March 7, 2007

Provost Set to Speak to C.U.

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For the first time in Cornell’s history, the provost will give a State of the University address. Provost Biddy Martin will speak about the current academic status of the University today.

Martin is the first woman to serve as provost, and, since her appointment in July 2000, her job has become increasingly important.

“This is the latest in a series of steps in recognizing the importance of the provost’s role,” said President David Skorton.

Dean of Faculty Charles Walcott Ph.D ’59 explained what he believed to be the reason for this new address.

“This is an effort by the president to emphasize the role of the provost,” Walcott said. “It makes a great deal of sense, because in terms of academics, she is the person responsible.”

The provost, as the chief academic officer of the University, is well placed to give this address, according to Walcott.

“She has a perspective which few others have — of the entire University, not just one college,” he said.

“It’s my first year as president, and I think it’s a good idea,” Skorton said. He also stated that he had two main underlying motivations behind creating this new address.

“I wanted to provide an opportunity to listen to the chief academic officer of the University, the provost, and get her perspective on the academic state of the University,” Skorton said. “I have a deep respect for her vision of what the University is and could become.”

The role of the provost has been considered an ambiguous one. Although it was originally created to assist the president in matters of “secondary importance” according to Morris Bishop, author of A History of Cornell, it has changed many times since its creation. It has evolved from a more financially centered role to its current position focusing on academia.
The role has expanded in recent years.

“As Cornell grew in size and complexity, the president found himself stretched trying to keep track of all the bits and pieces,” Walcott said. “This is where the provost comes in.”

“[Skorton] handles the overall strategy. He has a group of lieutenants who he works with, trusts and delegates tasks to,” Walcott said.

Skorton is forthright in his respect for Martin and her administrative role.

“I believe that the provost has a very important role in the vision and management of the University,” Skorton said. “The heart and soul of the University is the academic mission of education and discovery.”

The subject matter of Martin’s address is nearly as ambiguous as the role itself. The only thing certain is that the academic status of the University will be discussed.

“My guess is the state of the University is good,” Walcott said. “I would be astonished if anyone were to declare otherwise.”

Unfortunately, Martin was unavailable for comment.

Not everyone, however, is as excited about the speech as Skorton and Walcott.

“I have no idea about any of that,” Dan Butterly ’08 said regarding the address.

“I have prelims coming up,” said Natalie Ramirez ’10. “I’m thinking about economic determinism in orthodox Marxism for my government class, not some speech the provost is giving.”

Regardless, both Skorton and Walcott are looking forward to the address.

“I hope the community turns out in large numbers and that people enjoy the talk and talking about whatever points are raised afterwards,” Skorton said.

“It’s important for people to come and listen and pay attention to it. I have no idea what she’s going to talk about. I think this University is an extraordinary University in the diversity of our concerns and interests. My hope is that she is going to emphasize the riches that are available there and encourage students to take advantage of them,” Walcott said.

Can the Cornell community expect to see this speech again next year? According to Skorton, most definitely.

“I hope this will become a new tradition for the University,” Skorton said.

The address will be held in Kennedy Hall Call Auditorium at 4:30 p.m.