April 28, 2014

Next President Should Come From Diverse Background, Students Say

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Students said they hope President David Skorton’s successor will focus on unifying the Cornell community and will encourage cultural diversity at an open forum for students held by the Presidential Search Committee Monday.

Four members of the Board of Trustees — Chair Bob Harrison ’76, Alan Mittman ’71, Lisa Skeete Tatum ’89 and Ross Gitlin ’15 — hosted the forum, which asked students to identify recent initiatives that have been “critical to Cornell’s success” and qualities they hope to see in Cornell’s next president, according to Gitlin.

Several students mentioned President Skorton’s “approachability” and their hope that his successor would have a similar presence on campus.

“One thing that stood out to me that I would like to see in our next president was that [Skorton] is so involved,” said Angelica Cullo ’15. “I think that Cornell really benefits from a president who is concerned with reaching out to the community.”

Sam Ritholtz ’14 said the next president should be community-minded — and that Skorton has done a “great job” of trying to work with different communities on campus.

“I think when it comes to our future president, one of the biggest things should be how they affect the campus climate,” said Ritholtz, who is also a columnist for The Sun.

Jared Landsman ’14 said he appreciated President Skorton’s transparency regarding divisive campus issues.

“Whenever there is a big controversy on campus, [Skorton] will be pretty upfront about it,” Landsman said. “I would like to see that quality in our new president.”

Many students said Cornell’s next president should focus on issues of cultural diversity, including Rizpah Bellard ’15 who said she appreciated President Skorton’s efforts to increase campus diversity.

“I definitely want to see that followed on by the next president,” Bellard said.

Bellard added that Skorton’s successor should be “somebody who has a diverse background” and is knowledgeable of how people of different races may have different experiences “on campus and worldwide.”

Michael Gross ’15, however, said while he “can see an inclination to appoint someone … with a more technical background,” the next president should also have well-rounded interests.

“I would urge the committee to consider someone who might have priorities for the liberal arts on campus,” Gross said.

Other students, such as Jesse Goldberg grad, said the new president should play a role in creating more discussion in the classroom about cultural and socioeconomic differences in “substantive ways that go beyond the numbers.”

Michael Collaguazo ’14 also said it is “important” to have more representation of students of color in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

“There are so many opportunities that people in a diverse community can take part in, as long as we can reach out to them,” Collaguazo said. “Having the president’s voice in that would be very important.”

Shannon Cohall ’14 said she felt that racial diversity is a “huge talking issue” at Cornell, but that support for minority students was not sufficient.

Multiple students referenced the recent Campus Climate Survey, saying it indicated room for improvement in Cornell’s multicultural environment. The study concluded that Cornell “lacks authentic engagement regarding diversity and bias incidents,” The Sun previously reported.

“The opportunities for action that are listed in [the Campus Climate Survey] … need to be priorities on this campus,” said Ulysses Smith ’14, president of the Student Assembly. “They need to be hardcore priorities.”

Goldberg agreed, suggesting that gender and racial variation should play a direct role in the Committee’s choice of President.

“If we were to see in the next few months that the final candidates were all white men, that would be very disappointing to a lot of people,” Goldberg said.