President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 spoke at the new Alice Cook House last night as he joined residents for dinner and a “formal-informal program” about Cornell’s transnational identity.
Lehman spoke about how he and his wife spent the previous nine days traveling overseas to a variety of locations, including China where they spent two days in Beijing at Peking University.
At Peking University, Lehman signed an agreement for a new collaborative program. The new program would include a new Chinese studies program where students from Peking University could spend time at Cornell studying “China and Asia policy in a U.S. perspective,” while still garnering a broad knowledge of Chinese studies at Peking.
Lehman also signed an agreement in collaboration with Tsinghua University to facilitate more cooperative programs in engineering, specifically biomedical engineering, nanotechnologies, and computer science.
He said that “the [Peking] students were thrilled about the new engineering programs,” but Lehman laughed as he added that the students were wondering, “what about a new hotel program?” in a question-and-answer session held at Peking University.
“Why did I spend nine days talking about Cornell overseas?” Lehman asked. “Because I believe that Cornell is a transnational university.”
He stressed that Cornell should be viewed in two ways in a transnational perspective: in research and teaching.
“In a teaching aspect,” Lehman said, “a key element of our responsibility is to nurture in all students a transnational perspective.”
He went on further to say that this means that we must “recognize that we all have national origins,” and to be effective in our studies we must “be able to recognize that we live in a pluralist world.”
Students listened attentively as Lehman spoke more words of advice and as he made “a pitch for traveling abroad.”
Lehman stressed the importance of having diverse experiences during a college career.
“For all of you who aren’t sure how to spend your time at Cornell, [I suggest] you spend as much time as possible with people from different countries and different cultures,” he said.
He added that “we have a wonderful abroad program here at Cornell.” Lehman also urged students to learn a different language in their quest for a transnational education.
After the speech, a question-and-answer session was opened to the students during dinner.
The first issue that was brought up was the socially responsible purchasing power of the University.
One student asked whether the university was doing anything about regulating purchases from companies who do not use “fair labor standards.”
Lehman responded that the university is attempting to “form a working group of ethical purchasing policies.”
However, he added that it is not necessarily an issue of principle, but also an issue of framing such a policy and determining who exactly would even discern what companies the University can buy from.
He backed his statement by saying that he didn’t know of any universities so far that have “come up with a policy with a lot of teeth in it,” although he reassured the crowd that the issue was being looked at closely.
A second question from Dan Balson ’07 created discussion about the new “Bridging the Rift” center being built on the border of Israel and Jordan.
Lehman explained how the governments of Israel and Jordan are both dedicating land to an area where there will be no international boundary for a “library of the Dead Sea” project and eventually a “library of life” project.
He commended the efforts of both governments for allowing this to occur, and also added that graduate students would spend a semester at Cornell or Stanford studying life sciences before beginning work on these digital databases about different species of life.
Lehman added that he “remains optimistic that this project will unfold,” although the campus is yet to be built.
The question-and-answer session ended with a discussion about promoting Cornell to promising students overseas who are less financially secure. Andrew Ng ’07, asked whether the university was doing anything to look into this matter.
“We are at the beginning of a seven year campaign to raise funds for Cornell,” Lehman responded.
He added that more scholarships and financial aid for students overseas is a possibility in the future.
Archived article by Stephanie Wickham
Sun Staff Writer