Christopher J. Cowen named chief financial officer

Christopher James Cowen, senior vice president and chief financial officer at the University of Florida in Gainesville, has been named Cornell’s next executive vice president and chief financial officer, effective July 1.

The Executive Committee of the Cornell Board of Trustees approved Cowen’s appointment April 5. Cowen will replace Joanne DeStefano, MBA ’97, who has served in the role since 2008 and will retire June 30 after a 30-year career at Cornell.

Christopher Cowen

Cowen brings more than three decades of experience in finance and higher education, most recently steering financial operations and strategies at the University of Florida, which, like Cornell, is a land-grant institution with large graduate, research, agricultural and medical programs.

“Chris’ deep expertise in higher education finance and operations, and his passion for the mission of universities – especially of land-grant institutions like Cornell – made him a standout candidate for this position,” said President Martha E. Pollack. “I look forward to having him as part of the Cornell community, and to his many contributions in the years ahead.”

At Cornell, Cowen will oversee approximately 1,700 staff in a range of departments, including facilities and campus services, financial services, investment, audit, and public safety; budget and planning oversight will be shared with Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff.

“Joanne DeStefano will be leaving Cornell in really great shape,” Cowen said. “I’ll be able to step into a position at a university that has been able to grow and accomplish so many things over the past decade, and I am excited to continue building on that momentum.”

Priorities will include continuing to foster a “One Cornell” approach that enhances the synergies across the Cornell campuses; a commitment to access and affordability for undergraduate, graduate and professional students; investing in graduate education; and enhancing facilities for students, faculty and staff, with a particular emphasis on sustainability and maintenance.

As Cowen begins his position, he will face the challenges that are affecting all universities, such as balancing the pressures of inflation with continued investment in key priorities, he said.

“The way I look at it, the flip side of a challenge is opportunity,” Cowen said. “Having challenges in front of us creates an opportunity to think about how we continue to improve and strengthen the institution today and into the future.”

Cowen most looks forward to building relationships and working with people at Cornell, from senior leadership, to trustees, students, faculty, staff and alumni, he said.

“When people ask me what I think about folks at Cornell, I say they are impressive, dedicated and collaborative,” he said. “Everybody I’ve met associated with Cornell shares a common desire to improve the institution, and that’s been without exception.  Everyone has shown a genuine personal interest in me and my partner, Dante.  We are very fortunate to be welcomed as the newest members of the Cornell family.”

Cowen plans to continue policies that were hallmarks of DeStefano’s tenure, including completing reviews of central university functions; re-envisioning campus public safety; and keeping the university’s financial health on course.

Cowen received his bachelor’s degrees in economics and history from the University of Pennsylvania in 1990, and an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1999.

Prior to assuming the financial helm at  the University of Florida in 2020, he served as managing director and co-head of the higher education finance groups at Goldman, Sachs and Co. (2010-14) and Bank of America Securities (2014-20).

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Rebecca Valli