In a banner year, Cornell received a record number of student applications, conferred the first M.D. degrees ever given abroad by an American medical school, developed a new financial-aid policy to make its education more affordable and completed a strategic plan to articulate priorities, said President David J. Skorton, speaking to a full house of alumni and friends in Bailey Hall, June 7, during his Reunion Weekend State of the University address.
While Cornell continues to be a world-renowned "powerhouse in science and in technology and in engineering," the university "also excels and is a model of the centrality of the humanities and the arts in a research university," he said.
"Liberal education is the heart of Cornell, and the humanities and arts comprise its soul. These disciplines nurture our creative instincts," Skorton said. "They help us explore what it means to be human, including both ethical and aesthetic dimensions. If science and technology help us to answer questions of 'what' and 'how,' the arts and humanities give us ways to confront the intangible, to contemplate the 'why,' to imagine, to create."
To fortify both the sciences and humanities at Cornell, new spaces and new buildings are under way across campus, said Skorton, from the imminent opening of Weill Hall, "our magnificent new life sciences facility," to the emerging physical sciences building and the just-started "new $20 million wing for our superb Johnson Museum of Art." And plans continue to go forward for Paul Milstein Hall, "a new and critically important facility for our top-ranked architecture program," as well as for a new humanities building on the Arts Quad (located immediately behind Goldwin Smith -- between Goldwin Smith and East Avenue).
Skorton recognized Provost Biddy Martin for her nearly 25 years of distinctive service at Cornell, including the last eight years as provost, as she prepares to leave the university to become the next chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
He also recognized alumni for their continued philanthropic support of Cornell as it undertakes its "enormously ambitious" $4 billion fundraising campaign.
"Thanks to you and many others, we have already passed the halfway mark, having raised approximately $2.2 billion dollars, one of the best fundraising records of any university in the history of American higher education," said Skorton. "I am enormously grateful to you and I hope to do my part in communicating to you and other Cornellians continuing opportunities to partner with us in achieving dreams we all share for Cornell -- dreams that we will realize together."
Many of those dreams are well under way, with major commitments to the life sciences and physical sciences and to "increased emphasis on collaboration between the Ithaca campus and Weill Cornell Medical College," said Skorton. Last year, research expenditures at Cornell were almost $660 million, mostly in the life, physical, mathematical, engineering and, to a lesser extent, the social sciences, he said. Yet the "social sciences continue to thrive on the campus." The Institute for the Social Sciences, for example, he said, is about to undertake a major theme project focused on persistent poverty and upward mobility.
It is fashionable in some quarters, he noted, to "bemoan the crisis in the humanities." However, he said, "The arts and humanities are very strong and are among our strongest departments -- most are in the top 10 in national rankings -- thanks to the quality of our faculty." He cited some of the many national awards faculty members and alumni in the humanities have received this year. "Cornell students also benefit from real-world experiences in the arts and humanities," he added, citing such outreach projects as the eight Cornell architecture students who worked this past semester on a new community music center to be built in Valencia, Spain, and the Cornell Wind Ensemble, which made its second cultural and humanitarian trip to Costa Rica.
Educational institutions, Skorton noted, "are our as centers for public culture and instill in our children the values and knowledge that only come with a study of the humanities and the arts. Arts and humanities will continue to have a central place at Cornell. Central in our curriculum, central in our research, central in our connection with our alumni and our publics," he concluded.