I write to welcome all of you to the beginning of the 2006-07 academic year and to thank so many of you for making our transition to Cornell University so smooth and gratifying. My wife, Robin Davisson, who is a professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine and at Weill Cornell Medical College, and I greatly appreciated the warm outpouring of welcome from students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the university. We are thrilled to be part of the Cornell community, and I am looking forward to working with you for years to come.
In the several months since my appointment was announced, I have been climbing a steep learning curve. The more I discover about the distinction and complexity of Cornell, the more honored and humble I am to lead this great institution. I have had the opportunity to learn much from Provost Biddy Martin, the deans, the senior staff, faculty leaders, the ad hoc Committee to Review Faculty Governance, student leaders (including undergraduate, graduate and professional), and the leaders of the Employee Assembly. I also wish to thank the Dean of Faculty, Charlie Walcott, for his enormous insight and good counsel in these early months.
Meetings with officials from the City and Town of Ithaca and from throughout Tompkins County and with school superintendents from within the Tompkins-Seneca-Tioga BOCES District have sharpened my focus on issues of importance to the broader community and on the role that Cornell can play in supporting education at the K-12 level and the regional economy.
Two visits by Governor George Pataki within the space of five days provided wonderful opportunities to learn about the Animal Health Diagnostic Center in the College of Veterinary Medicine, for which the Governor announced $50 million in funding from New York State, and about the Energy Recovery LINAC, which will enhance Cornell’s capabilities for X-ray science and toward which New York State has made a $12-million commitment. And my visit to the New York State Fair this week provided further hands-on education about our state and the chance to meet more of our neighbors.
I am becoming ever better acquainted with the excellence at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, where I have had colleagues for over two decades. Tony Gotto, our provost for medical affairs, Dean David Hajjar, the department heads and other colleagues have been most welcoming and helpful as I learn more about that superb organization.
I have been working with Charlie Phlegar, our new vice president for alumni affairs and development, to finalize the plans for the launch of the upcoming campaign. In learning more about it, I have been increasingly impressed by the excellence of the campus, the sharp focus of the goals of the colleges and other programs, the professionalism of the alumni affairs and development organization and, most of all, the great generosity of the alumni and friends of the university. I’ve deepened my appreciation for the leadership of the Board of Trustees and Board of Overseers, who have created breathtaking momentum toward even greater support for Cornell.
A few days ago, with the concurrence of the Investment Committee and Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees, I announced that Cornell University will bar investments of its endowment assets in oil companies currently operating in Sudan and in obligations of the Sudanese government as a response to the genocide being committed in Darfur. Given that more than half of the Sudanese government’s revenues are derived from oil, the Cornell community is sending an unequivocal message to the oil companies about the impact of their own actions in this crisis. Divestment is not a panacea, and it should never be thought of as a measure of first resort, but, in this instance, I am convinced it is the best way to stand up for the people of Darfur. Biddy Martin and I take this occasion to ask the campus community for your ideas on further action Cornell can take to help our neighbors in Darfur.
In the last few days we have had the chance to welcome the students of the Class of 2010 and transfer students to Cornell. It’s been terrific getting to know these students and their families. Robin and I look forward to our upcoming stay at the Mary Donlon Residence Hall as a way of getting to know some of the students even better. I will be meeting regularly with staff, participating in employee events and learning more about the indispensable work our valued colleagues perform everyday that helps make Cornell what it is. I will also be writing regular columns for the Cornell Daily Sun and for the Cornell Alumni Magazine, and I hope to find other ways to stay in touch with Cornellians on campus and beyond.
Again, I welcome all of you to the new academic year. Thank you for your support, encouragement and education in the last several months. I look forward to seeing many of you at the Inauguration and other events coming up in the next several weeks, and, most importantly, around the campus every day. Looking forward to our work together.
David J. Skorton