February 10, 2009

Univ. Reviews $20 Mil. Pledge to City Amidst Recession, Cuts

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In the midst of the current economic crisis, Cornell has begun a thorough evaluation of all of its financial programs, including a 10-year plan to donate $20 million to the City of Ithaca and Tompkins County that President David Skorton pledged in October 2007. While budget cuts plague the University, Skorton will honor the commitment to the city, though the timing of its implementation will be impacted by fiscal constraints.
“We currently are assessing how we will go forward,” Stephen Golding, executive vice president for finance and administration, said about the $20 million donation. “We will not know anything specific until late spring or early summer.”
Each year, Cornell makes voluntary contributions to a number of different institutions in the City of Ithaca including libraries, schools and childhood services in an effort improve town-gown relations. “Last year, Cornell gave $1.9 million in voluntary contributions,” John Gutenberger, director of the office of community relations, stated in an e-mail. This donation represented an increment of its total $20 million pledge.
Skorton devised the $20 million commitment in order to assist six areas of local development, which include housing, transportation, economic development, education, health care and the environment.
“It is in Cornell’s self-interest to have a strong community for the next generation of faculty and students,” Golding said.
Many of Cornell’s senior administrators agree that more money must be allocated to the infrastructure of Tompkins County specifically geared toward improving the safety of local roads and intersections.
According to Alderperson Mary Tomlan ’71 (D-3rd Ward), a portion of the $20 million will be allotted to the Ithaca-Tompkins County Transportation Council, an organization chaired by Ithaca Mayor Carolyn Peterson that is “taking the lead on the transportation component” of the pledge. Another portion will be disseminated in a Memorandum of Understanding, written jointly by Tompkins County, the City of Ithaca and Cornell, which will help lower the cost of housing in Ithaca.
Skorton recently held a number of open forums to discuss the effect of the current economic situation on the University and the surrounding community as part of the Campus Master Plan. Golding and Gutenberger additionally stressed the need for transparency and assistance from the community in making plans for Cornell’s future.
“In spite of these troubled economic times, our collective futures are bright, given the amount of cooperation, determination and goodwill,” Gutenberger stated.