On June 7, Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff announced that Dean Gregory Morrisett will be the next Jack and Rilla Neafsey Dean and Vice Provost of Cornell Tech.
The announcement follows the departure of the founding Cornell Tech Dean, Daniel Huttenlocher, to Massachusetts Institute of Technology — as the inaugural dean of its new Schwarzman College of Computing.
Morrisett will begin his five-year term on August 1, according to the press release. Currently he serves as the Dean of Computing and Information Sciences, a position he has held since 2015. Prof. Jon Kleinberg, computer science, will serve as CIS Dean in the interim.
Prior to leading the CIS department, Morrisett was a professor of computer science at Harvard University, serving as the department chair from 2004-2015. Additionally, he was a professor of computer science at Cornell from 1996-2004.
He began his educational career at the University of Richmond, where he received a bachelor’s degree in computer science in 1989. Later, he attended Carnegie Mellon University where he received a master’s degree in computer science in 1991 and a Ph.D. in computer science in 1995.
As Dean of CIS, Morrisett oversaw the development of the data and statistical science divisions and the department of computational biology — all units that work collaboratively with CIS.
As Dean of Cornell Tech, Morrisett told The Sun he hopes to continue hiring faculty to support the students and the broad range of programs that Cornell Tech has to offer. He is joining the tech campus at a crucial moment, when they are embarking on phase two of their development plan.
The development of Cornell Tech was slated to occur in three phases. The first phase consisted of the opening of the campus and the construction of executive education centers which will open within the next year.
The second phase of development will occur within the next decade. According to Morrisett, they are in the planning stages for the third phase. Overall, the goal will look to expand the number of faculty and students the campus can support.
Another important part of his role will be to focus on diversity within the tech world. According to Morrisett, diversity is important not only because it is “the right thing to do,” but diverse teams also work better and are more efficient.
“More diverse teams produce new ideas and bring new perspectives and can solve a wider range of problems — and that’s our goal, to help society with technology,” Morrisett said.
In noting the importance of diversity, Morrisett talked about how the tech industry can create problems with biases coded into systems. He said that “misrepresentation” and “biases” can affect systems such as voice, image and face recognition in artificial intelligence and machine learning.
“If we are not including diverse mindsets in the formulation of that technology, we are going to end up with that kind of imbalance and biases in systems we are building,” Morrisett said. “And that is going to cause all kinds of problems for people around the world.”
While Cornell Tech has existing programs that bring focus to women and K-12 education, Morrisett said he plans to introduce new programs that work in conjunction with the city, whose public school system offers many opportunities, given its diverse student population.
“New York is one of the most diverse metropolitan areas in the world and that’s an opportunity to really bring a broad range of students in to the excitement of the information age,” he said.
Another way to increase diversity is to focus on financial aid programs so that Cornell Tech is able to bring a wider range of students on campus to study, according to Morrisett.
While referencing the decision of Amazon to build a campus in New York City that was later revoked, he spoke about the strategic partnerships the University has retained with companies and the different companies that the Cornell Tech community has created.
“I think at this point, Cornell Tech has spun out about 70 companies,” Morrisett said. “Most of those have stayed out in the New York area, it’s really helping to bolster the tech scene more generally there.”
“Who knows, one of these companies might turn into the next Amazon,” he continued.
In addition to working with tech companies like Amazon, Samsung or Google, Morrisett highlighted the growing influence “data, information, computation and artificial intelligence” has had on different industries. The spread of information technologies to other industries outside of traditional tech companies create an opportunity for Cornell Tech to engage with more groups and expand their scope, he said.
Another area that Morrisett is excited about are areas of entrepreneurship for doctoral students. There is currently an existing program with the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute housed on Cornell Tech’s campus that supports doctoral students and their ideas.
As Morrisett takes this new post, he hopes to further the institution by focusing on three main components in his leadership philosophy: diversity and inclusion, interdisciplinary training and the pursuit of research and training connected to society today.
Although Morrisett’s new position allows him to stay with Cornell, he said the transition is “bittersweet” and hopes that some students from CIS decide to continue their education at the New York City campus.
“It is very bittersweet, I really enjoyed my time here in Ithaca,” Morrisett said. “CIS is a place that I loved. Its grown tremendously over the last four years that I have been here. I loved the students.”