April 3, 2012

Skorton Responds to Affirmative Action Supreme Court Case

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Correction appended

About a month after a Feb. 21 decision by the United States Supreme Court to hear a case on affirmative action in higher education, President David Skorton sat down with The Sun on Thursday to discuss the potential impact of the case on the University, especially with regard to his newly-released diversity initiatives.

The Sun: Is there a fear that the initiative that you are putting forward is going to be dismantled by the court decision? How will the University going to approach that decision as it comes?

David Skorton: I am completely committed to increasing the compositional diversity of the campus ­­–– both students and employees –– and completely committed to improving the climate on campus, so that when we have changes in compositional diversity, people stay here and can succeed here. It’s my job, and the job of my team, and the job of the General Counsel, to help us understand how to do that within the law, within regulations, but to nonetheless do it. Because I am and the job of my team, and the job of the General Counsel, to help us understand how to do that within the law, within regulations, but to nonetheless do it. Because I am totally convinced, the reason I’m doing this is not to hit some number, not to have a quota of any kind, but because I believe in the depths of my being that the more diverse the campus, the better we’re going to be, the more excellent we’re going to be.

How do you make it a better place? Well, we make it possible for students to look forward. We make sure that there is support for students once they get in here so they can get out the other side of it, we hire the right kind of people to interact with the students, and so on and so forth. But one of the ways I think is that we make the nature of the place, both students and faculty, as much like the world as possible, especially because Cornell is so reflective of the world; it’s an international university … I believe that to make it all it can be, to use a cliché, I think it should be diverse in gender, race, international background, a lot of different dimensions. I am, of course, concerned that we do things that are legal, but I think the spirit of what I’m talking about is what we need to achieve and we’ll find a way to do that.

The Sun: Do you consider the court’s consideration of a case like that concerning?

D.S.: It is concerning. I’m the furthest thing from a legal scholar that you will ever meet, but it’s always of interest and potentially of concern when the Supreme Court looks at something that could potentially radically affect the way we do things. We have to find a way to continue the forward motion that follows our aspiration, and the ethos of Cornell, without going counter to the law.

The Sun: Also, on the topic of University initiatives, one thing we’ve heard about and we wanted to ask you about is the degree to which gay and lesbian professor hires will be prioritized. Is that a benchmark the University is looking to meet? Are they considered part of the diversity hires for professors?

D.S.: The diversity initiative identifies a broad range of areas in which we want to be non-discriminatory — [to] not cause someone harm in terms of the system because they are a woman, underrepresented minority, [of] different sexual orientation, [have a] disability –– the wide range of things that we talk about. But that’s not enough, right? That’s just sort of the floor for our aspirations, beyond do no harm.

The Sun: Related to that are the undocumented students that are at Cornell. One person has already come out and said he was undocumented and raised money to finance the rest of his college education, and we were wondering what the University’s policy is on members of the administration helping out these undocumented students once they know that they are undocumented.

D.S.: More than one student has come to me already in private … I did ask the Provost and the Vice Provost to do a study to find out –– since we don’t know how manystudents there are and we never know exactly what the number are, and I don’t blame people for not coming forward  –– what it would take financially to be able to do financial aid help for undocumented students who also have need. And those things might or might not be linked. My understanding is the Provost is working with them right now on the draft report on what they came up with, working with the people who work in financial aid, people who work in admissions, of how we might support them.

A previous version of this article incorrectly linked a portion of a statement made by President David Skorton to his discussion of an affirmative action Supreme Court case. In fact, he was speaking at the time about the University’s handling of Title IX cases.

Original Author: Sun Staff