July 16, 2003

Lehman Takes Helm; New Era Begins for C.U.

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The past year has been a life-changing one in many ways for Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77. In August, the Cornell alumnus and dean of the University of Michigan Law School watched as his son Jacob ’06 entered the Cornell freshman class. In June, Lehman was victorious as the co-defendant in the high profile Supreme Court affirmative action case Grutter v. Bollinger. Finally, on July 1st, Lehman became the eleventh President of Cornell, the University’s first alumni President.

“It’s just spectacular,” Lehman said. “One of the extraordinary things I appreciate now that I have been back is that the time I spent here completely shaped who I am as a person … It has been thrilling for me. I really want Cornell to be a place where everyone can feel the political and intellectual stimulation I felt when I was a student here.”

No official activities have marked the passing of the presidency here from Hunter R. Rawlings III to Lehman, though an official inauguration is scheduled for October. “The only celebration was [that] the city of Ithaca had fireworks. Though I don’t think it was for me, I think it was for the fourth of July,” Lehman joked.

“There have been no celebratory events yet. It’s been a quiet time on campus,” offered Linda Grace-Kobas, the interim vice president for community and media relations. “[President Lehman] has been talking to people for weeks, holding meetings and scheduling interviews.”

The formal inauguration will occur on October 16 when Lehman will deliver his inaugural address. The inauguration is a long-standing tradition among world-class universities such as Cornell. Representatives from many different universities, as well as Cornell trustees and alumni will attend the event. “When a new president begins, the entire community of higher education comes together to mark the event,” says Lehman.

The inauguration will be followed by a week of events that will include speeches, lectures and performances.

Rawlings announced that he would step down as Cornell’s tenth president last March. Lehman was then chosen in December by a 19 member Presidential Search Committee to succeed Rawlings as Cornell’s next president. This committee was comprised of trustees, students, faculty members and one administrator.

Among other characteristics, the Presidential Search Committee looked for candidates with “an unblemished record of integrity, and clear leadership skills coupled with an ability to make decisions, which is not always true of academics,” Edwin H. Morgens ’63, chair of the search committee and member of the Board of Trustees, told The Sun back in December.

Clearly, Lehman has his work cut out for him. During the Rawlings administration, many changes were made to the Cornell undergraduate experience, such as the relocation of the entire freshman class to the newly constructed and existing North campus dorms. And while Lehman says that it is “too early for me to have new additions [to Rawlings’s reforms to undergraduate education],” he says, “I fully endorse the commitment Cornell showed in the 1990s in ensuring that the undergraduate education is as good as it is anywhere. We have on this campus a breathtaking array of opportunities