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Cornell Board of Trustees hears reports on diversity, construction, land-grant mission

ITHACA, N.Y. -- The Cornell University community continues to be a welcoming place for women and minorities, Robert Harris, vice provost for diversity and faculty development, told the Cornell Board of Trustees on May 27.

Other universities may be getting more press for increasing attention on diversity, Harris said, but Cornell's hiring and enrollment statistics show a consistent, positive trend toward attracting and retaining a diverse workforce and student body.

"Cornell has been ahead of the curve," he told the board.

Harris presented the university's annual report on diversity and inclusion during an open session in the Statler Hotel's Beck Center. The report shows Cornell to be among the top universities in the Ivy League in hiring women and minorities to faculty positions. Over the past decade, Cornell had the fourth highest percentage point gain in women faculty among the "Ivy Plus" group of 12 universities; and the percentage of minorities on the faculty is up over the past decade to 13.2 percent from 9.7 percent. However, this academic year's 2.1 percent gain in number of women on the faculty is well behind the previous year's gain of 4.7 percent.

"We are making progress but in the face of very stiff competition for women and minority faculty," the report says. To stay ahead of the curve, a committee formed by Provost Biddy Martin is examining working-climate and quality-of-life issues among tenured and tenure-track faculty, with an emphasis on women. "We will have a better indication on this in the spring of 2006," Harris said.

Among students, minority undergraduates increased in the last academic year to 27.7 percent from 27.4 percent. The number of women undergraduates dropped last year, but the percentage was constant at 49.5, due to a slight overall drop in undergraduate enrollment. Women graduate students increased to 41.5 percent this academic year from 40.3 percent last year. The report also showed a slight rise in minority graduate students but cautioned that many graduate students don't report their ethnicity.

In his address to the board, President Jeffrey Lehman noted recent research breakthroughs at Cornell, emphasizing the invention of a self-replicating robot ("the implications of this depends on what kind of person you are -- they're either thrilling or terrifying," he said) and the discovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker.

Also in open session, employee-elected trustee Michael Esposito reported that the Mann Library and Bailey Hall construction projects are continuing on schedule. Bids on the demolition of the north wing of Martha Van Rensselaer Hall are due June 8; abatement is expected to begin this summer, with demolition in the fall.

Charles Walcott, dean of the university faculty, discussed committee recommendations for using the emeritus title for some retiring senior non-tenure-track faculty. The University Assembly is also discussing ways to address academic integrity issues, such as instituting a universitywide honor code.

The board also passed resolutions honoring the late presidential councillor and benefactor Herbert Gussman, and the late trustee emeritus and presidential councillor Sol M. Linowitz. "These are two wonderful friends and benefactors of Cornell," said Lehman.

In an earlier meeting on Land Grant and Statutory College Affairs, Tommy Bruce, vice president for university communications, addressed the effort to better inform the public about Cornell's emphasis on outreach and community service. "Barely one in five New Yorkers recognize Cornell as a land-grant institution," Bruce said. "That should be viewed as an opportunity to get out there and explain what this is all about."

Several students outside the afternoon open meeting distributed fliers to protest the proposed 176-space parking lot on the university's West Campus. The lot has been the source of controversy since it gained municipal approval four years ago, but the trustees did not address the issue in open session.

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