Four years before its sesquicentennial, "high on a hill with our feet on the ground," Cornell University is poised to expand its reach, enhance its academic prowess and extend its leadership, President David Skorton said in his State of the University Address Oct. 21.
"My message to you today is one of continuity of tradition and yet of new ideas and exciting opportunities. Cornell has had another extraordinary year and is poised to flourish and lead as never before," Skorton said.
About 700 members of the Cornell Board of Trustees and Cornell University Council filled Alice Statler Auditorium for the address, the highlight of the 2011 joint meeting of the board and council. And to great applause, Skorton announced a new goal for the expanded campaign, which he believed would be surpassed by the 2015 sesquicentennial.
Every day, Cornell is doing the hard work needed for success, he said. "And we are taking the time to think deeply, clearly and creatively about who we are and what we can become," he said.
Defining Cornell as "first and foremost a community of scholars," he said the university is also an institution committed to enhancing its racial and economic diversity, global reach and public engagement.
The faculty, he noted, earned more places in distinguished national academies and societies than in any other year since his arrival at Cornell in 2006, and senior and junior faculty alike have won a slew of accolades. The faculty's multidisciplinary research, he said, is addressing society's most pressing problems, from cancer to sustainable energy. To replenish this community of scholars as faculty members retire, the university hired 63 new professors during the year through its faculty renewal initiative, 18 of them in the humanities. "We must keep our focus on faculty renewal in all major academic spheres of the university, building strategically on areas of promise and strength," he said.
The university remains committed to providing access to a Cornell education for all students regardless of financial need, he said. "Cornell is the original 'opportunity university,' and we still carry forward our founder's vision of inclusion." Even during the Great Recession, Cornell not only maintained its need-blind admissions policy but also enhanced the financial aid it provides to low- and middle-income students, "so that they could graduate without a crushing burden of debt," Skorton said. "We are proud of this commitment to access and to the diversity within our student body it fosters."
To further support a diverse campus community, Cornell has opened two new units to support that effort: the Cornell Intercultural Center and the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives. The physical and emotional well-being of students is also the focus of a great deal of attention, Skorton said, noting an end to pledging for the Greek system and greater attention to safety around the gorges running through the campus.
Cornell is widely respected as an international powerhouse of learning, and now has students and scholars from more than 120 countries. "The world has come to Ithaca," he said. But global scholarship and engagement is changing, and Cornell must -- and will -- change with it or risk being left behind, he said. "We will be giving increasing attention to internationalization between now and our sesquicentennial -- to prepare our students and increase our impact in a world of interconnected challenges."
Public engagement is also key to the character of Cornell, the only private university in the United States with a full land-grant mission of service and outreach, Skorton said, observing that Cornell Cooperative Extension is celebrating its 100th anniversary. And he pointed to the newly created Center for Community Engaged Learning and Research as keeping up the outreach momentum.
Noting Cornell's mission as the land-grant university to the world, he said that Cornell is about to submit a proposal, with The Technion -- Israel Institute of Technology as a partner, in a competition to build an applied science and technology campus in New York City. "And we are going to build it," he said to applause. Cornell is the best candidate, he said, because it is highly ranked in the fields necessary to succeed in technology entrepreneurship; its faculty, staff and alumni are active in the city's tech network; it has experience developing major capital projects in the city; and it has created a full campus far from Ithaca.
He went on to praise donors who, despite the daunting economic climate, have given a record breaking $3.3 billion in gifts to the university over the past five years. To mark the sesquicentennial, he announced an expanded campaign goal of $4.75 billion, up from $4 billion, to be raised by 2015. To enthusiastic applause, he said, "I want to be the first to tell you, we're going to blow past that goal."