Cornell has named Christine D. Lovely, associate vice chancellor and chief human resources officer at the University of California, Davis, as its next vice president and chief human resources officer, effective Aug. 30.
The Executive Committee of the Cornell University Board of Trustees approved Lovely’s appointment May 25. She will succeed Mary Opperman, who announced plans to step down last fall. Initially planning to depart June 30, Opperman has agreed to stay on through Aug. 29, concluding 25 years of service at Cornell.
Lovely is a lawyer-turned-human resources executive with extensive experience in higher education and a passion for promoting diversity, equity and inclusion.
“I’m very excited to join Cornell,” Lovely said. “To be able to come into an organization and innovate and be creative is very enticing – and to do it at a place like Cornell makes this in many ways my dream job.”
“Christine has an impressive track record of engaged leadership, recruiting and retaining talented staff, and building a sense of belonging among all employees,” said President Martha E. Pollack. “I look forward to working with Christine to make sure Cornell remains one of the best places to work in the country.”
The university employs approximately 18,000 staff and faculty on campuses in Ithaca, Geneva, New York City and Qatar, as well as dozens of research facilities. Lovely’s portfolio will include oversight of the Division of Human Resources, Office of Inclusion and Workforce Diversity, and Office of Institutional Equity and Title IX.
Her first order of business: getting to know Cornell’s employees, culture and programs, and what has distinguished the university as a “best” employer, according to several organizations and publications. A lifelong Californian and self-described “people person” who believes in the importance of building relationships, Lovely plans to proactively engage with individuals and teams across the university.
“It’s so important to get out and meet and talk to people at all levels,” she said. “I’ve always been the type of leader that wants to engage with and mentor employees, support their development and ensure that people have an opportunity to advance in their careers.”
Lovely has led human resources at UC Davis since 2018. There, she instituted campuswide engagement surveys to solicit feedback and give employees a voice, she said. She’s proud to have conceived and implemented “Race Matters,” a program of trainings and resources facilitating awareness and discussions about race, implicit bias and belonging.
More broadly, Lovely said, her approach recognizes the need to respect and care for employees who have been reassessing priorities amid a global pandemic and social justice reckonings.
“We can’t expect people to just come to work and not be impacted by what’s happening in the world and in their own families,” Lovely said. “Employee experience needs to be the focus.”
Before joining UC Davis, Lovely was vice president of human resources at California State University, Sacramento – a role she added in 2012 after arriving as university counsel in 2010. Transitioning from her purely legal background, Lovely said, she felt at home in a human resources environment focused on communication, career development, mentoring, compliance, and diversity and inclusion, striving to anticipate and avoid problems before they happened.
Prior to Sacramento State, Lovely was associate general counsel at the Sacramento County Office of Education from 2008-10; governor-appointed counsel at the Public Employment Relations Board, a quasi-judicial state agency administering collective bargaining laws in California, from 2006-08; and from 1996-2006, senior counsel at a firm where she represented public sector clients in education law, with a specialization in disability and personnel issues.
Lovely received a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1991, and a J.D. from the UC Davis School of Law in 1996.
Lovely said she’s eager to build upon the strong foundation established by Opperman.
“She’s leaving quite a legacy here,” Lovely said. “I’m excited to bring my own perspective and experience to the table to complement that legacy.”