August 30, 2002

Presidential Search Committee Releases New Statement

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The Presidential Search Committee that will appoint the successor to President Hunter R. Rawlings III released a statement Aug. 21 that addressed the state of the University and indicated desirable qualities of presidential candidates.


The document released by the search committee, entitled “The Cornell Opportunity” and available on the Board of Trustees website, specifically outlines the challenges that the University’s 11 president will face in addition to several characteristics the committee has deemed ideal in the next president.

“The search committee has used the summer months to good advantage, working diligently to move the search process forward,” wrote Edwin H. Morgens ’61, chair of the search committee in the introduction to the Aug. 21 statement. “We are very pleased with the response received to date as we continue to identify the best possible candidate to serve as Cornell’s eleventh president.”

“This is a document of the Search Committee. There were some people who worked on it, but the Search Committee approved it,” said Barbara Krause, executive secretary of the search committee.

The lengthy statement was constructed by members of the search committee based on input from the Cornell community. In addition to several forums held in May to answer questions and obtain suggestions from various University constituencies, the Committee contacted every member of 1,500 faculty; addressed every student, including at least 18,000 undergraduates, graduates, Ph.D. candidates by e-mail and post letter; and sent 160,000 letters to alumni.


The student forum, held in May, was sparsely attended.

In a July interview with the Sun, Morgens said the Committee also wrote to community leaders and spoke directly with every dean, sixteen in all, and every member of the senior staff. Additionally, the Committee has “read, acknowledged and catalogued” more than 3,000 letters received in return.

“The Cornell Opportunity” follows an advertisement the Committee placed in The Chronicle of Higher Education early this summer. Now the Search Committee is in the process of gathering names of candidates for the presidency.

“The Cornell Opportunity” opened with a statement addressing the nature of the University from its founding and mission to its modern position. The document then listed several challenges the next president will encounter in the coming years, involving a broad array of University issues from diversity to information technologies. An outline of personal qualities and employment experience concluded the statement.

The main source of names will come largely from contacts involved in higher education from around the country, including former University President Frank H.T. Rhodes and Stanley O. Ikenberry, former president of the American Council on Education, according to Morgens.

Considering the experience “The Cornell Opportunity” seeks in a candidate, former or current university presidents will most likely comprise the list of potential nominees, according to Morgens. However, he said that the Committee will not exclude provosts and other university administrators from its search.

“We’re not closing out any characteristics, like age, gender or background,” Morgens said. “There will be no cutoff per se. There will be a dividing of the list: A candidates, B candidates.”

The committee will divide the list perhaps into a group of an initial 50 candidates, then 25 then 10 and then a final few according to Morgens.

“We’re going to actually speak with more than 25 candidates and less than 50,” he said.

While the current search has been modeled on the 1994 search process that ultimately nominated Rawlings, Morgens said that the committee is “ahead of the 1994 process which didn’t start forums until September. We’re well ahead of schedule.”

Cornell’s next president, “has to understand and embrace its complexity, has to understand its mission and strategic initiations which have been brought up by the community,” Morgens said.

Of those characteristics promoted by the Search Committee, Morgens said, “we’re not going to get them all.”

Despite the individuality of Cornell as a partially privately endowed, partially statutory university, Morgens said he is still confident the University will attract candidates of the highest caliber.

“Cornell is in a great position as a University. It’s got a balanced budget, low level of campus strife, the departing president is having garlands spread before him and he’s not even leaving campus. This is a plum job in academia today,” Morgens added.

Morgens added that the search committee must maintain a level of strict confidentiality and discretion to ensure attracting the ideal candidates. When the search committee has identified several potential nominees for the presidency, it will conduct interviews at their places of business, their homes or in New York, to most accommodate the candidates.

“This has to be done in a very discreet manner. In an open search [such as those conducted by large state universities], most candidates won’t surface because they are already gainfully employed. If the search gets compromised we could lose a lot of good candidates,” Morgens said. “We do not report on candidates to the Board of Trustees or the executive committee. We’ve told the Board and the Board agrees that we have to [conduct the search] in a very discreet manner.”

To foster the process of confidentiality and discourage inappropriate influence, the search committee has established separate offices in Ithaca and New York City in addition to separate fax machines, post office boxes and e-mail accounts. The search committee has also chosen not to reveal the location and times of their meetings.

While the search committee plans not to release the details about their meetings, Morgens told the Sun in a July interview that the committee had met twice, in April and June, and had tentatively scheduled a meeting for July and two for August.

“In terms of the committee schedule, it’s not something we’re discussing publicly other than that, as mentioned in the [August 21] press release, we’ve made good progress,” Krause added.

Following Rawlings’ announcement of his intention to retire at the March 15 meeting of the Board of Trustees in Ithaca, Peter C. Meinig ’62, chair of the Board of Trustees and Harold N. Tanner ’52, then-chair, announced the appointed members of the committee.

The 1994 Presidential Search Committee announced its nomination of Rawlings the December following President Frank H.T. Rhodes’ announcement at the March 1994 meeting of the Board.

Archived article by Laura Rowntree