January 20, 2006

David J. Skorton Named 12th President of Cornell

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Approximately six months after the sudden departure of former President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77, Cornell’s Board of Trustees announced Saturday that Dr. David J Skorton, current president of the University of Iowa, will become the University’s 12th president. He will assume the presidency on July 1.

The announcement was made at a noon press conference in the Beck Center of Statler Hall.

Skorton will hold faculty appointments in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics at Weill-Cornell Medical Center and Biomedical Engineering at the College of Engineering. His wife, Dr. Robin Davisson will have faculty appointments at Weill Cornell Medical Center and at the College of Veterinary Medicine.

“Today is a terribly, terribly exciting day,” said Peter Meinig ’62, Chair of Cornell’s Board of Trustees.

He said that Skorton was unanimously elected.

Calling Cornell a “great jewel of international higher education,” Skorton said that his appointment is an “emotional, intellectual homecoming” because he has colleagues at Cornell and in Ithaca and because of his connection to Interim President Hunter R. Rawlings III.

Skorton will not be the first president of the University of Iowa to become the President of Cornell. Rawlings, Cornell’s 10th president and current interim president, had the post at Iowa until he came to Cornell in 1995.

“The people in Iowa right now are not thinking very well of Cornell,” Meinig said jokingly.

Skorton said that Rawlings gave him his start in university administration. His appointment as Iowa’s vice president for research in 1992 was one of Rawlings first appointments as Iowa president.

He was in attendance in Ithaca for Rawlings inauguration as Cornell’s 10th president on October 12, 1995. He said that he and Rawlings did not talk about the Cornell presidency until recently because they both independently believed it to be inappropriate.

Skorton, 56, held the presidency at the University of Iowa for just under three years and was a member of the faculty and administration there for 26 years, beginning as an instructor in 1980.

Amir Arbisser, a Regent at the University of Iowa and close friend of Skorton, said Skorton told him in a phone call Thursday that he was resigning to take the Cornell position.

According to Arbisser, Skorton recently led a $1 billion capital campaign at Iowa.

“[Skorton’s departure from Iowa] is going to leave a hole here, and its an extremely difficult decision to make, but the bottom line is it’s extremely hard to be a president at a public university and [Skorton will] have a freer hand at a private university like Cornell,” Arbisser said.

When asked why he chose to leave Iowa for Cornell, Skorton said, “I am here because Cornell represented an unusual opportunity and challenge that I did not think would come up in my lifetime and was too good to pass up.”

It had been speculated that his departure from Iowa could have been linked to disputes regarding insurance for Iowa’s university hospitals or the fact that he only received a three percent raise last year while the presidents of Iowa State and the University of Northern Iowa received raises of five percent.

“No academic leader does their job for the money. I was there because I love the place and I will always love the place. Everyone at Iowa had been very supportive of my decision,” Skorton said.

He called Cornell a “distinguished institution,” with a “balance of disciplines,” discussing Iowa’s and Cornell’s shared interests in both the sciences and humanities.

Skorton said that he had “no reservations whatsoever” about taking the position based on the sudden departure of Lehman. He said that he has “great respect” for Lehman and that he is looking forward to talking to him.

He added, however, that he believed it to be “none of his business” what happened between the Board of Trustees and Lehman.

“Show me a university where there aren’t difficult situations to deal with, and I’ll tell you that you aren’t looking hard enough,” Skorton said.

Diana Daniels ’71, chair of the Search Committee and vice-chair of the Board of Trustees, said that they narrowed the search down to three strong candidates and that one of the candidates was a woman.

“You don’t have to be a man or a woman or of a particular racial or ethnic group to deal with the issue of diversity. It will be a very important part of [Skorton’s] administration,” Daniels said.

“I am glad that we found what I consider to be an outstanding president for Cornell,” she said.

With additional reporting by Andrew Beckwith, Erica Fink, Julie Geng, Melissa Korn, Michael Morisy, Yuval Shavit, Erica Temel, and David Wittenberg.

See Monday’s Sun for a special edition commemorating the announcement of David J. Skorton as Cornell’s 12th President.

Archived article by Eric Finkelstein
Sun Managing Editor