of a “case statement” that articulates those characteristics Cornell seeks in its next president and describes the University’s current and future challenges.

The Committee has also established an e-mail address and a mailing address to keep in contact with the community at large, to receive written comments, recommendations and nominations.

In spite of the desire to engage the University community in the search, the Committee is only releasing procedural information to the public throughout the search to ensure the strictest confidentiality is maintained. Consequently, the only candidate name to be released will be that of the Committee’s ultimate nomination for president.

To assist in identifying and recruiting qualified candidates, the Committee has enlisted the Boston search firm Isaacson, Miller. The use of such a search firm is not uncommon to such massive recruiting endeavors and the 1994 search committee that nominated Rawlings to succeed Frank. H.T. Rhodes also utilized an executive search firm, Heidrich & Struggles, according to Dullea.

The Committee, which meets primarily in New York City, plans to compose a preliminary list of candidates, with approximately 150 to 200 names. After the Committee narrows the list to about 50 candidates they will begin checking backgrounds that include academic credentials, administrative experience and fundraising efforts, according to a previous Sun interview with Morgens.

While the Search Committee has not established a deadline for nominating Cornell’s next president, it has announced its intention to follow the model set by the 1994 search conducted by the committee led by Paul Tregurtha, a former trustee. That search also began in March and resulted in the election of Rawlings the following December.

“I believe we are allowed the entire year. It’s something that can fill an entire year but I think that everyone wants to be able to be confident in the decision by December,” said Leslie C. Barkemeyer, student-elected trustee and the only undergraduate member of the search committee, in a previous interview with the Sun.

In its search for a new president, Cornell follows the Ivy League-wide trend of presidential turnover. Brown, Columbia, Harvard and Princeton have all replaced presidents since 2001. This June Lee C. Bollinger replaced George Rupp as president of Columbia and Lawrence H. Summers, former secretary of the treasury, replaced Neil L. Rudenstine as president of Harvard. James Wright entered the presidency of Dartmouth in 1999. Yale’s president Richard Levin is entering his tenth year, now the Ivy’s longest serving president.

Brown and Princeton have followed the lead of the University of Pennsylvania who installed Judith Rodin as the first female president in the Ivy League in 1994. In June of 2001, Shirley M. Tilghman replaced Harold T. Shapiro at Princeton and Ruth J. Simmons replaced E. Gordon Gee at Brown.

“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,” Rawlings said in an April interview.

His eight year tenure is relatively standard of a president at a large research institute considering the high demands of fundraising and continuous development and according to experts the Ivy League trend should not signal an abnormality.

“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 Educational 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.”

The average tenure of Cornell presidents is 13.5 years, including Rawlings who will have served eight years when he retires in 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. Rawlings’ predecessor, Frank H. T. Rhodes served for nearly as long, from 1977 to 1995. 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.

Following his retirement from the presidency next June 30, Rawlings plans to take some time off before returning as a professor of Classics. Rawlings, who began his career as an assistant professor of classics at the University of Colorado Boulder in 1970 and came to Cornell after his seven year tenure as president of the University of Iowa.

Rawlings’s legacy as president will include his tremendous fundraising effort in addition to the transfer of all freshmen to North campus with the massive construction of new residential and community buildings, the proposed west campus initiative to create residential colleges for upperclassmen, and the proposal to establish a branch of the Medical College in Qatar. Since 1995, reconstruction has refurbished Sage Hall, Lincoln Hall, Tjaden Hall, White Hall, and plans have been developed for the construction of Duffield Hall, Milstein Hall and the Life Science Technology building.

While Rawlings’ decision to retire, “was a surprise to me and most everyone, we’re going to try and move along as quickly as possible to make this a smooth transition,” said Prof. Harold Craighead, applied engineering and physics, a member of the search committee, last April.


Archived article by Laura Rowntree