October 28, 2012

Skorton Reflects on Year’s Victories, Challenges to Come in ‘State of the University’ Address

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It has been an eventful year for President David Skorton. He saw Cornellians elated when the University won the tech campus competition; outrage erupt when a man threw beer cans at black students outside a fraternity; and alumni break University fundraising records in an outpouring of philanthropy.

Reflecting on both the victories and challenges of the past year, Skorton put forth the goals Cornell will move toward in his “State of the University” speech Friday.

Skorton said Cornell has made significant progress in striving to achieve the vision outlined in its strategic plan to make itself “widely recognized as a top-ten research university in the world.” Three years since the plan was launched, the University has risen in national rankings, recruited faculty at the top of their fields and bolstered its academic programs, he said.

Currently, 47 of the Ithaca campus’ academic programs are ranked in the top 10 of their fields — more than any other college in the nation, Skorton said.

Anticipating a wave of faculty retirements, the University has also been “very successful” in hiring “rising stars, as well as senior-level colleagues,” he said.

For the Ithaca campus alone, Cornell made 71 new tenure-track appointments during the 2011-12 academic year — a leap from the 27 appointments in the 2010-11 academic year.

Some of the newly-hired faculty members will soon inhabit Klarman Hall, Skorton added. The building — the first that will be built at Cornell for the humanities in a century — will break ground next summer, with the aim of opening it to the public in 2015.

As the tech campus rises in New York City, the University has also forged greater connections between its Ithaca and New York City campuses, Skorton said.

Although Skorton expressed pride over these accomplishments, he also highlighted several challenges facing Cornell today.

Despite boasting one of the most economically diverse student bodies among U.S. colleges, the University has a faculty that is predominantly male and white. Only 27.6 percent of faculty are women, and just 5.7 percent of faculty are underrepresented minorities.

The Cornell community has also been shaken by multiple incidents of bias and sexual violence in the last few months.

And in recent months, Cornell staff have expressed concerns about imbalanced workloads — an issue Skorton said came “particularly in the wake of the belt-tightening of the past few years.”

The University cannot resolve such issues with complacency, Skorton said. Quoting former Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson II, he emphasized that “We dare not just look back to great yesterdays. We must look forward to great tomorrows.”

Skorton stressed that, following the traditions of the University’s founders, Cornell must continue to think about fostering diversity among its students, faculty and staff.

“When many of us think about diversity, we have in mind a way to reduce inequalities by creating opportunities — part of Ezra Cornell’s famous aspiration,” he said.

As part of efforts to increase diversity at the University, Cornell has launched “Toward New Destinations” — a program in which administrators have committed to 158 goals relating to improving diversity in their respective colleges and units, Skorton said.

Cornell is also attempting to respond to community concerns in the wake of several sexual assaults. Skorton said that the University is working on “[getting] the word out about safety services and other resources that are available, improving lighting in areas where incidents may occur and continuing conversations with individuals and groups so that we can move closer to being the diverse, welcoming and caring community we aspire to be.”

Many faculty and staff are also taking an online course, “Respect@Cornell,” to learn how to handle reports of sexual violence, harassment and discrimination.

“Clearly, we still have work to do, but I am proud of the seriousness and the sensitivity with which so many on our campuses are attempting to address the challenges we face,” Skorton said.

As the University prepares to celebrate its sesquicentennial anniversary in 2015, Skorton attributed the state of Cornell today to the sum of Cornellians’ work over the last 150 years.

“Because of the excellence and diversity of our student body, Cornell graduates are making contributions throughout the world. Because Cornellians have given back so much — so very much — to their alma mater, we’ve achieved our current level of distinction,” he said.

Skorton charged the community with continuing to push Cornell forward over the next year.

“As we begin another year together, I challenge you, through your commitment of time, energy, resources and skills, to help create great tomorrows for new generations of Cornellians — on the Hill, in New York City and throughout the world,” he said.

Original Author: Akane Otani