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 position 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 in Cell and Developmental Biology at Weill Cornell Medical Center and in Biomedical Sciences 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 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.
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 joked.
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’s first appointments as Iowa president.
He attended Rawlings’ inauguration on October 12, 1995.
He said that he and Rawlings did not talk about the Cornell presidency until recently because they both independently believed communication about the position 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.
“[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.”
He called Cornell a “distinguished institution,” with a “balance of disciplines,” discussing Iowa and Cornell’s shared interest 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.
Rawlings will remain Cornell’s interim president until Skorton begins in July. Skorton said that he is not sure when he will be more present on the Cornell campus.
“I am not going to instantly turn my back on Iowa,” he said.
When asked about possibly repeating Lehman’s “Call to Engagement” in which the campus was asked for submissions about what direction they would like to see Cornell go, Skorton said that while “most presidents view that as an innovative way to find out about the campus, [he] will first and foremost be listening.”
He said that he will be listening through meetings, forums, and “calling bingo in the dorms at night.”
“Students are the heart and soul of the university,” Skorton said.
In addition, he said that “the place where the university is located automatically becomes part of [his] community,” adding that he will be heavily involved in the City of Ithaca.
He also said that he wants to know “what students, faculty and staff think about our international relationships,” adding that he knows about the University’s plans and aspirations in that area.
“I want to give credit to President Lehman for pulling Cornell in that direction,” Skorton said.
As for the ongoing capital campaign, Skorton said that the “theme and thrust of the campaign are exciting,” but that he would “like to add some ideas of his own.”
He recently completed a billion dollar capital campaign at Iowa.
Skorton is a certified cardiologist and held joint professorships in internal medicine, electrical engineering and biomedical engineering at Iowa, and is a jazz musician. He hosts a weekly Latin Jazz radio program called “As Night Falls” on KSUI, the University of Iowa’s radio station.
Diana Daniels ’71, chair of the Presidential 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.
Saturday night, Rawlings introduced Skorton to a packed Lynah rink before the start of the hockey team’s game against Clarkson. He also presented Skorton and Davisson with Cornell hockey jerseys.
Said Skorton and Davisson, “We appreciate the welcome and we only have one thing to say: Let’s go Red!”
Archived article by Eric Finkelstein
Sun Managing Editor