November 12, 2003

Meeting Cornell's Descendant

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Ezra Cornell has yet to die. In fact, his legacy and memory live on through his great-great-great-grandson who bears his name.

According to the bylaws of the University, the eldest lineal descendant of founder Ezra Cornell shall hold a seat on the University’s Board of Trustees for the duration of that person’s life. The current holder of that seat is Ezra Cornell ’70. Cornell is five generations removed from his namesake and inherited his seat in 1959 after the death of his father William.

“When my father died I was eleven years old and it would have been too amusing to put me on the Board of Trustees at age 11,” Cornell said.

Cornell assumed his seat ten years later, in 1969, while he was a student at the University. The minimum voting age in the United States at that time was twenty-one for all federal, state and local elections of any kind.

Cornell’s Board of Trustees oversees all aspects of the administration of the University. The Board currently has 42 members and meets in regular session four times a year, normally three times in Ithaca and once in New York City. In 1988, the Board of Trustee Fellow was created as a new position, and as many as 22 such fellows are elected by the Board. They participate in the activities of the Board but do not vote. “I [have been] sitting on the Board longer then anyone else currently,” Cornell added, “I hope I bring something to that table.”

While attending the University, Cornell was an active member of Sigma Phi fraternity and remains an interested alumnus. When asked about the future of the university’s Greek system, Cornell said, “I don’t think Cornell has an interest in getting rid of the Greek system. I think Cornell as a university would like to see the Greek system evolve and improve and be a better experience for undergraduates.”

Cornell graduated from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in 1970. After working several years in the fields of real estate and banking, Cornell became a stockbroker. He currently holds the position of First Vice President at Salomon Smith Barney, a division of Citigroup, whose branch office is located at 407 College Ave.

Cornell is a husband, a proud father of four and the owner of a yellow Labrador retriever named “Xena the Warrior Princess.”

During the spring, Cornell will teach Personal Finance as a visiting faculty member in the School of Hotel Administration. “It is such a good thing when students make that extra effort to talk to you. As a lecturer you prepare to deliver the message and hope the educational thing happens, but the real magic of education is when the professor can reach the student and the student can reach back and grab that knowledge that’s being delivered,” Cornell said.

His advice to students is to “walk up and introduce yourself to every one of [your professors].” Cornell insisted, “You’re the customer. You’re paying. You get the experience.”

Archived article by Anne Ceccarini