August 29, 2010

A New Year

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I write this column from Mary Donlon Hall, where my wife, Professor Robin Davisson, and I are again spending a few days living with the newest members of the Cornell family, the Class of 2014. Selected from among more than 36,000 applicants, they come from 49 of the 50 states and 42 countries and combine outstanding academic records with remarkable achievements in everything from athletics to music to community service. The 542 new transfer students are also accomplished and diverse, with more than a quarter reporting themselves as students of color and more than a third receiving need-based financial aid. Our new graduate and professional students — 59 percent men, 41 percent women and representing 85 countries — include 1,232 professional master’s students, 133 research master’s students and 663 Ph.D. students. Many of us had the chance to greet new students during our increasingly comprehensive orientation activities. In these first weeks of the semester, I urge all of us to welcome new members of our community — students, faculty and staff.  As I noted in my message to the community last week, we begin the academic year with optimism and enthusiasm, now that the worst of the immediate financial crisis is behind us. President Obama gave Cornell a “shout out” for our commitment to control costs without sacrificing excellence — the only private university so recognized — during his August 9 speech at the University of Texas at Austin. This is yet another affirmation of the extraordinary work of reorganization done by so many on our campuses during the last year and a half.Going forward, although targeted streamlining of administrative and other service functions will continue, we envision no reduction in our student financial aid program and no across-the-board personnel reductions. By the end of the new academic year we will have a clear path toward a balanced budget. With our new plan, “Cornell at its Sesquicentennial:  A Strategic Plan 2010-2015” in place, we are taking steps to “to be recognized as a top-ten research university in the world, and a model university for the interweaving of liberal education and fundamental knowledge with practical education and impact on societal and world problems.” Many aspects of the strategic plan focus on improving the student experience, from faculty renewal to an emphasis on teaching to student health and wellbeing. I urge you to read the plan carefully at www.cornell.edu/strategicplan.Critical to the student experience and the future of Cornell, we have initiated a $100-million faculty renewal program, to be funded by $50 million in philanthropy over five years, matched with $50 million reallocated from internal university sources over the same period. We have already achieved some momentum in the philanthropic support of this initiative. I am confident that we are now recruiting and retaining the first-rate faculty needed to ensure excellent education, discovery, creativity and public engagement for generations to come and that the rate of these recruitments will accelerate.  In all our academic units and at the university level, we aim to create a culture that supports superb teaching and educational innovation. We are also working to provide a more unified educational experience for all our undergraduates and to increase the educational impact that students receive from study abroad. We will continue to seek out talented students from diverse backgrounds, who contribute so much to our campus community, and to promote the health and wellbeing of students as a foundation for academic and personal success.Most important as we link arms this year is our communication with each other. I invite you to look for my monthly column in the Cornell Daily Sun, to share your reactions through The Sun or directly to me at david.skorton@cornell.edu and face-to-face as we see each other on campus throughout the year. Right now, though, I need to go down the hall at Donlon to track down the source of all that noise. I wish you a terrific semester.David J. Skorton is president of Cornell University. He may be reached at david.skorton@cornell.edu. From David appears monthly this semester.

Original Author: David J. Skorton