February 23, 2004

Trustees Announce New Endowed Profs

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The Board of Trustees recently announced the newest elections of professors to endowed chairs, decided upon by the board at its meetings over the past year.

John T. Lis, molecular biology and genetics; June B. Nasrallah Ph.D. ’77, plant biology; Per Pinstrup-Andersen, nutritional sciences; Ray Wu, molecular biology and genetics; Richard N. Boyd, philosophy; Alice Fulton MFA ’82, English; John E. Hopcroft, computer science; and Keshav K. Pingali, computer science and electrical and computer engineering were all recognized for their contributions to the Cornell community.

150 Professorships

Laurie Robinson, director of development, said that there are approximately 150 endowed professorships at Cornell, most of which have been established since 1990.

A gift of $2 million will endow an existing position, and although it does not cover a professor’s entire salary, “it is significant budget belief for the University,” Robinson said. For brand new professorships, an endowed chair usually costs the donor $3 million. The Board of Trustees establishes minimum endowment levels for such positions after comparisons with other top universities. The creation of an endowed chair, after the University is offered money, is quite a long process. After a dean acknowledges the need for an endowed position, the provost must approve of any additional costs the professorship would create. Then, the development office must accept the gift, and then finally the trustees approve it.

Because “we have to maintain the academic integrity of the institution,” Robinson said, “the donor does not have a role in who gets appointed to the position.” Academic representatives nominate professors and department heads help choose from this list. The Board of Trustees must also approve of the faculty members.

Lis and Nasrallah have jointly been elected Barbara McClintock Professors. The professorships are named for McClintock ’23, Ph.D. ’27, who won the 1983 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for her work in plant genetics.

Lis, who has been at Cornell since 1978, researches gene regulation in the Drosophila fruit fly and brewers yeast. The award, according to Lis, “is a way of honoring outstanding faculty … and to honor the memory of a distinguished scientist.” The winner of a 2000 Guggenheim Fellowship, Lis said the professorship “certainly made me very grateful to the field and my colleagues at Cornell.”

Nasrallah’s research focuses on internal devices plants have to prevent inbreeding and promote out-crossing (fertilization from other plants). A Cornell professor since 1985, Nasrallah has studied the evolution of inbreeding and has discovered possible ways for genetic engineers to improve breeding for plant variability.

Pinstrup-Andersen, the H.E. Babcock Professor of Food, Nutrition and Public Policy, received the chair in February 2003 and was granted indefinite tenure effective Feb. 1, 2004. The professorship, named for a Cornell trustee, was created “to provide leadership for policy-related research” in nutrition, according to a press release. Pinstrup-Andersen works to improve the nutrition of low-income populations by collaborating with policy makers worldwide. He won the World Food Prize in 2001 for his contributions to the field of food policy and research.

Wu was named a Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor. The professorship was established in 1972 to honor the former College of Agriculture and Life Sciences dean. There are now nine Bailey professors at Cornell. Wu researches the development of rice with agronomically useful genes.

Boyd was elected the Susan E. Linn Sage Professor of Philosophy. Former chair of the Board of Trustees Henry W. Sage established the professorship in 1890 in memory of his wife. Boyd, a member of the Sage School faculty since 1972, studies the philosophy of science, language, and the mind and teaches many interdisciplinary courses combining scientific and philosophical inquiry.

Fulton was named the Ann S. Bowers Professor in English. The first recipient of this professorship, Fulton joined the faculty in 2001 and has won substantial critical acclaim for her work, receiving a “genius” grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

Bowers ’59, a member of the Board of Trustees and a significant philanthropist in education ventures across the country, created the professorship to recognize the success of the creative writing program. A former English major herself, Bowers said she hopes the professorship honors faculty who have “had their work recognized by their peers if not a larger audience.”

Bowers, named a Foremost Benefactor of Cornell in 1995, has endowed the Robert N. Noyce Professorship in Life Sciences and Technology and the Robert N. Noyce Directorship of Engineering Communications. She has also created numerous scholarship funds. Bowers said she supports such institutions as Cornell because “education is the foundation of having a really strong democracy.”

Hopcroft was elected an IBM Professor of Engineering and Applied Mathematics. Established in 1962, the IBM professorship was the first corporate-sponsored chair at Cornell. “Altruistic on the part of IBM,” Hopcroft said, the software company “did this to recognize the value of Cornell to them,” since many students have worked at IBM after graduation.

Hopcroft researches theoretical aspects of computing, most recently information access techniques. Joining the faculty in 1967, Hopcroft was named the Joseph C. Ford Professor of Computer Science in 1985 and served as the Joseph Silbert Dean of the College of Engineering from 1994-2001.

Pingali was named the first India Professor of Computer Science. Endowed by an anonymous donor, the professorship requires its recipient to travel to and lecture in India periodically. Pingali, who came to Cornell in 1986, works on optimizing data output so computer programs run quickly.

Many software companies have incorporated this information into their programs. Pingali is associate director of the Cornell Theory Center and director of Undergraduate Studies in Computer Science.

Archived article by Melissa Korn