With his inauguration only hours behind him, President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 geared up for a busy weekend of university business, as approximately 800 council members and trustees assembled on campus for the annual Trustee-Council weekend. Over the course of the last three days, the two groups reviewed the events of the previous year and set the course for the University’s financial and academic future.
The Board of Trustees convened for a brief public session on Friday afternoon, followed by two closed-door meetings on Friday and Saturday. Joanne Destefano, vice president of financial affairs, summarized the budget report for the previous fiscal year, during which Cornell’s net assets inched up $2.7 million to a total of approximately $5 billion. “We basically broke even this year,” Destefano said.
She characterized Cornell’s financial performance as “modestly positive … with continued favorable signs from investment markets. It appears we are poised for a very positive next fiscal year.”
But Cornell still has its share of financial hurdles to overcome, according to a discussion with President Lehman, following the board meeting. The University faces an $11 million per year reduction in state funding, a cut which will be phased in over the next four years and remain in place indefinitely.
“The state had a very significant cut in appropriations to higher education this past year because of the fiscal crisis in New York State,” Lehman said. “That cascaded outwards into reductions of appropriations for every university in the state that receives funds from the SUNY system, and Cornell is obviously one of them. It’s a very significant challenge to us.”
The effect that the funding cut will have on tuition has yet to be determined, but Lehman expressed his desire to keep student costs manageable.
“We’re all very concerned about the levels of tuition right now,” Lehman said. “Our founding mission is to be an institution where any person can come to study, regardless of wealth. We do not want to reach a level where, even after … financial aid, people find they can’t afford to be here.”
Lehman also commented on last Thursday’s proposed memorandum of understanding between Cornell and Ithaca, an agreement which would significantly increase the university’s monetary contributions to the city. The memorandum accelerates the payment of a $1 million contribution in 2007 to next year, and stipulates an additional $475,000 to be paid in installments over the next three years.
“We have an increased contribution that we can handle, even in the difficult financial environment that we’re in, and is targeted to the very serious needs that the city faces,” Lehman said.
Ithaca Mayor Alan Cohen ’81 attended Saturday’s meeting, during which the memorandum of understanding was officially authorized by the board. Trustees were also visited by Dr. Antonio Grotto, the dean of Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, who described the facilities there and showed a film of students attending the school.
Board of Trustees Chair Peter C. Meinig ’62 expressed satisfaction with the work that Lehman had accomplished with both the board and the Cornell community in his first months on the job. “We’re so pleased with the conversations that our President has initiated with the community, with the University and with the board. We’re off to a wonderful start,” he said.
On Friday morning, Lehman delivered his State of the University Address to a full house of trustees and council members gathered in Alice Statler Auditorium. While he joked that the breathless pace of addresses he had given in the past week might have worn out his welcome, Lehman offered a broad outline of his plans for Cornell’s future and expressed his admiration for the university’s faculty, students and staff.
Lehman reiterated his inaugural theme of Cornell as a “transnational university of the future,” challenging students to think about the school in new ways.
“We are in the midst of a structural evolution at this University,” Lehman said. He compared the development of the school to a cell — a small, undifferentiated entity in its infancy, maturing into a complex cluster of specialized units.
Lehman wrapped up his positive outlook with a succinct conclusion. “How do I see the state of the university? Wonderful.”
Archived article by Jeff Sickelco