December 15, 2002

University Transitions to New Leadership

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President-elect Jeffrey S. Lehman 77 has the next six months to prepare for becoming president of Cornell University on July 1, 2003 and he’s about to begin a period of study.

“For the last 26 years I have been studying Cornell from a distance,” Lehman said at a press conference Saturday.

“The next six months will be a time when I will have the opportunity to study Cornell up close. I will be able to walk around the campus, to walk around Ithaca and to speak with everyone here and come to understand Cornell from the ground up,” he continued.

At the Saturday press conference, Lehman declined to answer questions about specific issues affecting the University but indicated that he will use the transition period to make himself familiar with Cornell.

“I need to dig in to so many aspects of the University,” he said.

At a Saturday luncheon that included an audience of trustees, former presidents, the presidents of Wells College and Ithaca College, Ithaca’s mayor, and others, Lehman reiterated his plan for the next six months.

“I plan to work closely with Hunter and all of you to prepare to return again next summer and I am excited to think of what we can all accomplish together,” Lehman said.

Lehman will continue to fill his duties as dean of the Michigan Law School until the end of the academic year, and to defend his position on affirmative action as a defendant in the nationally significant case of Grutter v. Bollinger.

A successor has not yet been found to replace Lehman at Michigan.

While what happens during the transition period for a university president is undefined, President Hunter R. Rawlings III previously indicated that he would work closely with his successor.

In a September interview with the Sun, for instance, Rawlings said that the new President would help choose the next dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, a decision that will be made in Spring 2003, before Lehman takes office.

Rawlings said that he began consulting with Lehman last week and will continue to do so.

“It’s clear to me that he has a grasp of the essentials already and we’ll have ample opportunity to discuss in depth the many issues that Cornell has in front of it,” Rawlings said.

“The transition will be a smooth and easy one,” Rawlings added.

During Rawlings’ own transition period, he will become a faculty member in the Classics Department, preparing to complete 15 years of being at the helm of a university, first at Iowa for seven years and for the last eight years at Cornell.

Rawlings chose to step down in March and the ensuing search and selection process were consistent with the timing and procedure used to hire Rawlings.

“At a certain point you reach a time when you go back to your roots,” Rawlings said when he announced his decision. “I have been for a long time a professor at heart.”

Rawlings expressed confidence in his successor.

“I know I will look to my president with great respect,” Rawlings said.

Archived article by Peter Norlander