[APPLAUSE] ROBERT HARRISON: Good morning, everybody, and welcome to reunion weekend. I'm Bob Harrison, class of '76, arts and sciences.
[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]
And I'm chairman of the board of trustees. I want to thank all of you for joining us this morning for the President's State of the University address, whether you are here in Bailey Hall or viewing online from somewhere around the world. Let me first point out for those of you online that the weather here in Ithaca has been gorgeous, picture perfect, exactly the way you remember every single day of your undergraduate years-- at least until about an hour ago, when it started Ithacating.
We wish all of you were physically here with us this weekend, but welcome virtually. Let me begin this event by extending a very special welcome to President Emeritus Frank Rhodes, the ninth president of Cornell University.
And also, his wife Rosa. Together, they have--
Together, they have attended reunion weekends consistently since 1978.
We are also honored to have with us Elizabeth Rawlings-- back with us, that is-- serving as Cornell's First Lady for a deeply appreciated third time.
Welcome, and thank you for everything you have done for Cornell since Hunter first became president in 1995. Please let me also welcome my mentor and predecessor as chairman of the board of trustees, Pete [? Mina, ?] class of '61, and his wife, Nancy.
Thank you for helping lead this university for a couple of decades.
I'm not sure what to make of the opening video for the rest of the reunion classes, but I think it's pretty clear that my class, the great class of 1976, looks a hell of a lot better today than we did back then with sideburns that large, mustaches, six-inch shirt collars, seven-inch jacket lapels, and I guess what I would generally describe as the precursor to the grunge look.
I am just going to gloss over the fact that we graduated 40 years ago. The more important fact is that a record number of us are here at this reunion weekend to reconnect with each other, with Cornell, and to have a triple sui from the hot truck for the first time since the last reunion. Class of '76, welcome back.
And all other reunion classes, welcome back to Cornell.
This reunion is unprecedented and bittersweet, because we feel the profound loss of our 13th president, Elizabeth Garrett. This would have been her first official reunion weekend after taking office on July 1st, 2015. And I know she would have sampled every activity offered, from the chorus and glee club concert, the savage club show, the academic panels to the tent parties, where she would have been the last to leave, just after me.
I am absolutely positive that the class of '66 would have seen her at their taste of Ithaca's best gathering, because she and her husband Andre were reforming California foodies transitioning to become Finger Lakes foodies. She would have been honored to host Chris Exley at the [? Olin ?] Lecture yesterday, and you can bet she would have been wearing the reddest outfit and most dazzling smile at Cornelliana Night tonight. She was a remarkable human being, destined for greatness, whose life was cut tragically short.
It is because of these unusual circumstances that I am here this morning to introduce President Hunter Rawlings III. The third, following Hunter's name, has taken on new meaning with his return to Ithaca a couple of months ago. As you know, Hunter was our 10th president from 1995 to 2003 following extraordinary careers as a distinguished professor of classics and president of the University of Iowa.
Then in 2005, two years after returning to the classroom as a full-time professor in classics, chairman Meinig asked Hunter to return to Cornell for a second time as our president to get us through a very difficult period of leadership transition. After leaving Cornell again, Hunter became president of the Association of American Universities for five years, an organization which represents the 62 most prestigious research universities in North America, a position that reflects the extraordinary esteem in which his peers in higher education view Hunter Rawlings.
After Beth Garrett passed away a few months ago, I asked Hunter to come back yet again. And he said yes, I will do what I have to do for Cornell. But I could also hear a sigh of disappointment in his voice. He was just about to retire from the presidency of the AAU, and he was looking forward to returning to the classroom this fall to teach Greek to undergraduates at George Washington University.
Luckily for us, Hunter has described Cornell for years as classics heaven, which made it easier to lure him back to Ithaca for a third time. And I've done some research on this point. And I'm pretty sure that Hunter is only one of two college presidents in the history of higher education to serve as president of the same university on three separate occasions. I'm also quite sure--
I'm also quite sure that he is the only one taller than 6 feet 7 inches ever to play that role. President Rawlings, you are a Cornell treasure. Thank you for your unprecedented service to this great institution. Welcome back. We are deeply grateful. President Hunter Rawlings.
HUNTER RAWLINGS: Thank you. Thank you all. Thank you particularly, Bob, for that very kind introduction. Elizabeth and I are extremely happy to be back at Cornell, though the circumstances are difficult and we wish they were different. Beth Garrett was everything Bob just described. And it's a loss for all of us, and particularly for her family, that she has departed so prematurely.
But for Elizabeth and me, it is a pleasure, in many respects, to be back at Cornell, mostly because we have so many friends here whom we missed, and this gives us the opportunity to be with them again.
Now, I'm going to go from here to that chair over there right now, because I'm too tall for this podium.
[LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE]
You would think by the third time, they would get it right.
And the other thing is when I stand at a podium, I speak automatically for 50 minutes. So I'm going to go sit down. It might help me be less preachy than when I stand here.
So can you hear me? OK. Good.
So it is true, as Bob said, that Elizabeth and I were planning to retire about 11 days ago. But we're here, and we're going to make the best of it. And you'll hear in a couple of minutes that we really are making the best of it.
But I should note-- and this is important-- that in order to retain my amazing partner, I have promised her that following this stint, I will never again take a phone call from the chairman of the board of trustees of Cornell.
So as Bob said, Elizabeth and I have been in Washington DC for the past five years representing the 62 amazing research universities of the Association of American Universities. These are, by far, without question, as a group, the finest research universities in the world. And there's no argument about that from anyone. And I'll say a few words about that as I go along.
So those five years have given me a perspective on research universities that's very helpful in terms of thinking about what research universities are, what American research universities are, what they do, and the role they play in the United States. And I want to say a few words about that as well as I go along.
But it's also given me a perspective on the remarkable role played by your university among those 62. And so I want to talk about Cornell in particular, and then about higher education in general.
One thing I decided upon coming back was to have some fun in this job as well as all the other things that you do as president of a large, prominent, major research university. And for me, fun means the opportunity to sit down and talk with faculty members in their offices, not in my office. By the third time you do this job, you start to learn a few things about how you ought to do it.
I'm still going to make mistakes. I'm still already making mistakes. But there are a few things I decided I ought to do this time around. I mean, what are they going to do, fire me if I mess up?
[LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE]
Maybe I shouldn't say that.
So one thing I thought I would do is call up individual professors at Cornell and say could I come over and talk with you in your office. And they said, what about? It sounds like a threat.
But I said, I just want to hear what you're working on. I really want to hear what you're working on. And I'll tell you something. In the last five weeks, I have had my socks knocked off by your faculty. Just amazing people.
And I want to give you a few examples this morning. And I'm not claiming that all the faculty are like them. Believe me. They're not.
But there are a bunch who are really remarkable. So let me start with one of them.
How many of you know Jon Kleinberg? Anybody here know Jon Kleinberg? So Jon Kleinberg is quite a remarkable person. He was an undergraduate at Cornell. He went off and got graduate degrees elsewhere. And happily for us, he came back to his alma mater as professor, computing and information sciences.
I really love Jon Kleinberg for a number of reasons. But I went over to his office to spend an hour, and I spent an hour and a half, because you just can't finish learning from John in an hour about what he's working on. Back in the '90s, he wrote the seminal paper-- the seminal paper-- on how to do searches on the web. That was before Google.
Then he got into bioinformatics and computational biology and made himself into a biologist, because computing was beginning to enter the field of the life sciences in a big way. And John taught himself that stuff and began to work with a number of our biologists here in Ithaca and did great work.
I bumped into him a couple of years later, and I said, John, what are you working on now? You did this remarkable article on searches on the web, and then you did bioinformatics. What are you doing now?
And he said, Hunter, I'm working on how groups, especially teenagers, form themselves on the web. I said, come again? He said, I'm working on how groups are formed on the web, particularly teenagers. I went home to Elizabeth and I said, poor John. He used to do really important stuff.
Now he's got this silly little idea.
Well, that was three years before Facebook. So are you getting the picture? He's always three years ahead. You want to know what he's working on now? Yes. You do. Artificial intelligence. And you think he'll have a few ideas? Yeah. He's going to have some ideas.
So that's just one. But if you ever have a chance-- if you ever have a chance-- to sit down with Jon Kleinberg, don't miss it. Because you'll learn the next big thing, but you'll also have a lot of fun talking with him about ideas. He is an incredible mind.
He's also a great university citizen. He does all kinds of administrative things to help us, particularly now, link Ithaca in the right ways to Cornell Tech and Cornell Tech to Ithaca. That's a big deal. Because Cornell Tech is a great thing, but unless it stays closely tied to Ithaca and the departments here, it won't be a great thing. John is helping us figure out how to make sure that that hinge between Ithaca and Cornell Tech is a very good hinge. So that's one.
Then I went to see Julia Thom-Levy. Who is she? She's a physicist at Cornell. She works on big time physics problems. She does stuff that I can't understand, even after 30 minutes. I'm not sure I wanted 60 minutes.
But here is what Julia also does. Julia has agreed to come over and work in-- yes, Day Hall-- not the place every faculty member wants to work, by the way-- to help us with undergraduate curriculum and the way to teach students better than we have before by using active learning, by engaging students in their education more than they generally are engaged, by teaching physics in some exciting new ways that she has developed. So she's a double threat. She does great physics research, and she's thinking hard about how to teach better undergraduates in these very tough physics courses. That's another example.
Then there's Ding Xiang Warner, my friend from some years back, a woman in Asian studies who teaches classical and medieval Chinese. Ding Xiang is a highly-trained philologist. You know what a philologist is? Come on. A philologist is someone who studies texts. That's what I do in Greek and Latin. It's what Ding Xiang does in classical and medieval Chinese.
We actually have a lot to talk about, because she's studying ancient texts from the East. I'm studying ancient texts from the West. They're different from each other, but there are many similarities in how you ought to go about that methodologically. Ding Xiang figured all that out a long time ago, and she's doing superb work in bringing to us today the fruits of ancient Chinese literature in ways that were never possible before. She's a terrific scholar and a terrific teacher.
Steven Strogatz-- how many of you have read columns in the New York Times on math by Steve Strogatz? Raise your hand. Great. Yeah. Let's have a little applause for Steve Strogatz.
So I recommend two books that Steve wrote. And I really strongly recommend. The first is Sync, S-Y-N-C. It's got the coolest chapters on math you've ever seen in your life.
Just an example of one that thrilled me a few years ago when Steve published his book-- the fireflies in Indonesia-- I think it's Indonesia-- it might be Malaysia-- at night congregate in a big clearing in the rainforest or the jungle. And they start blinking the way fireflies do at night, millions of them collecting in one spot. And after a few minutes, what do you think happens? They start to blink on and off in total sync.
Now, how does that happen? No idea. Steve figured it out mathematically and will tell you if you read his chapter, and I strongly urge you to do so, how that happens. It just seems incredible. But that's what happens. And he's able to describe a bunch of natural processes just like that in each chapter of his book.
He's also published a new book called The Joy of X. I recommend it.
This book is a compilation of his New York Times columns on math. They're incredible to read. I can understand them, because Steve makes them understandable. He's just a fantastic purveyor of math. That's a remarkable thing in and of itself. So he's fun to talk with, to put it somewhat mildly.
Steve has developed a new way of teaching to math-phobic students. How many of you were math phones? Yeah. Me too. Steve makes it fun.
So it's not what he teaches. It's how he teaches. It's not what the students learn. It's that they want to learn math. Whereas before, they were scared to death of math. That's an art. That's not a science. It's an art. And Steve Strogatz can do the science of math and the art of helping students like me learn math. So read Steve Strogatz. It's really fun.
Then there is Liam McAllister in physics. I talked to Liam for an hour. I understood 68% of what he was telling me. And that's really good. And it's only because he knows how to explain what he's doing. You know what Liam is studying? This just blows my mind. He's studying what happened during the first second after the Big Bang. Yep. Yep. Rolls right off your tongue, right?
As my father would say, Judas Priest.
He's not studying what happened after the first second. He's studying what happened during the first second after the Big Bang. He is, in other words, linking quantum dynamics-- what happens at the subatomic level-- linking that to gravity-- what happens at the big level. This is the holy grail of physics-- trying to link quantum dynamics with gravity and produce quantum gravity.
Liam is working on that problem. You want to help? But my point is not just that he's working on that problem and making some progress, and this is a new and exciting thing. And I don't want to claim too much. You wouldn't want to claim too much. Let's just say he's making a little headway, and that's rather nice.
But here's the other point. He can explain it to me in ways that I can semi understand it. Now, that's really fun. So this kind of stuff is what goes on at Cornell if-- and only if-- we get classicists talking to mathematicians talking to physicists talking to economists talking to political scientists, et cetera, et cetera.
That doesn't happen often in the academy, and it's our fault. It's our fault. Because we live in our silos. We don't talk to folks from other fields. We talk to each other. We're professionals. We belong to professional organizations and societies. We don't generally talk with people in vastly different fields.
But when you do, it is amazing. It's mind blowing. Jessica Weiss is in the government department here. What does she study? Contemporary China. I've talked to Jessica at some length. Amazing, amazing person. She goes to China and does survey research talking to policemen and other Chinese citizens about what's happening and what their attitudes are towards what's happening-- not only in China, but in the United States of America.
Because Jessica works on the relationship between China and the US, among other things. Do you think that's of some interest? So she studies not ancient Chinese texts. She studies what's happening in China today. Now, that's really exciting stuff. And Jessica is here in the government department doing that stuff.
So I'll stop with the meetings there. But that's just a little taste of the fun I've been having. I feel like a kid in a candy store. And the candy is all around me. And I can take the chocolate, and I can take the butterscotch, and take whatever I want. What are they going to do, fire me?
So this is fun. So I'm admitting to all of you that I'm having a whale of a lot of fun at Cornell. And that's an amazing thing to be able to do.
So let's get back to AAU and the national picture for research universities. Why are American research universities so good? And you don't have to take it from me. Every survey, every poll, everything demonstrates that as a whole, American research universities are by far the best in the world-- as a group, by far the best in the world. And the real proof of that is that the world is coming to our universities.
How many Chinese students today from the People's Republic of China study at American universities? 300,000. 300,000 Chinese kids are here in our universities. That's amazing. It's up about tenfold over 10 or 15 years ago. It's been ramping up like that.
Why? Because there's a growing middle class in China, and because those Chinese kids read on the internet all the rankings of top universities. And what do they see? Most of them are over here. So they want to come here.
Chinese have always been highly committed to education. Most families in China have one child. So they can send that one child to a university abroad. So these kids are coming over here halfway around the world to a completely different environment by themselves to do what?
To study at Cornell. To study at the University of Iowa. To study at Stanford. And they work hard. And most of them-- not all, of course-- but most are very good students. Well, this is changing the world. It is changing the world. And it just demonstrates the strength of American universities.
So how did American universities get this good? That's a question you ought to ask yourself. How is it that those 62 universities that belong to the AAU, just as one example, are so good?
So let me give you a few reasons why I think they're so good. And these are important points. And over the last five years, I've watched this very closely as the president of AAU, and I've thought a lot about this.
So the first reason is a reason that we all know, but we never think about. In the United States, there is no system of universities. There is no system. People talk about the American system of universities being the best. We don't have a system. There is no system.
Instead, we have, by happy historical accident, the emerging of all kinds of different colleges and universities of every sort in this country. We have little schools that started as seminaries, like Harvard and Yale. They started as seminaries, little private seminaries founded by churches.
We have little liberal arts colleges. We have gigantic public universities, like the University of Texas at Austin. We have church schools, secular schools. We have Jewish schools. We have Catholic schools.
We have schools that were designated land grant schools, like Cornell-- a brand new invention, the land grant school, invented by Americans during the administration of Abraham Lincoln. We have every sort of school. We have schools that were designed for African-American students. We have every type of school. We have this vast diversity of schools.
Who decided that? No one did. It just happened. But it's a very happy accident. Why? Because that diversity is the huge strength, the advantage, the comparative advantage, for American universities and colleges.
What about in France? They don't have that. They have a minister of education. They have a system of higher education that creates a uniformity across the board. Germany has the same. China has the same. Most countries-- India has the same. Most countries have a state system of universities.
And you know what? They wish they didn't. They wish they didn't. The French would love to be able to have diversity. But they can't, because the state has a system that's very difficult to reform, very difficult to change.
So the first big advantage we have is this incredible diversity of institutions that creates what? Competition among us that you don't see at such a degree in other countries. Different types of institutions that compete with each other.
Do you think Stanford competes with Berkeley? You better believe it competes with Berkeley. You think Stanford takes faculty from Berkeley? You better believe it. Do you think the president of Stanford, John Hennessy, apologizes to Berkeley?
So we have rampant competition. Cornell is taking faculty from elsewhere and losing faculty to other institutions all the time, churning. My dean, Gretchen Ritter-- I call her my dean, because she's dean of my college, the College of Arts and Sciences-- spends half her time dealing with faculty members who have offers at other universities.
Why? Because it's an open competition. Do you think it's important to retain some of these brains, like Jon Kleinberg and Liam McAllister and Jessica Weiss? You bet it is. So we're all trying. That's called competition. We have that in this country.
We have competition for federal grants. We compete like mad. People--
Can you hear me? OK. I love technicians. Thank you for that.
So the first big advantage we have is this incredible, accidentally-created diversity of our institutions. That is, I think, a big comparative advantage.
Now, the second thing we have results from the first. And that is a very high degree of institutional autonomy. This maintains the integrity of the learning environment and allows individual institutions to determine what that environment should be. It's a principle upheld by the Supreme Court. And this is really important.
The Supreme Court of the United States found in 1957 that universities have the right-- this is in the Supreme Court-- have the right to determine for themselves on academic grounds who may teach, what may be taught, how it shall be taught, and who may be admitted to study. That's a quote from the Supreme Court's, Sweezy v. New Hampshire.
Now, do you think that's important? Yeah. Do you think every country in the world guarantees that? No way. They don't guarantee that. And so faculty members don't feel the freedom to do what we can do here. Who may teach, what may be taught, how it shall be taught, and who may be admitted to study-- that's a quote. And it's fixed in American law.
Another core principle of American universities is shared governance. Shared governance is a big pain in the neck for presidents like me who like to make decisions and for board members who like to govern. But shared governance says the faculty has a big voice.
For example, in the curriculum, the chairman of the board can't decide the curriculum at Cornell. The president can't decide. The provost can't decide it. The faculty decides it. Period. End of discussion.
That's the faculty's business. And I can't get into that business. And it's a good thing. Because if I could, everybody would be required to study ancient Greek at this university. Yeah. Let's hear it for ancient Greek.
So the administration oversees the operation of the university, making day-to-day decisions. The board has fiduciary responsibility and legal authority for the university. But the faculty hold the primary responsibility for matters related to education and research.
We have shared governance in a big way at Cornell. We have a faculty senate, a university assembly, and constituent assemblies for students and staff members. They all have a voice. And we have to listen to the voice. And that's a good thing. It keeps imperial presidents like me from going too far.
Then comes what I regard as the most important core principle that gives American universities their big advantage. And that is academic freedom-- the freedom of the university faculty to produce and disseminate knowledge through research, teaching, and service without undue constraint. So you have institutional autonomy, you have shared governance, and you have academic freedom.
Academic freedom is often misunderstood. We think the faculty have too much freedom. And sometimes, it's true. The faculty doesn't live up to the principle as we would like. But you have to have it. You absolutely have to have academic freedom.
Carl Becker, great Cornell historian, in his 1940 Charter Day Address marveled at the lack of specific requirements placed upon him when he joined Cornell's faculty in 1917. He had almost complete freedom, he found, to do as he pleased.
And he marveled at that. He went to the chair of his department as a brand new assistant professor and said, tell me what to do. And the chair said no. I'm not going to tell you what to do. You decide what to do.
Becker was puzzled. And he thought, what am I supposed to do? I guess I have the freedom to choose. And he marveled at that.
But then he realized there was a catch. And I'm quoting Carl Becker, a great Cornelli. The catch, he said, was that since I was free to do as I pleased, I was responsible for what it was I was pleased to do. The catch was that with all my great freedom, I was, in some mysterious way, still very much bound-- not bound by orders imposed upon me from above or outside, but bound by some inner sense of responsibility, by some elemental sense of decency or fair play.
That's one our great mottos at Cornell-- freedom with responsibility. It came from Carl Becker, and it's all about academic freedom. That, I think, is the core principle of all the principles that give American universities their great advantage.
So I'm the first to admit we don't always live up to these principles. We are human institutions. We're not perfect. We make mistakes. We sometimes violate those freedoms and principles. We sometimes do.
But they're the bedrock of what makes Cornell a great university, and UCLA a great university, and the University of Michigan a great university, and even a few Ivy League universities great universities.
The final reason we have this great preponderance of excellence in American universities goes back to the late 1940s, following World War II, when a very, very smart guy from MIT named Vannevar Bush published a white paper that circulated through the government slowly, with hesitation, but eventually circulated, in which Bush pointed out that one of the key assets America had in World War II was heavy duty science.
Part of the reason the US won World War II was great scientific research-- radar and all sorts of other things that came out during World War II. And Bush, in his white paper, wrote that what the country needed to do from then on was to fund from federal sources university professors to do research in peacetime as well as in wartime.
And that's when the federal government founded the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture, started getting even the Defense Department to do research. And that research is what fuels today not just American research universities, but the American economy.
Because that's the research that brings you all this fabulous stuff that we use every day of our lives-- cell phones, all the other technology except for this old thing I'm holding in my hand. All the great technology, the great science done in this country now is done at research universities. Why is that?
Because corporations, private corporations, have stopped doing basic research, period. Bell Labs-- a great research institution-- gone. Gone. Xerox PARC, a great research institution in upstate New York, gone.
Why have corporations stopped doing this? Because they're paying so much attention to the bottom line. They don't want to do prolonged, blue sky research that might lead to no profit. So it's left to the universities to do the work.
And that's fine, because universities have faculty members who want to do the work. That's why our faculty at Cornell spends a big percentage of its time writing proposals to the federal agencies, like NSF and NIH and Department of Energy, to compete for grants to do their research. And they have to compete with professors at Harvard and Michigan and the University of Virginia and Berkeley. They have to compete.
And the competition for that funding today is fierce. Just to give you an idea, the average age at which a professor earns his or her first individual research grant from the National Institutes of Health is 42. 42 years old before, on average, you get your first research grant.
And why is that? Because in the competition, you're getting your brains beaten out by the 50 and 55-year-olds who have been doing this stuff for years. So it's very tough. It's very tough for a 34-year-old researcher to get a grant from NIH to do her work.
That is real competition. We talked earlier about competition to hire faculty and retain faculty. This is the second big arena for competition-- that is trying to get grants to do your work. Now, in my department, in classics, for the most part, we don't need grants to do our work.
But the physicists do, and the engineers do, and the professors of medicine do, and the chemists and the biologists. They have to get those grants. NIH has a $31 billion a year budget, $31 billion a year. Most of that money goes to professors at universities to do their research.
So it's competitive. And again, that's healthy, but only up to a point. Now it's getting unhealthy, because there isn't enough money to go around. The Congress keeps reducing those budgets-- not intentionally, but because they have a tough problem in Washington DC, so it's hard to fund those agencies the way we would like.
So our funding for research at the congressional level-- and this is what I've spent the last five years working on-- has been going like this-- steadily, slowly down. What's happening to Chinese funding for research?
Because the Chinese looked over here at America and said, how'd they get so rich? And one of the answers was-- and the Chinese are pretty smart about this-- great, federally-supported research that drives the kinds of technology transfer that leads to Google and Apple and all the other companies that do stuff based on this sort of research. So I could go on and on. But that's the other big reason American research universities are so strong today-- federal support of research, which is really vital to what we do.
I think that is enough, in a sense, in talking about the landscape of American research universities today. The bottom line to me is that this is crucial for America's future. It's an economic competition. It's an intellectual competition. It's a political competition. And we need to do well.
Fortunately, Cornell is extremely well positioned to do well. We have top flight faculty in Ithaca whose offices I've been happily visiting. And I encourage you to do the same if you can. We have a medical college that's developing its research very powerfully now in spite of space restrictions.
And we have, growing up on Roosevelt Island, a very remarkable thing called Cornell Tech, which is going to be hinged to Ithaca in very important ways to keep building an intellectual enterprise that's going to go out and meet the world. That's the mission of Cornell Tech.
It's not just to do techie things, but to take things out to New York City and to the world. Because these days, information technology is playing a big role in almost every field you can mention, even mine. Don't laugh.
So I'd be happy now to take any questions you might have about Cornell or the environment of research universities.
Thank you for the inspiring words. Lisa Freeman, classes of '81 ag and '86 veterinary medicine. Currently serve as the provost at a public research university.
And I'd like to ask you to comment on Cornell's unique strength as an Ivy League land grant, if you would.
Did everyone hear the question? What accounts for-- or talk a little bit about Cornell's unique strength as an Ivy League land grant university. It's a great question.
And I think that it is fundamental to the quality of your university. We are both an Ivy League university and a land grant university. What does that mean?
Well, just this past week, I was in New York City for a meeting of the Ivy presidents. They're all close friends of mine, because they're members of the AAU, except for Dartmouth. And I know the Dartmouth president very well, because he used to be the provost at the University of Michigan, which is a member of AAU. So I met with these folks regularly. They're among my best friends. Drew Faust at Harvard, Amy Gutmann at Penn-- these are terrific leaders in higher education.
Cornell is a member of an extremely fine group of universities, the Ivy League, that don't just play football against each other, but they are among the world's greatest research universities. And so we talk all sorts of things all the time about how to enhance the position of American research universities while, of course, looking after our own.
And that group is cooperative. They're close friends. We talk about academic policy as well as athletic policy. And it's a joy to be among such smart people who are the leaders of the great universities in the Ivy League.
On the other side, Cornell is different from those institutions because it's the land grant school of New York state. What does that mean? It means that we're open to New York state citizens at reduced prices within our statutory colleges, the colleges where we contract with New York state, such as CALS, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and so on. So we offer open education, you might say, at reduced rates in those colleges for New York citizens.
We also extend services across the whole state, to the agricultural community as well as to many other communities within New York state. I think it gives Cornell a public purpose and mission that is fantastic in terms of delivering services to the state of New York, and frankly, to the world that some of our Ivy friends aren't quite so engaged in, because they're smaller and narrower than Cornell. So they have their great strengths. We have a great strength as well. And I think that combination that you asked about is a good example.
AUDIENCE: First, I want to say thank you very much for returning for your third service.
HUNTER RAWLINGS: Thanks.
AUDIENCE: Brilliant, and I'm so happy.
So happy to have your stable guidance and acknowledgement of the arts as arts and sciences alumnus myself. Go arts.
HUNTER RAWLINGS: Go arts!
AUDIENCE: My question has to do with research and the balance between protecting all the discoveries that are made here in Cornell, all the findings and the research, and at the same time, balancing it with an influx of 300,000 Chinese students as well as the rest of the world in terms of both security, information security, as well as that exchange.
And you've repeated that whole sense of competition academically, bringing in the best and brightest. And if they don't work here, they're going to go someplace else. How do we balance that, and again, how do we protect those discoveries?
HUNTER RAWLINGS: That's a really good question. That's a really good question. Because yes, we have this openness to the world. We have access to the internet. Not every country allows its students to have complete access to the internet. And that's a huge advantage.
On the other hand, as you point out, it creates risks. And it turns out that some of the major security breaches-- and I've seen this at several universities that I've discussed this with-- some of the major breaches of federal information have come through universities. Because an individual at a university using websites and so forth that are protected by the federal government is sometimes more easily hacked than, say, a government employee in Washington DC. It's a real problem.
And when I was in Washington at the AAU, I actually served on a rather quiet committee in which university presidents sit down with members of the CIA and the FBI and hold discussions on exactly the kind of problem you raised. It's serious business.
And I'll tell you a story about that. When I got to DC, I was asked to get security clearance so I could sit on that committee with members of the CIA and the FBI. So I filled out one of these endless federal forms where I had to describe where my third cousin lived 11 years ago. And it was endless. And I finally filled it out. I sent it in to the FBI on a secure site.
I didn't hear anything back. And after a while, I called the FBI and I said, have I been cleared? And they said, oh, we'll check the records. We'll get back to you.
Well, a few more days went by. I called again. I said how are you coming with my clearance? And they said, well, we'll get back to you. I said no, no. Look. I have a meeting coming up. I can't go to the meeting if I don't have the clearance.
So finally, the person called me back and said we lost your form.
I said, so what happens now? And they said, well, you need to fill out another one. I said, I'm sorry. I couldn't make a copy because of your own rules. You're the FBI. Find it.
They found it. So it doesn't always go smoothly. But you asked a really good question. Yes.
AUDIENCE: Hello. I'm from the class of '66. This is our 50th reunion.
HUNTER RAWLINGS: That's my class, '66.
AUDIENCE: At our forum yesterday, Professor Isaac Kramnick reviewed changes at Cornell over the last 50 years. Some of them he considered positive. A couple he wasn't so excited about, and neither were a number of us. And what you spoke about today touches on at least two of them.
One of them has to do with the competition for the scientific grants, which is true and necessary. He saw that as taking many of the top professors away from students here and was very concerned about them spending more time in Washington, in New York, and Shanghai than on campus. So if you could comment on that.
And the second point he made was that faculty seem to have less power than they once did, that administration seems to be more empowered, and that we're--
HUNTER RAWLINGS: Thank goodness.
AUDIENCE: A typical faculty meeting at arts and sciences would have had 300, 400 members present, and now he said they're lucky to get 50 at a time. So there's much less cross-fertilization in that context.
HUNTER RAWLINGS: That's a really good couple of questions. And at my age, I always forget one of the two, so you'll have to remind me. But the first thing I would say is don't believe everything Kremnick says.
[LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE]
He's not one of the professors whose offices I visited.
AUDIENCE: Maybe he'll invite you over this week.
HUNTER RAWLINGS: So I'm just having a little fun. Isaac Kremnick is one of my very, very closest friends at Cornell. And he is not just a great professor emeritus. He's a great human being. And I'll visit his office whenever he lets me.
And by the way, he played a huge role in helping us do the west campus. Because that was in Isaac's heart as well as his head for a long, long time. So he's a great guy. What in the heck were your questions?
OK. So let me take the second one first. I can remember that one. It's more recent.
I think what Isaac says is correct, unfortunately. And I said earlier, we're not perfect. We make mistakes. This is something I'm really distressed about, to be honest. I'm really distressed.
It used to be back in the golden era, which of course never existed, that faculty members would come to meetings in large numbers. I'm talking about college-wide meetings, not departmental. And that's what you're asking about.
Nowadays, it's much harder to get them to come. They're busy with all the things Isaac described. They've got a zillion things to do in terms of their research and proposing for grants and all this stuff. And furthermore-- and I think worse-- is the fact that we're so pinned into our professional disciplines, as I was saying earlier, that we just don't care as much about college-wide issues. We just don't.
And so when a meeting is called to talk about the curriculum for the college-- what a student should learn to graduate from the arts college-- who shows up? Not very many people. Now, that is a huge disappointment.
So I'm very high on being back at Cornell, but that's something that I'm really distressed about. I don't think Isaac is wrong about that. I think he's right about that.
So anything we can do to try to engender more enthusiasm in the faculty for college-wide discussions, particularly of the curriculum, I would say, would be very beneficial. Sorry to take so long.
Let me quickly answer your first question if you tell me what it is.
AUDIENCE: It's about research professors spending more and more time off campus, having less contact with students.
HUNTER RAWLINGS: Yeah. I think some of that is true. I think Isaac is, again, more or less correct. But I think that it's only natural in today's world that faculty members are going to be far more in touch with the world than they used to be.
It used to be that professors didn't go to Hong Kong for important meetings, because who needed to go to Hong Kong. Now you do need to go to Hong Kong for important meetings, and not just if you're a Chinese specialist. So I do think that's a reality today that just goes with the territory of being a research professor at a research university like Cornell.
And perhaps it does lead to a bit of what you say-- a little less time, maybe, with students than before. But I think our faculty are doing a pretty good job, actually, of working on advising, working on mentoring, in general. But it's still a good question to ask. How much more time do we have? What's the-- zero.
OK. So that means you get one more question.
AUDIENCE: First of all, thank you. Welcome back. I'm from the non-reunion class of 1979. And I first have to say that it really wouldn't be a weekend in Ithaca if it didn't rain at least a little bit, so I'm definitely not disappointed.
My question looks at things a little bit differently. I'm very glad that I was able to come to Cornell and to study what I wanted to study at a time when you didn't have to think, necessarily, about what you were going to do. And my path over the last nearly 40 years has veered quite a lot from what my undergraduate degree is in.
And I found it really interesting to hear about all of the research. But it seems to me that a very core part of any university or college-- and certainly one as prominent and well-respected as Cornell-- is teaching the students. Because if you don't teach people and you don't focus on the teaching, where are you going to get all these wonderful people to do the research?
So I'm wondering-- I know that research is the focus in this economic time. But I wonder if you could speak a little bit about just the basic focus on what are we doing to teach our students. I just want to also say that many of the things in which I'm interested now were interests that were engendered when I was a student here that had nothing specifically to do with my major.
And I think it's really important that people get a liberal arts education. Because otherwise, how are you going to be able to go out into the world and do what you're going to do?
HUNTER RAWLINGS: So I really applaud what you just said.
I totally agree. And in fact, for the sake of time, I dropped the last part of what I was going to say, and you just said it really well. I totally believe in a liberal arts education in which the courses outside your major are just as important as the courses inside your major. And if Cornell doesn't put teaching first, even a little tiny bit ahead of research, I think it's making a mistake. Thanks a lot.
ROBERT HARRISON: I think we now understand why we are so fortunate to have Hunter Rawlings back with us for a third time. And Hunter, I probably shouldn't say this, but you are going to have a very, very difficult time getting yourself fired.
And now I would like to welcome The Hangovers After 8 and the Big Red Band, led by Dr. Henry Heimlich, class of '41, drum major in 1939, a year when the football team was undefeated.
Please stand and join them for the alma mater.
We've received your request
You will be notified by email when the transcript and captions are available. The process may take up to 5 business days. Please contact email@example.com if you have any questions about this request.
Interim President Hunter R. Rawlings III delivered the annual State of the University address to alumni during Reunion Weekend, June 11, 2016 in Bailey Hall.