December 5, 2003

No New Rhodes Profs in '04

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Cornell will not appoint any new Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of ’56 University Professors for 2004-2005, according to administration sources.

While Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin conducts a review of the professorship, the committee that selects Andrew D. White Professors-at-Large and Rhodes professors decided not to ask faculty to nominate potential Rhodes professors. A call for nominations has been sent out for the White program.

“The selection committee decided at its September meeting that they would not put out a call for nominations for the Rhodes professors this year in order to give the central administration the opportunity to arrive at a final definition for the program,” said Porus Olpadwala, the chair of the 12-person faculty committee and dean of the College of Architecture, Art and Planning.


The central administration began a review of the professorship following this year’s controversial appointments of former Congress member Cynthia McKinney and documentary filmmaker John Pilger. Pilger and McKinney were prematurely informed of their appointment before the provost, then-President Hunter R. Rawlings III and the Board of Trustees approved the nominations.

For the duration of the program’s existence, the process for naming visiting professor appointments has worked that way, although this year’s appointments brought the situation to the administration’s attention.

Martin said in October that she will ensure that future appointees will be submitted to the provost and the president early enough so that there is an opportunity to review and approve the faculty committee’s choice. No final appointment will be made until after an official vote by the Board of Trustees.

The 56 trustees have ultimate authority for the entire University, although the Board delegates substantial power to campus administrators.

In October, Martin said that the professors would be approved by the provost, the president and the Board of Trustees. But further changes to the process may be in the works.


Dean of Faculty Charles Walcott confirmed in a November e-mail that he had been involved in ongoing discussions about the future of the Rhodes professorship and the selection process. Walcott — like Olpadwala — is a non-voting member of the faculty committee which selects the professors.

Alumni and on-campus sources told The Sun that the financing and administration of the program remain a concern.

The program’s funding comes from the annual payoff of a $1 million endowment — typically between 4 and 5 percent. In 2001, the “Superclass” of ’56 raised $5 million for the program’s beginning, although in 2003 Rawlings, with the approval of the Class of ’56 and President Emeritus Frank H.T. Rhodes, transferred $4 million of that amount to a new endowed professorship in the life sciences.

While the Class of ’56 and Rhodes had expressed hopes to attract international figures of prominence to campus such as Margaret Thatcher or Henry Kissinger, the experience of the program’s first several years led administrators to believe that such appointments would not be possible due to the relative isolation of Cornell in comparison to peer institutions — no matter how generous the endowment may be.

“There has been uncertainty right from the beginning about the nature and the level of funding of the program, and I hope to have a resolution from the central administration in the near future,” Olpadwala said.

Archived article by Peter Norlander