December 15, 2002

Students, Faculty React to Lehman's Selection

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As the search for Cornell’s new president ended Saturday with the appointment of Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77, many community members reacted positively to the choice of the current dean of the University of Michigan law school.

“He sounds very exciting and I’m sure he’ll do very good things for Cornell,” said Prof. Uri Possen, chair of the economics department. “It’s a very exciting time.”

Most students and faculty members interviewed said they were pleased that the new president is a University alumnus. None of the ten previous presidents attended Cornell.

“It could be a good thing because he could hopefully remember what it was like to be a student here,” Lauren Stefaniak ’03 said.

One student who is already familiar with Lehman is his son, Jacob, a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Family Tradition

Jacob Lehman is not sure what to expect when his father becomes president, but thinks that it will not be “terribly awkward.”

“I think there will be aspects that will be nice,” Jacob said. “A lot of people know me for myself. There’s not an issue of people stereotyping me based on him.”

Jacob did want to set the record straight on one point, according to President Hunter R. Rawlings III during a luncheon welcoming the new president. Does the president-elect’s son get hockey tickets?

Men’s ice hockey coach Mike Schafer and players Matt and Mark McRae ’03 answered this question Saturday when they presented Jacob and his dad with two tickets to the Dec. 28 game against the University of Maine.

According to Sidney Leibovich ’65, director of mechanical and aerospace engineering, finding a president who has affection for the University is quite unusual. “The president really does shape the way things happen,” he said. “It was a thrill to finally know who the selection was,” he said.

Faculty members noted that Lehman’s experience on campus would help him determine school

policy. “I am sure from attending Cornell, he has a sense of the University,” said Prof. Laura Brown, chair of the English department.

Despite what many members of the Cornell community predicted, the presidential search committee opted against hiring a female or minority president. Many students agreed that finding a president with the best credentials should be the first priority.

“I think it just matters who fits the right criteria,” Curtis Leung ’05 said. “If it’s a white person who fits it the best, then it’s OK.”

Serenity Delaney ’06 suggested that the candidate pool in Lehman’s age group would probably consist primarily of white males, and that there were probably a limited number of underrepresented candidates from which to choose.

“I think the selection committee should look for the most qualified candidate,” Adriana Sherwood ’03 said. “If it’s a minority or a woman, so be it. Race and gender should not be a factor.”

Some students argue that the selection committee should have been more aggressive in attempting to find and evaluate female or minority candidates.

Amy Breitberg ’04 said that the University should follow the growing trend of appointing female or minority presidents.

“They shouldn’t disqualify people because they fit the past profile,” Stefaniak said. “But they shouldn’t specifically search for what’s been in the past.”

Earlier this year, there was speculation that high profile figures would be selected, such as former Democratic gubernatorial candidate H. Carl McCall and Harold Levy, former chancellor of the New York City public school system.

Many students said they were opposed to having a high profile leader and were glad that the new president came from the academic realm.

“If you bring in somebody like a politician, they bring in so much baggage that doesn’t have to do with education,” Delaney said. “Who knows how to run a school better than an educator?”

According to Mike Alpert ’05, the only positive aspect about bringing in a higher profile president is to generate funds. “A person with a low profile would be a poor choice in that regard,” Alpert said.

Even though Lehman has more than six months before he takes the University’s helm, students are already wondering how Lehman will handle many ongoing issues.

Leung said that some of these issues include the West Campus Residential Initiative and the possible dissolution of the School of Architecture, Art and Planning. “There are a lot of things going on now that [do not] make sense,” Leung said.

Other students said that the University is clamping down too severely on social activities, and that this must be addressed.

“We need to see more support for the Greek system and social organizations,” Ray Gearity ’05 said. “I feel they put a lot of restrictions on social behavior in Ithaca.”

Alpert added that he thought current Rawlings was overly harsh on the Greek system. He said that many Greek houses are worthwhile and are composed of responsible individuals. “I believe Hunter Rawlings did not give the Greek system enough credit,” Alpert said.

Students have other concerns as well. Meghan Miller ’05 said the University as well as other Ivy League schools need to reevaluate the recent decision that restricts varsity athletes from training during seven weeks of the year in order to give them more time for other activities.

Leibovich hopes that the new president will bring his own vision to the University. “I hope that he will be someone who brings us forward,” Leibovich said.

Jacob Lehman said that he thinks he is sure to meet up with his father and occasionally give suggestions about school issues and policies. “I know he’s very excited to be here in this position,” Jacob said. “He is concerned not only with ratings but also providing the best education he can to students.”

Archived article by Brian Tsao