After eight months of searching and waiting, the University announced the appointment today of Vanda B. McMurtry Ph.D. ’79 as the new vice president for government and community relations.
McMurtry’s appointment, which is subject to Board of Trustee approval, will complete part of President Jeffrey S. Lehman’s ’77 initiative last July to revamp the University relations department — a move which led to the resignation of Henrik N. Dullea ’61, former vice president for University relations. With Dullea’s removal, Lehman conducted searches for vice presidents in two departments — government and community relations and communications and media relations.
McMurtry, who also received a master’s degree at the University, had previously worked for Aetna Inc. as senior vice president for federal government relations. His job function will include building relations between the University and the local, state and federal entities, and handling other issues relating to the interaction with various community organizations.
“Van McMurtry will be an outstanding addition to the Cornell administrative team,” Lehman said in a University press release. “He has an exceptional mind and he is highly respected for his judgment and integrity in the highest circles of government.”
McMurtry will face a plethora of issues when he comes onto campus — including lobbying for statutory college funding. Other primary goals will be to establish working relationships with government and local leaders and helping to generate funds for research — both especially important tasks, according to Michael Taylor ’05 (D-4th Ward).
Yet, McMurtry is confident that he is up to the task, citing his personal interest in higher education, his experience in coordinating with local governments and groups and his interaction with state officials. Taylor also added that his familiarity with the University will also put him in good stead.
“I think I have a perspective to bring [to the University] and I hope I could bring Cornell forward,” McMurtry said. “There are a number of really important challenges facing higher education.”
The search committee, composing of professors and administrators, interviewed a range of different candidates last semester according to Francille Firebaugh Ph.D. ’62, vice provost of Land Grant Affairs. Firebaugh said that after initial interviews, five selected candidates met with Lehman in New York.
After further consultation, three individuals were then invited to campus and interviewed by a variety of individuals outside of the search committee before Lehman made the final decision in early January. The announcement of McMurtry’s appointment did not occur until today because of resignation issues with his previous employer.
According to Firebaugh, the committee was searching for a candidate who could further build the University’s relationships with local governments. In addition, characteristics such as a strong interest in higher education and experience in interacting with a variety of groups were also desired.
“I think [McMurtry] fits the bill extraordinarily well,” Firebaugh said. “He has had experience in Washington and he’s been very effective in the different positions he’s had and I think that those experiences will serve us well.”
Having worked at Aetna Inc. since 1992, McMurtry, a University of California at Irvine alumnus, had previously served as staff director and chief counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance.
“I have a great fondness for Cornell University,” McMurtry said. “It is an institution that benefited me very greatly in my life … I’m just delighted to come back to Cornell.”
Archived article by Brian Tsao