March 11, 2014

Skorton Outlines Priorities for Coming Months

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For the next 15 months, President David Skorton says he will be “busy.”

At the end of that time frame, he will depart from Cornell to lead the world’s largest museum and research complex — the Smithsonian Institution — the University announced Monday. In the meantime, however, Skorton said he will continue to serve the University up through its sesquicentennial celebration.

“As you saw, I’m going to finish the commitments I’ve made here at Cornell,” he said. “Not because of some contract, but because it’s commitment of the heart.”

Finding the “equilibrium” after the staff reduction that occurred in response to the 2008 economic downturn and addressing issues regarding campus climate are issues Skorton said he will continue to deal with during the remainder of his term.

“The climate related to sexual assault is a very important issue that continues and needs to be dealt with all the way to the day where when we no have to worry about sexual assault,” Skorton said.

Skorton also said he wants to continue the positive progress the University has made in regards to philanthropy and the excellence of the Cornell education.

“The demand for a Cornell education is breathtaking,” he said. “We have 43,000 applicants for this fall’s class of about 3,200 slots. So I want to do everything I can to help maintain the excellence that helps draw students here.”

In addition, Skorton said the University’s job is to continue to ensure that Cornell remains a viable option for students and recruits students based on their “ability and aspiration and not on financial means.”

“Here, the biggest cost to opportunity is the cost of the institution,” Skorton said. “I think the most important thing we’ve accomplished is to somewhat lower those barriers based on means. We have not brought them all the way down, but we have gone a long distance thanks to the work of many people and the generosity of many people.”

Skorton — who will begin his tenure at the Smithsonian on July 1, 2015 after being selected by the Institute’s Board of Regents Sunday — said the Institution shares more commonalities and similarities with Cornell than differences.

“The Smithsonian, like Cornell, is an institution with an unbelievably broad area of activity,” Skorton said. “I like to tell people that Cornell University does everything from neurosurgery and the Mars rover to poetry. No one individual is going to really have the grasp of all those things. The Smithsonian is the same.”

“I’m hugely honored to have this opportunity,” he said. “It’s not an opportunity that I could have foreseen not very long ago.”

President David Skorton speaks during a press conference in his office Tuesday after the University announced Monday that he will leave Cornell in 2015. (Connor Archard / Sun Sports Photography Editor)