December 3, 2002

Rawlings Comments on C.U. in Online Interview

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President Hunter R. Rawlings III discussed the State of the University in an interview that is now accessible on Cornell’s Cybertower website (

In the interview, Rawlings looks back on his eight years at Cornell and comments on the direction in which the University is now headed.

Rawlings addressed the complications that have arisen because of today’s lagging economy. Cornell’s endowment has suffered over the past several months and the administration has been forced to reevaluate its finances.

In response he said, “We are trying to be more efficient in our spending of money.”

Included in this reevaluation was the questioning of whether the disciplines under the School of Architecture, Art and Planning were truly connected and warranted their own school.

Rawlings was careful to say that no decision has been reached, and it is still quite possible that the administration will settle for working to integrate the three departments within the architecture school, instead of “axing” the school.

Another issue Rawlings addressed was the increased emphasis he has placed on undergraduate education since beginning his tenure as the University’s 10th president.

Of this he said, “That’s the reason Ezra Cornell founded the University in the first place.”

He claimed that at many other universities undergraduates are marginalized in favor of research endeavors and graduates.

Rawlings also stressed the importance of freshman year to the undergraduate experience. In support of this idea, he cited the North Campus Initiative and the Freshman Book Project. He claimed that requiring all incoming students to read a book of the University’s choice and to live in the same community gives freshman the “chance to build an intellectual community from the start.”

The West Campus Initiative, to begin this year continues the development of an intellectual community.

Cybertower was created a year and a half ago through Cornell’s Adult University to “maintain intellectual connections between Cornell faculty and alumni,” according to its assistant director, Lynn Abbott.

Abbot said that the site has grown to be a “way of using state-of-the-art technology to give an instant portal to the fine teaching of Cornell.”

Each month a different member of the faculty gives a lecture or interview via a video feed, to keep alumni informed of new intellectual developments at Cornell. The site is free and all are encouraged to participate in forums that allow for the expression of opinions regarding the lecture or interview.

Finally, Rawlings concluded his interview by advising Cornell’s incoming president to “make sure your own intellectual interests are preserved,” and “make sure you enjoy the job.”

In his interview, Rawlings also addressed the three “enabling” disciplines that he and an interdisciplinary committee selected as pivotal to the University’s intellectual growth. Those disciplines are computing and information sciences, material sciences and genomics.

Rawlings said that because of the crucial importance of these disciplines they will now receive “privilege through investment.”

He was quick to underline his humanist roots, praising Cornell’s humanities departments such as English, history, Germanic studies and philosophy. He said that they form some of the strengths of Cornell and must not be marginalized for the sake of the sciences.

Rawlings has announced that he will step down at the end of this academic year. A search committee has been formed and is looking for Cornell’s next president.

Rawlings became president July 1, 1995. He graduated with honors in classics from Haverford College in 1966.

The interview was conducted by Glenn Altschuler, dean of the School of Continuing Education, in mid-November, and runs slightly over 45 minutes long.

Archived article by Michael Margolis