May 4, 2006

Rawlings Bids a Fond Farewell to Presidency

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Interim President Hunter R. Rawlings III sat down with The Sun yesterday to reflect back on his experiences presiding over the controversial paving of the Redbud Woods, the West Campus stabbing allegedly committed by a Cornell student and the progress of Slope Day over the years.

The Sun: So your term is wrapping up – how are you feeling?

Hunter R. Rawlings III: Well, I feel good. Yesterday was a wonderful send-off and send up by Prof. Glenn Altschuler and a few other members of the community who had a good time roasting me. It brought back nice memories from the year. I’ve enjoyed it a lot, mainly because I’ve had a chance to see some old friends who I don’t see regularly as a faculty member and I think we’ve accomplished a fair amount this year in spite of the difficulties and I’m very happy about that.

Sun: In terms of some local issues, how do you feel about the way Redbud situation has ended?

Rawlings: Well I think it was a good conclusion in that all of the commitments that were made on all sides were met: everyone followed through on what he or she promised he or she would do. We’ve had very good student reaction to the free bus passes, for example.

All the things that were agreed to have been accomplished, and that’s good, I think.

The parking lot was built. I think it’s attractive as parking lots go, and it’s certainly serving an important function right now. It’s full of the construction workers’ vehicles and they’re off the Libe Slope so that’s a good thing. So from that standpoint, it’s a good conclusion.

Sun: The J.A. charges were dropped last week. Why did the process take so long?

Rawlings: Well, these processes almost always do take a long time, frankly. The J.A. process is a semi-judicial process so it has to go forward carefully under its own guidelines, so I’m not surprised it took as long as it did. I’d say that’s probably pretty normal.

In fact, we’re preparing a draft revision of the campus code, which you may have already heard about. This is something that’s been worked on for quite a few months starting last year, and that will go out to various constituencies in the next month or so for review and consideration.

The campus code is this huge, very complex document, and there was a conclusion a year or two ago that it would be good to review it and see if it wasn’t time to make some changes.

And one of the efforts in that revision is to try to cut down on the amount of time the judicial process takes on campus, try to streamline to some degree; make it less legalistic. So I’d say that some the ideas coming forward in the revision address those very issues.

Sun: Another hot topic on campus right now is Student Assembly Resolution 29, basically a resolution from the S.A. to discourage nuclear proliferation in Iran. It’s sparked a lot of debate on campus – not just on the content of the resolution but because a lot of students don’t think this is the role of the S.A. Do you think this is the role of the S.A.?

Rawlings: I think the S.A. should address what the S.A. wants to address. And if nuclear proliferation is an issue that creates a good deal of student interest, then I think it’s fine for students to debate that. And if they feel it’s right, offer some kind of resolution because that’s part of the educational process to me. Granted, it’s a little far a field, but why shouldn’t students be able to comment on world events? … The best way to deal with it if [students’] don’t like it is to vote it down.

Sun: The Poffenbarger indictment was handed down today, and the school’s relationship to that case has basically ended in the legal sense, but the effects of the stabbing and then the aftermath are still very present with us. What sort of things do you think are going to carry forward from that? What sort of legacy is that going to leave?

Rawlings: Well, it was a very tragic episode for the campus to confront. I mean, a stabbing on campus is a rare event, thank goodness. And it’s a dramatic one. In this case, it had racial aspects as well that caused a great deal of concern and anxiety. So we’ve been dealing with that for many months in the aftermath. The first thing to do is the make sure the victim got the best treatment possible and that we, as a community, reached out to the victim and I think we did.

But we continue to work on many aspects coming from the incident. Provost Martin and I have worked on a diversity plan. We have also enabled the students who are interested in this pursue a course requirement with the deans and with the provost and her staff. So we continue to work on the after math.

Sun: Do you think a course – optional or mandatory – will be implemented?

Rawlings: It’s hard to know because there are two distinctly different sides on this. One says, everyone needs a course like this in order to ensure incidents like this be prevented.

Others say, first of all, it won’t prevent such incidents and secondly, people always react very negatively when forced to take something and that it’s actually counter-productive. So you get strong opinions on both sides.

Sun: You yourself were a college athlete. What sets apart a team with a sense of entitlement – (like Duke Men’s Lacrosse) from a team with a sense of social responsibility (by all accounts, Cornell Men’s Lacrosse)?

Rawlings: Knocks on wood. First of all, I don’t think Cornell is immune to problems nor is any other university is immune to problems, so I don’t think any others ought to feel secure that everything is just fine and always will be.

But I do think this is a matter that starts with the team members themselves and the coaches. What kind of messages do they send? What kind of life do they lead on campus? How much are they pressured by peer pressure? Because usually these kinds of very violent incidents occur with two things are involved: alcohol … and peer behavior.

So it’s often true that a fair number of student athletes who wouldn’t normally engage in such behavior do so because, one, they’re drunk and, two, they feel pressured by peers to do something.

Sun: What do you think of the direction of Slope Day?

Rawlings: I think Slope Day has been going in the right direction. I hope it will go further in that direction so that it becomes less and less a celebration of alcohol and more and more a celebration of school spirit and the end of classes, without seeing alcohol as an integral part of the day. We had a student die of alcohol this year; if that doesn’t highlight this issue for Cornell students, I don’t know what would.

Sun: What are you doing on Friday?

Rawlings: I’m going to be out of town.

Sun: Highlights of the second go-around?

Rawlings: I’ve had a lot of fun. I think the trip to China was clearly a highlight because it allowed us to get a lot accomplished because it allowed us to carry the Cornell name to the world’s most populous country, and one that’s making such a big set of economic changes.

I think it’s been especially gratifying to see how the campus has gone forward after a very abrupt change which caused understandable concern, and now, I think we’re going forward and there’s a lot of excitement about Dr. Skorton’s arrival.

The number of applications to Cornell has risen so dramatically in recent years that it’s clear that we’re a hot school right now.

Sun: Do you have any advice for the new guy?

Rawlings: The best thing is, he’s been the president of a major university. He knows how to do this, he’s experienced, he’s smart, he’s got a great sense of humor – you know, that’s important in these jobs.

I don’t offer him advice, I just want to be there for him when he has questions.

Sun: Is there anything else you’d like to say to the students of Cornell?

Rawlings: Yes, I can’t wait to get back to the classroom with them. It’s great to talk to Sun reporters, but I’d rather be in the classroom teaching Greek and Latin and Greek history. So I’m looking forward to that enormously.

Archived article by Erica Fink
Sun Editor in Chief
and Michael Morisy
Sun Managing Editor