November 25, 2003

Lehman '77 Calls Cornell Community 'to Engagement'

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Students who want to leave a lasting mark at Cornell may be about to get their chance. While the odds of having a dorm named in your honor are still slim, President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 is asking students, faculty and staff for their help in planning the future of the University through his Call to Engagement, a series of eight questions focused on directing Cornell’s intellectual development.

“These questions are questions about our fundamental character,” Lehman said. “I would like to understand how they are thought about by a wide circle of people who are committed to Cornell’s future.”

Lehman distributed the Call to Engagement in an e-mail message last week, asking students to spend time thinking about broad and complex questions such as “What should we be teaching?” and “Where should we be present [in the world]?” Students were invited to consider the topics both on their own and in groups and were challenged to look into the issues on an in-depth level rather than generate a quick list of suggestions.

“The aim of this endeavor is to deepen my own understanding of these issues and of how others think about them before I try to articulate concrete policies for the University,” Lehman said. “I will read the responses myself and reflect on them.”

Lehman plans on collecting answers to his questions throughout the upcoming year, with definitive plans to be drawn up sometime next fall. With the aid of Carolyn Ainslie, vice president for planning and budget, responses will be sorted into separate categories which Lehman and a group of advisors will contemplate individually.

Lehman explained that his intention in creating the Call to Engagement was to discover a general sense of how Cornellians view the future of the University and eventually build concrete plans off of those expectations.

“I am not looking to the process to provide me with definitive answers to the questions,” Lehman said. “Nor am I looking to it to offer a scientific poll of how people feel. … Because the goal is to deepen my own understanding, in order to inform my own thoughts and actions, my analysis of the responses will be qualitative rather than quantitative.”

Lehman first mentioned the Call to Engagement during his inaugural addresses last month, promising to ask Cornellians fundamental questions about the direction of the University’s academic and structural growth.

“We must permit our worldviews to evolve,” he said during his Barton Hall address on Oct. 16.

Students have already begun to come up with responses to the issues they are being asked to consider.

“Quite a few” have responded, Lehman said. “Both by e-mail and in conversations.”

Peter S. Cohl ’04, who has been campaigning for change at Cornell through the Committee on Improving Cornell’s Image, praised Lehman’s efforts to get in touch with the people who make up the campus community.

“I believe that Lehman has set himself apart from not only the previous administration, but nearly all university administrations. In viewing us as ‘stakeholders,’ President Lehman has begun the process of building not only a discourse, but a true ‘university’,” Cohl stated in an e-mail to The Sun.

“I think it shows him making a real effort to step back from the usual university issues and think in a more visionary way,” said Sara Olson ’04. “If students even just skim through [the Call to Engagement] briefly and think about those issues for a minute or two, that’s definitely a step in the right direction.”

Archived article by Jeff Sickelco