Focusing his remarks on how “staff members are absolutely essential to every aspect of institutional excellence,” President David Skorton used his final annual address to staff, Oct. 28, to thank the Employee Assembly for its leadership; to enumerate ways in which staff contribute to the university’s success; and to thank all Cornell staff members for making Robin Davisson and him “feel welcomed from day one to today.”
Skorton began his address to an audience of about 300 by announcing that this year’s winter break would be extended one day to include Friday, Jan. 2, thanks to a suggestion made by staff member Rodney Orme.
On a broader level, Skorton likened successful research universities to a three-legged stool, where “staff are as critically important to adding to the overall strength and stability of the overall structure as are the faculty and students.” He cited four areas as examples: shared governance, Commencement Weekend, advancing priority issues across campus, and “your immediate human concern for other members of our campus and local community.”
As a prime example of shared governance, Skorton noted how the Employee Assembly and other staff worked together to address concerns raised by the 2011 Employee Survey. The results: an improved position review process, a LEAN process improvement approach, the implementation of a program that will allow direct reports to provide feedback to their supervisors, and a new online tool that will soon help employees navigate careers throughout the university.
“The most important thing about these and other initiatives that have grown out of the employee survey is that you – each of you – have helped us identify and implement changes that will help all staff members succeed at Cornell,” he said.
Skorton also noted that he gets positive feedback for the roles staff play during Commencement Weekend helping “the graduates and their guests have the best ceremony and celebration ever,” and he invited the audience to volunteer this coming May.
He drew attention to ways in which staff members have advanced the institutional priority to prevent sexual violence and boost the effectiveness of prevention and response strategies, as well as to their roles on committees that help address such issues as IT security, gorge safety, space planning, and campus health and safety.
To illustrate the concern Cornell staff members extend to others, Skorton cited the CARE Fund, which offers financial assistance for faculty and staff, and staff participation in Cornell’s United Way campaign.
He mentioned the national workplace recognitions Cornell has received, but said he has “long believed” that universities “need to do more institutionally to recognize and support staff excellence.” He cited several initiatives as examples: Cornell Recognition Event Days, the High Five Recognition Luncheon, the two Employee Celebration Days and the Staff Graduation Reception.
Skorton, who will leave Cornell June 30, acknowledged other leadership changes about to occur: Susan Murphy stepping down from her role as vice president, Kent Fuchs becoming University of Florida president and Harry Katz’s serving as interim provost. He said he had no doubt that President-elect Elizabeth Garrett will “continue to advance the ideals that have propelled Cornell to the forefront of American higher education,” and that she will be “devoted to recognizing and supporting the efforts of staff at this university.”
Skorton gave advice on how staff should approach the new president: “Give her a chance to get settled,” he said, “and do for her and for her husband, Andrei, as you did for me and Robin: Be straightforward and honest with what is going on ... and show her the same trust and confidence.”
Closing the event, B.J. Siasoco, vice chair of the Employee Assembly, presented Skorton with the annual Employee Assembly Staff Appreciation Award to a standing ovation.