October 7, 2014

WEISMAN | Any Person, Any Study, But Not Just Any Woman

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On September 30, the Cornell University Board of Trustees unanimously appointed Elizabeth Garrett to be the next President of Cornell. Some of you are probably sick of seeing headlines like this in The Daily Sun, and even in the New York Times, but I don’t care. From what I have learned about her thus far, she deserves the headlines.

Campus was buzzing last Tuesday afternoon after the announcement, and everyone was excitedly celebrating the appointment of a woman to the position. In case you missed it — or ICYMI, my new favorite popular internet term — Ms. Garrett is the first woman to assume the Cornell presidency. I don’t know how you would have, though, because that is what everyone seemed to be saying, commenting, tweeting and posting following the press conference.

And then, no one really said much else.

Don’t get me wrong. This news is amazing. It is a huge step for our university and it makes me proud to be a woman at Cornell. It strikes me as odd, though, that once people celebrated this accomplishment, many did not continue to learn about why she was appointed — besides the unusual fact that she is a woman.

I say unusual because Cornell is the sixth Ivy League school to be lead by a woman, and keep in mind that there are only eight (Columbia and Dartmouth really need to get it together…). Ms. Garrett is Cornell’s 13th president, which is not that many when you consider how many years we have been in existence — ICYMI, it’s 150. Still, it seems like Cornell — one of the more progressive of the Ivies and of most universities — should have had a female leader by now.

Regardless — or should I say, “Irregardless,” in honor of the 10 year anniversary of Mean Girls — Cornell has taken the right step with appointing a woman to be its next President. We can celebrate that. Any person, any study, any leader! But Elizabeth Garrett is not just any woman. She has an incredible list of credentials and accomplishments, that are certainly not limited to, but include serving as the provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at USC, being appointed to the Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform by former President George W. Bush, clerking for former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and working for former Governor David Boren. She is also an accomplished lawyer — Cornell’s second president to hold a J.D. after 11th president Jeff Lehman ’77 (thanks Corey Earle!) — and has authored more than 50 articles, book chapters and essays.

When I listened to the buzz about Ms. Garrett’s appointment, much of it was about the fact that she is our first woman president. There was still some talk about her history, but most of the people I interacted with or overheard either talked about how wonderful it is, or simply stated the headline and switched topics.

If our next president were a man, my guess is that people’s first questions after hearing the announcement would be, “What has he accomplished?” While it is outstanding that we now have a female president, after the initial celebration, I wish people had yearned to learn more.

I am sure many people did read up on Ms. Garrett, and do know her credentials and how incredible of an appointment she is for the position. However, to the people who read the headline and only thought of the history we are making with her sex and not necessarily with her, I urge you to learn more. I implore you to consider the fact that Ms. Garrett is more than just a different gender from our previous presidents — that she is incredibly impressive and, as board chairman Robert Harrison ’76 put it, “the most perfect person” for the job.

Like I said, Ms. Garrett’s appointment makes me proud to be a Cornell woman. Her leadership will follow in the footsteps of other incredible Cornell women, like Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’54, Vice President for Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy ’73 Ph.D. ’94 and so many more. Nonetheless, the fact that she is a woman should not overshadow her other achievements or be the only reason we should look forward to her term.

I am excited to see how Ms. Garrett propels the University forward even further, and how her leadership will inspire even more outstanding individuals to make a difference. More importantly, however, I wonder if she will have a burger at Trillium with me…

Samantha Weisman is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She may be reached at [email protected]. A Weisman Once Said appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.