September 15, 2005

Faculty Asks For Truth On Lehman Departure

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The faculty senate passed a “Resolution Urging the Administration and the Board of Trustees to Engage in a Frank and Open Dialogue with the Faculty Regarding the Resignation of President Jeffrey Lehman” yesterday afternoon at their meeting in Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium.

The resolution passed with a vote of 59-11 with two abstentions from Dean of Faculty Charles Walcott and faculty-elected trustee Prof. Kathleen Rasmussen, nutritional sciences.

Prof. Peter Stein, physics, presented the resolution, saying that it might “convince the trustees to open a dialogue with Lehman in order to get the information out.”

Stein said that a lot of professors had contacted him, asking what he expected the resolution to accomplish, since a confidentiality agreement was signed by Lehman and the Board of Trustees.

He said that after the Presidential Search Committee’s meeting with the faculty on Aug. 30, he called Lehman at home and spoke to him at length about the confidentiality agreement.

“I asked him who it is that wants the confidentiality agreement [Lehman or the Board] and he said he couldn’t answer because of the confidentiality agreement. But, he told me that if he had a tape recorder attached to his belt and it ran 24 hours a day every day during his presidency, he would not be embarrassed if people heard it,” Stein said. “That speaks for itself.”

While Prof. Cynthia Farina supported the resolution, she said that people should “use caution about drawing conclusions about the confidentiality agreement.”

Another professor said that he thought it was “not appropriate to second-guess the Board and bring the controversy back into the limelight.”

Prof. Dominick Lacapra, history and comparative literature, said that the “primary question is procedural.”

He said that he disapproved of the way the Board “treated [Lehman] like the head of a Burger King franchise.”

“Cornell cannot be run in this way,” he added.

The resolution states that “the Senate strongly urges the Board of Trustees to find a way to engage in a frank and open dialogue with the faculty regarding (a) the nature of the ‘differences with the Board of Trustees regarding the strategy for realizing Cornell’s long-term vision,’ and (b) how such differences could have arisen between the Board and the candidate of their choice in such a short period of time.”

In addition, “the Senate requests the Dean of the Faculty and the Faculty Trustees to present this resolution personally to the leadership of the Board of Trustees and report back to the Senate at its next meeting.”

At the beginning of the meeting, interim President Hunter R. Rawlings III explained his objectives for the coming year.

He said that he will look to “ensure that academic priorities move along briskly,” and “ensure that the capital campaign gains momentum.”

Rawlings said that the capital campaign, which is still in its quiet phase, is running ahead of schedule and that it is “full speed ahead.”

Rawlings also addressed the construction of the West Campus parking lot at Redbud Woods, and the issues surrounding it.

“The severity of Cornell’s parking shortage is what led me to make the decision [to move ahead with the project],” he said.

He spoke about the agreement signed this summer, and Cornell’s efforts to meet it.

According to Rawlings, to this date, 4,792 free bus passes have been distributed. He also spoke about the University’s efforts to promote sustainability.

However, he said, the University has “so far been unsuccessful at diminishing the charges [against the protesting students] downtown.”

“We were naive. We withheld the tickets, but the judge forced us to submit them, and we followed the judge’s order. We are still trying,” he said.

Later in the meeting, the Senate discussed a “Resolution on Faculty in the Governance of the University.”

Prof. William Trochim, policy analysis and management, presented the resolution, which would have created a seven-person commission to investigate the faculty’s role in the governance of the University.

The Redbud Woods controversy was “one of the many issues that could lead to the proposal,” Trochim said. But, he added, the controversy was not the only driving force behind it.

The resolution was sent to the University Faculty Committee for further discussion and will be returned to the Senate at a later date.

Archived article by Eric Finkelstein
Sun Managing Editor