October 6, 2010

University Prepares for 150th Anniversary

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When throwing a milestone birthday bash for an international institution, it never hurts to get an early start.

Plans have been in the works since last year for the University’s sesquicentennial celebration, commemorating the 150th anniversary of Cornell’s charter, issued Apr. 27, 1865.

The plans’ implementation will begin next September when members of the Class of 2015 — dubbed Cornell’s “Sesquicentennial Class” — arrive on campus.

“It makes me smile every time I think about it,” said Tommy Bruce, vice president for University communications and a member of the sesquicentennial steering committee.

The committee consists of Bruce; Glenn Altschuler, vice president for University relations; Charles Phlegar, vice president for alumni affairs and development; Prof. Isaac Kramnick, government; Prof. Rosemary Avery, policy analysis and management and faculty representative to the Board of Trustees; Prof. Joe Burns, mechanical and aerospace engineering; and Prof. David Feldshuh, theatre, flim and dance.

“The committee is considering a theme [for the sesquicentennial] which celebrates Cornell’s historically innovative and revolutionary role in American higher education while also emphasizing its current and future commitment to a leadership role in the academic life of America and the world,” Kramnick said.

The sesquicentennial celebrations will unfold in three parts: a colloquium of the natural and social sciences will be held in Ithaca; a colloquium and weekend celebration of the humanities and the arts will take place in New York City; and the Cornell community will commemorate Charter Day in Ithaca on Monday, Apr. 27, 2015.

According to Kramnick, the intention of the sesquicentennial celebration is to involve distinguished academics from local, state, national and international arenas in order to address questions about Cornell’s role in higher education today.

“One of the issues that I think various panels and symposia will have to deal with is: is there a place in the 21st century for what Ezra Cornell wanted, which was for this to be a people’s university where any person could find instruction in any study,” Kramnick said. “At the same time, Andrew Dickson White wanted a university that rivaled [the most elite institutions]. What does it mean in the 21st century to have a people’s university? Is Cornell’s traditional commitment to being a people’s university at the cutting edge of excellence still possible?”

Subcommittees of faculty, staff and students are being created to plan each of the three major sesquicentennial events.

Avery and Burns are heading a focus group for the natural and social sciences colloquium, Feldshuh is organizing the celebration of the arts in New York City, and Kramnick is planning Charter Day. These groups are set to have their first meetings by mid-October.

“At the University level we will take responsibility for organizing these [major] events,” Bruce said. Many smaller organizations are likely to mobilize their own independent efforts to commemorate the occasion, Bruce added.

“We fully know and we expect that … wherever [the] Cornell [community] is during the course of the year, everybody will want to do something,” Bruce said.

Bruce said the University would work with these groups to make sure that “everyone gets their day in the sunshine.”

At this point, the steering committee is just beginning to solidify plans for the types of events it wants to organize.

“Much has yet to be decided,” Bruce said. “It’s very early on in the process … [but] it was very important for us to get off the ground. Given the size of Cornell, you can’t start too early.”

Bruce said questions about budget for the event cannot be answered yet, but stressed the importance of adapting to current economic climates.

“People obviously know that we exist in a new fiscal context,” Bruce said.

Kramnick and Bruce both stressed the opportunity this milestone will provide for both celebration and introspection about the University’s past, present and future.

“It’s a time to pause and look at that incredible story that is the history of Cornell while at the same giving some indication of the next chapter of how it plans to extend its role in higher education alongside its more tradition-bound peers,” Kramnick said.

As for who will give the primary address at Cornell’s sesquicentennial celebration, Bruce urged the focus groups to think boldly.

“The 150th anniversary of Cornell University is an opportunity for the shining lights of our society [to come together],” Bruce said. “We are Cornell.”

For Cornell’s centennial, the University held a convention in October 1964 that was attended by 33 college presidents and 100 delegates from 25 countries, including the University of Bologna in Italy, the oldest institute of higher education. Classes were cancelled the day of the event, in which Adlai Stevenson was the primary speaker.

Original Author: Dani Neuharth-Keusch