In between his travels around the United States and, indeed, around the world, former President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 took some time to talk to The Sun about his international workload and some of his plans for the future.
Sun: It looks like you’ve got a lot on your plate; any secrets on time management?
Lehman: The Blackberry is a wonderful thing. I’m very fortunate. I’m involved in working with interesting groups of people on interesting projects.
[img_assist|nid=18734|title=Passing the baton|desc=Robert Bonow / Sun Photo Editor Former President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 attends the inauguration of President David J. Skorton on Sept. 7.|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=83]
Sun: How did you get involved with the InfoSys Technologies board of directors?
Lehman: The chair of the board of InfoSys is Narayana Murthy, and he is a Cornell trustee and so I got to know him as both a trustee and also as a personal friend. He contacted me early 2006 [about the position].
[The InfoSys board] meets four times a year, and then there’s an annual shareholders event.
Sun: What do you bring to the board?
Lehman: I think any director of a company brings experience from all walks of life to the role. I bring experience as an academic, as a lawyer, as an American, as someone who has cared about technology all of his adult life.
Sun: You’re also helping advise the design for a new campus for the Asian University for Women based in Chittagong, Bangladesh. What’s your input on that process?
Lehman: I just joined this board this spring. The master planner and the executive of the company who’s responsible for the designs will be working up proposals which they will bring to our advisory group for review.
Sun: How often do you go over to Chittagong?
Lehman: I’ve only been once in April, and I had the chance to meet with their minister of education and the speaker of the house. The minister of education is a Cornell graduate.
After visiting the capital, I went down to Chittagong, the site where it is going to be built.
Sun: When is that project supposed to get started?
Lehman: Construction for the first building should begin by the beginning of next year. We’re going to have a bridging year, to help students prepare. We hope to have the buildings up for students to actually begin in 2008.
The group that I’m chairing is called the advising committee for campus design and it includes … Dean Mohsen Mostafavi, College of Architecture, Art and Planning and Cornell Trustee Jill Lerner.
Sun: You’re also working on redoing the governance structure of the Internet2 consortium, which has been making headlines especially in higher education. What changes are you working on?
Lehman: We don’t know what types of changes will need to be made. There was an attempt to merge two organizations – Internet2 and National Lamda Rail — last year and we weren’t able to bring the merger about. In the aftermath of that, it seemed appropriate to do a top to bottom-up review of Internet2. So we’re going to be doing two things in our committee. We’re going to be doing a comprehensive descriptive analysis of how governance works in Internet2 today, considering any plausible suggestions for improvements in that structure, and then we’re going to be presenting recommendations to the memberships by December to get comments, and then making recommendations to the board early next year.
Sun: You’ve been spending the bulk of your time working on the Joint Center for China-US Law & Policy Studies, which is a very comprehensive collaboration between the two countries to support the rule of law in China. Where is the impetus for this program coming from?
Lehman: The impetus for this really came from Justice Anthony Kennedy of the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1999, he went to China and he has gone almost every year since then. He began discussion on his first or second trip on creating a center like this that would help to bring together scholars, lawyers and government people from both countries to work on significant issues pertaining to the law.
After I stepped down as Cornell’s president, I got a call from the president of Peking University, Xu Zhihong. I had gotten to know him well as Cornell’s president, and he was interested in the possibility of my stepping in to kick start this project. I was in China last September and November, and we had a series of long conversations about how to involve other Chinese universities like the Beijing Foreign Studies University. I had a series of meetings with Justice Kennedy in October and November, and then in December it was agreed to get this project started. This year, I’ve been working to set up an American organization that will help support the work of the center and host academic conferences. One of them involves University of Michigan law school, a second one involves Cornell Law School.
This December will be the fifth anniversary of China’s succession to full membership in the WTO and so it seemed like an opportune moment to focus on the next step in international trade and the role that the WTO plays and that national governments play and that international businesses play. The Beijing Forum involves a set of parallel symposia on different themes, and one has to do with international trade and so we have Mike Moore, who was former director general of the WTO at the time when China was negotiating to become a member; Charlene Barshefsky, who was the U.S. Trade Representative at the time; Kenneth Lieberthal, special assistant to President Clinton on China; Natalie Lichtenstein, Assistant General Counsel to the World Bank; and a lot of other people.
Sun: How receptive has China been to this center?
Lehman: Well it’s based in Peking University, and Peking is a public university. We’ve been just enormously grateful for the support we’ve gotten from government officials in different capacities. At the Cornell event in June, the vice-mayor of Beijing came in and participated. He was very enthusiastic. It’s been very well received.
Sun: With all this traveling, where are you based out of now?
Lehman: Well we’re moving from Washington to New York. As you reported, Kathy has accepted a position at Columbia and so we’ve just gotten an apartment up there.
Sun: You were back in Ithaca for inauguration. What did you think of it?
Lehman: I thought it was a wonderful day. I thought it was a wonderful day for Cornell. I have just the highest regard for President Skorton and I thought he gave a really inspired address that really captured the soul of Cornell.