March 10, 2011

Harrison ’76 Elected Chair of Board of Trustees

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Cornell’s Board of Trustees unanimously elected Robert Harrison ’76, CEO of the Clinton Global Initiative, to be its next chair on Friday morning. Harrison will follow Peter Meinig ’61, whose second term as chair concludes at the end of the year.Harrison has been a member of the board since 2002. Before joining the Clinton Global Initiative, he spent 22 years as an investment banker and lawyer on Wall Street.“This is a tremendous honor,” said Harrison, who also served as an undergraduate student trustee while studying at Cornell. “This is really quite an amazing circle closed for me.”Harrison is the first former student trustee to be elected chair of the board, according to a University statement.Harrison said he does not plan to make significant changes once he begins his two-and-a-half year term on Jan. 1, 2012.Harrison said he plans to continue Meinig’s emphasis on frequent interactions with students, faculty and other groups affected by the board’s decisions.“[Meinig] has been a great role model,” Harrison said.“We don’t feel it’s our role to manage the University. It’s our role to, essentially, support the University,” Harrison said at a press conference announcing his election Friday.Faculty renewal will be one of the most important issues facing the University over the next several years as many of Cornell’s older faculty members retire, Harrison said after the press conference. “It is really going to set the course for decades,” he said. In thirty years, “it’s going to be the faculty members who we hire this year, next year and the year after who will determine what the University looks like.”Harrison graduated from Cornell with a degree in government in 1976. He studied at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, then received a law degree from Yale Law School in 1981.Following law school, Harrison practiced corporate law in Davis, Polk and Wardwell’s New York City and Paris offices. He joined Goldman Sachs in 1987, and he eventually became a partner at the firm.In 2003, Harrison left Wall Street to work on the presidential campaigns of Gen. Wesley Clark and Sen. John Kerry. He now serves as CEO of the Clinton Global Initiative.“I’ve basically had three careers,” in law, investment banking and public service, Harrison said. “What I’m really bringing is a public sector and private sector approach” to the new position.Meinig praised Harrison’s experience in business and on the board.“It’s background, it’s performance and it’s great expectations for the future” that qualify Harrison to be chair of the board, Meinig said.As a student at Cornell, Harrison was elected Speaker of the University Senate, a powerful campus governing body made up of students, faculty, staff and others that approved any significant University’s expenditures. He later served as a student trustee from 1975 to 1976. In a 1981 Sun article about the role students play on the Board of Trustees, Harrison derided the trustees for being out-of-touch with the campus.“The mere fact that they only flew in four times a year shows they could not have been appraised of what was going on at the Ithaca campus,” he said.Harrison joined the board in 2002, and became the chair of the the Executive Committee in 2005. In a 2005 interview published in The Sun, Harrison explained why he began participating again in Cornell’s governance.“No institution has had a greater impact on me than Cornell,” Harrison said. “I believe I have a responsibility to pay back the University for all it gave me.”Meinig will step down as chair at the end of the year, after serving in the position since 2002.“To be honest, I haven’t started reflecting,” Meinig said of his tenure on the board. “My focus now is on what’s going on at Cornell for the next nine months and beyond.”

Original Author: Michael Linhorst