BJ SIASOCO: Good afternoon, everyone. I am BJ Siasoco, staff member of the Cornell Commitment and Executive Vice Chair of the Employee Assembly. The Employee Assembly is excited welcome to today's address, whether you are here in Ithaca at Bailey Hall at the Geneva station or at the New York tech campus or from anywhere else our Global Campus reaches. To begin, I would like to play a short clip from our chair.
SPEAKER 2: Good afternoon and welcome to the President's annual address to staff. Whether you're here in the audience or joining us from a distance via the livestream, thank you for taking your time to be with us for what will surely be a memorable occasion. I'm Greg [? Massey, ?] Chair of the Employee Assembly. And while I cannot be there with you today in person, I am joined by all my fellow assembly members in the audience. If they could please stand and be recognized.
It is the collective effort of these outstanding colleagues that, through collaboration with key university stakeholders, advocate for staff interests in an effort to empower and improve our staff experience. We ensure your viewpoints are a shared priority in university decision making and that the staff community at every level of the university is actively engaged on a regular basis. This success and engagement of our staff is central to the success of Cornell's mission. We are here today to hear from President Skorton as it will be his last annual address to staff.
President Skorton has and continues to be such an advocate for the staff, an ardent supporter of shared governance. Over the years we have been able to talk to him directly and, frankly, most times on the record, though sometimes off. He has heartfelt sincerity when it comes to dealing with staff issues and has made decisions in our best interest, even when those decisions were not the most popular.
To say we will miss him goes without saying. His contributions to Cornell are lasting. It is my distinct pleasure that I welcome Cornell's 12th president David J Skorton.
DAVID SKORTON: Thanks so much. And BJ thanks for the great introduction you would have given.
It's great. Well, I want to thank the Employee Assembly for your role in this event and, much more importantly, for your role in shared governance in general, very, very important to me. And I also think it says so much about the dedication of EA members that Greg took the time to make a video for this event when he found out that he'd be out of town today. I really appreciate that. I look forward to the chance to thank him.
And I also appreciate the EA's leadership in bringing the good ideas and, yes, the concerns of employees to the intention of the administration. Most of all, I want to thank all of you here in Bailey for making time during what is your lunch hour to be with us today. As was stated and as you know, this is my last year at Cornell and my final address to staff. But I know that we'll have a chance to interact a lot more between now and June.
I'm very, very glad to be able to complete my time at Cornell as is Robin during the University's sesquicentennial and to celebrate our 150th birthday together. It's a big occasion. How many of you, by the way, were at the homecoming weekend, sesquicentennial celebration, fireworks and everything? Yeah, that was good.
Robin and I were blown away-- but fortunately, not literally-- by the 3D laser and fireworks show in Schoellkopf. And I did wear that funny hat. And if you didn't see that hat that I wore, I hope you never do. I hope you never see it.
And I know that the President-elect Beth Garrett was impressed by the big red spirit in the stands that night and learned a lot about Cornell. And she's even more excited to come. I hope you will keep April 24, 25, 26, and 27 of this spring open for Charter Day Weekend, a festival of ideas and imagination. On that weekend, we will celebrate the actual granting of Cornell University's charter with, really, a wonderful assortment of events over four days-- panel discussions, literary readings, musical performances, films, presentations by student innovators, and more. And there'll be many opportunities for you to enjoy the programs and be involved.
One of the big prerogatives of being president is, once you get up on a stage like this, people can't stop you from saying whatever you want. You can hear about it later. But they can't stop you at the time. And so even though she hates this, I do want to recognize and thank Mary [? Opperman ?] for her role, so many things, but setting up this Charter Day Weekend. Thank you, Mary.
So I've been thinking a lot about my last chance to interact with you in this formal setting. And at universities in general and at Cornell in particular, staff members are absolutely essential to every aspect of institutional excellence. It is true that the focus of much of our rhetoric, the focus of much of my rhetoric, is on faculty and students-- the awards they win, the research they conduct, the outreach in which they participate.
But a long career in higher education all at research universities has convinced me that successful research universities are like a three legged stool where staff are critically important to add to the overall strength and stability of the structure as our faculty and students. And we don't acknowledge often enough and strongly enough and loudly enough the crucial roles that you play, not only in your specific job functions which, of course, are very important, but in the overall excellence of our campus and the health of the wider community. This has been a year filled with many successes, many based on the hard work of each of you and your colleagues who are not here today.
And I receive a lot of suggestions from staff. And as you know, I give everybody my personal email. We get a lot of good ideas passed along. I received a suggestion from Rodney [INAUDIBLE] to take another look at our upcoming winter break schedule. Currently the winter break runs from Thursday, December 25, through Thursday, January 1, returning to work on Friday, January 2nd. And I've been in touch with the senior leadership of the university. And we have agreed to extend this year's winter break through that Friday.
When you run into Rodney, tell him that, yes, he made a suggestion that I couldn't refuse. So it all worked out great. So thank you, Rodney.
Now, I want to highlight just a few examples of how Cornell employees serve as an absolutely essential leg of this three legged stool that I described that supports institutional excellence. First, shared governance-- Cornell employees play a very important role in this very important activity through the Employee Assembly and the university assembly on which staff members also serve and through the employee elected member of the Cornell Board of Trustees. And Cornell is unusual in having student elected trustees, faculty elected trustees, and staff elected trustees.
And the current-- as you know, the current employee elect trustee who began his four year term in July 2012 is Alan Mittman, Director of Workforce Policy and Labor Relations at Cornell among many other roles on campus and in the community. Alan served for two years on the executive committee, the Employee Assembly. And I think Alan's here. Boss, good job. Good job.
I especially appreciate the effort of the Employee Assembly and the Division of Human Resources, the effort that you all have devoted to the university wide issues identified in the employee survey that we administered in 2011. Again, as I told you in the past, I'm so grateful that so many people took the time to carefully think through and fill out responses to that survey. We got a fantastic response, making it all the more important that we pay attention to your responses. And I'm very encouraged by the initiatives that we have worked on together to respond to some of the concerns raised in the survey.
For example, I believe we now have a better way for staff members to have their positions reviewed so that the position descriptions actually and accurately reflect the work you do and is compensated fairly. The lean process, L-E-A-N process improvement approach, as another example, has led to more than 45 initiatives that are helping us rethink the way we carry out projects and administrative functions. In this year, in response to another concern expressed in the survey, all supervisors will receive feedback from their direct reports-- all supervisors. And a new online training program on how to give and how to receive feedback is available for all staff so that the feedback you choose to give can be as helpful as possible.
Another concern identified in the survey was career development and growth. And in response, we will soon be rolling out a new online tool that you'll be able to use to navigate careers throughout Cornell. It is now being built and will be available through the HR website. And of course, the most important thing about these and other initiatives that have grown out of the employee survey is that you, each of you, has helped us to identify and implement changes that will help all staff members succeed at Cornell. So that's one great example.
A second example of your essential roles in the life of the campus is the team effort that goes into commencement weekend, which is an amazing, really mind blowing experience. And I had been to and done many commencements before coming to Cornell. But I've never seen anything like the Cornell commencement and never felt anything like walking into Schoellkopf Stadium and feeling the raw emotion and the happiness of that day.
We depend not only on the staff officially responsible for that event who, obviously, do a fantastic job but also on many, many others-- faculty, and staff, and retirees-- who volunteer to work during the weekend to ensure the graduates and their guests have a memorable celebration. And I get a lot of feedback from people who are there celebrating with their family members and the students themselves. And they all recognize the excellence and recognize the roles that you play officially and in volunteer capacities.
When you receive an email this coming spring asking for commencement weekend volunteers, I hope you will consider again helping out for this amazing weekend. You'll get another day off to make up for the one you work, a chance to win prizes, a lunch in your honor, and the reward of knowing that you've helped the graduates and their guests have the best ceremony and celebration ever, a time that they will never, ever forget.
A third area where your efforts are essential and at even a higher level is advancing priorities across the campus. Cornell's council on sexual violence, for example, includes students and faculty and members of the Ithaca community and staff from the Cornell University Police Department, University Health Services, University Communications, Student and Academic Services, the Division of Human Resources and Safety Services, and individual schools and colleges. And the council's efforts are facing a huge and important problem and are helping to change cultural factors that contribute to sexual violence and to boost the effectiveness of prevention and response strategies, both prevention and response.
And staff members also sit on committees that help us to address IT security, and [? gorge ?] safety, and campus health and safety, and space planning, to name just a few. So that's another big, big way in which staff contribute directly and importantly to excellence. A fourth way in which Cornell employees are upholding the university's excellence is through your immediate human concern for other members of our campus and local community.
I thank those of you-- and I can't thank you enough-- for supporting initiatives like the Care Fund, which, as you know, offers financial assistance for faculty and staff who have experienced a sudden or emergency related financial hardship. And we all know from living in this world that each one of us can be one step away from being in that situation. And also your support for the local United Way, which aids such a wide variety of agencies is very much appreciated.
Cornell's United Way campaign, as I think you know, typically provides upwards of 40% of the support for the local United Way. And this year the goal is to raise $815,000 and in addition to increased participation among faculty and staff. And we are off-- you are off to a very impressive start.
Keep in mind that a program called Corporate Cornerstone in which Cornell and many other area businesses participate pays all administrative fees. So your contributions go directly and only to the community agencies. The Stephen E. Garner Day of Caring in which some you participated launched this year's campaign by collecting more than 14,000 pounds of non-perishable food and personal care items and pet and school supplies for distribution to local pantries and community organizations.
And the 5K run at Cornell Plantations and acapela concert in Bailey during homecoming also benefited the local United Way. And as the campaign progresses this fall, I hope that many of you will consider being involved. I actually was going to do the 5K. But at the rate, I would have done it they would still be waiting at the finish line right now.
But I'm glad that those of you participated did so. Now, all of us can be proud of the recognitions that Cornell has received for its programs that support employment at Cornell. During our time together, the last 8 and 1/2 years, Cornell was named a top employer by Working Mother Magazine, a top employer by AARP, my organization--
--a top company-- what's so funny about that?
A top company for executive women by the National Association of Female Executives, an adoption friendly workplace. And we were recognized for our support for veterans among other honors. And just last month, Cornell University was the only institution of higher education, the only one recognized this year, with a When Work Works Award, administered by the Families and Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management.
The award was based on employee feedback, employee feedback, and our programs to support faculty and staff health, well-being, and engagement. I'm very proud of that and very grateful. As important as these recognitions are, I have long believed during my time at the University of Iowa and continuing right up to today at Cornell that we need to do more institutionally to recognize and support staff excellence.
From your responses to the employee survey, it's clear that many of you agree. And you've helped us respond. The relatively new Cornell recognition event days in our campuses in Ithaca and New York City and the Annual High Five Recognition Luncheon, just for a couple of examples, have been popular ways of recognizing staff achievements and showing appreciation, all of our appreciation, for what each of us does. And the next recognition event day will be on November 6th coming right up. And you can get additional details from Paw Print or the HR website. And I'm pleased that the Employee Assembly will be continuing its tradition of presenting the EA Staff Recognition Award in a few minutes at today's event. These are valuable initiatives. And I think everything-- I thank everyone, rather, who helped bring them about.
Now, when I look back at my eight plus years that I've been privileged to work with you at Cornell University, some of my fondest memories include members of Cornell's staff. I've enjoyed being part of employee celebration days. And Robin and I will take a turn this Saturday at Barton for the next one. I've been thrilled to recognize staff members and looking forward to it again in just a few months, staff members who have balanced studies, rigorous studies, and careers successfully to earn academic degrees while working at Cornell, really an amazingly impressive thing to do. And as we do every year, we'll have a special reception and ceremony just for these extraordinary staff members and their supervisors and their families and guests.
And it is always a pleasure, of course, to chat with all of you as we walk around campus and in the community, at concerts and lectures, and just wherever. And in so many of our interactions, I've been impressed not only by the dedication and skills you bring but also by the commitment that you bring to the university as a whole and your willingness to talk to me about what you're thinking because only then do I really understand the underpinning of the university. With your help and the help of staff members throughout Cornell's history, the university has remained very true, in my estimation, to its founding ideals.
We continue to strive for excellence across a very wide range of academic disciplines, both traditional liberal arts education and professional studies. We continue together to make Cornell education accessible to talented students from very, very widely varying backgrounds and economic circumstances, despite the real challenges that we are continuing to have at this university and at every university of which I'm aware for balancing cost and affordability. And through public engagement with our communities the state, the nation, and the world, to serve society and make a positive difference. So yes, I am very proud and very happy with where we are at Cornell.
But you may have noticed, in addition to me, there's a couple of other leaders who will be leaving Cornell. And it's a time of great change. Kent Fuchs, after 12 years here, 6 as dean of the College of Engineering and 6 as provost, as you know, has taken the position of President at the University of Florida. And as you know, Vice President Susan Murphy is stepping down from her position in June after 20 years in the role of VP for Student and Academic Services. Change, though sometimes jarring an upsetting, offers the university an opportunity to do things differently and, maybe, to do different things.
We are very fortunate, I think, that Harry Katz has stepped in to serve as interim provost after Ken departs for Florida. And searches are about to begin for both positions, for the VP for Students and Academic Services and for the provost. Beth Garrett will, of course, put her own stamp on the university as all presidents do. And I have no doubt, no doubt after speaking with her, that she will continue to advance the ideals that have propelled Cornell to the forefront of American higher education. And I have no doubt, after talking with her, that she recognizes and is devoted to recognizing and supporting the efforts of staff at this university.
Robin and I are looking forward to moving to Washington when I become Secretary of the Smithsonian on July 1st. A few of you have asked me, can you get free tickets to the Smithsonian Institutions?
You can because I'm such a generous guy and because everybody goes there free.
But even though we're looking forward to being there, I'm not exaggerating if I tell you that we're very emotional. We're really going to miss Cornell and the many friends that we have made here. And I thank you for the wonderful memories and for all you're doing your jobs and for the chance to work with you. And before we open up for Q&A where all this sweetness and light is going to go away and you're going to get in my face, before we do that, I just want to thank you on behalf of Robin and me for making us feel welcome from day one through today. Thank you all.
So microphones are going out in the aisles. And we have like 10 minutes, give or take, 12 minutes, something like that. Is that right, BJ? OK, we have plenty of time. And don't be bashful. Just come right up and ask a question. Otherwise I'll just regale you with stories of my youth. And at my age, so stories can go on a really long time.
DAVID SKORTON: They are pretty good stories. I was thinking the other day of what kind of stories, if people just didn't want to get up and ask questions. And I thought about-- I don't know, I thought about telling you about my senior prom in high school. But the truth is, I never went to the prom. I couldn't get anybody go with me. And in those days, they didn't have like webcasting or anything like that.
So that was a pretty short story, right? Not much to say about that. That maybe the best one, yeah. And then, maybe I told you the story about how, growing up in Los Angeles, I was positive that I was going to be a studio musician, and work at Capital Records, 9:00 to 5:00, and you'd hear me playing all these things. And it turned out that everybody in LA was a better musician than I was, everybody. People who I met in the gas station, drugstore, grocery store, people who delivered pizzas, all were better than I was. But here I am, so--
DAVID SKORTON: That's right.
AUDIENCE: Hi, David, how are you?
DAVID SKORTON: OK.
AUDIENCE: Good. I'm [INAUDIBLE]
DAVID SKORTON: I know who you are.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] communications.
DAVID SKORTON: You going to get even with me for all those things we filmed together?
AUDIENCE: Not now, but I'll come to Washington. So I will first just thank you, and Robin, and actually everyone else on your staff for your work here at Cornell. And it's actually kept a nice integrity level in the university's administration. So I like that.
DAVID SKORTON: Thanks, [INAUDIBLE].
AUDIENCE: So my question is--
DAVID SKORTON: You can just leave it there if you want.
AUDIENCE: No, I'll go on.
DAVID SKORTON: [INAUDIBLE]
AUDIENCE: It is Cornell, we have to go on. In change management, what kind of things would you do to help keep some of the initiatives you've started to continue, as you may consult with vet care.
DAVID SKORTON: This is a big, big question. And I claim no expertise in this, other than having worked at it every day, and trying to do it better. I think my recommendation to you is twofold. One has to do with the new president and one has to do with just looking in the mirror. Most importantly, the looking in the mirror part. I think the most important thing is to decide what it is that you would like to contribute, you, collectively, to make Cornell continue on an upward path.
I define upward path right now, today, to be a path in which the chances of every person succeeding on this campus, the chances are going up. Every student from every background, every faculty from every background, every staff and every job description, from every background, to succeed. Whatever your piece of that is, to decide what it is, to figure out exactly what you are thinking from your own experience, from talking to your colleagues, and learning what's going on elsewhere, and pass those along in whatever way seems best-- your immediate supervisor, the EA, directly to leaders of the university.
So I think the most important thing is to believe that you can actually make a difference, believe that it can happen. [? Rodney Arm is ?] a great example. I was blissfully just oblivious about that Friday. And think about it, I'm being very honest about it. He brought it up. We asked everybody, and they said, yeah, for sure. That's why, by the way-- did you know why people in Day Hall have round shoulders and flat foreheads? Do you know why?
AUDIENCE: No, go ahead.
DAVID SKORTON: When you ask them a question, they go like this. When you tell me them the answer, they go like this. Anyway, sorry. All right, all right, all right. The comedy part didn't work out neither. Anyway, so that's the first part, is the part in the mirror. The second part, the second part, having to do with a new leader, coming from outside the institution, is-- I ask you to do two things. I ask you to give her a chance to get settled, get settled into the community and understand everything.
And then I ask you to do the same thing for her and for her husband Andre that you have done for me and Robin, and that is to be straightforward and honest about what's going on. It's easy-- easier to be straightforward and honest when things are fabulous, and we're congratulating each other about awards or recognitions. It's harder when there's a thorny problem that hasn't been faced.
And you've done that for me and for Robin. And so show her the same trust and confidence and you will help the continuity of leadership. Let's remember that leaders in every description, even iconic, longtime leaders, like Susan Murphy, they do eventually turn over. The institution's 150 years old. And you are the glue that keeps it together, and the faculty and students, you're one of the legs of the stool.
Now, the third thing I know you're asking me, you don't want to bring up front the crowd, just because I know you, is you want to know did Robin and I get those special handlebar extensions that you told us to get-- we did not get it yet. And it wasn't like I'm trying to push back on your suggestion, we just haven't gotten in the bike shop yet, but we will.
DAVID SKORTON: Thanks [INAUDIBLE] Don't fight kids, there's plenty to go around.
AUDIENCE: Hi, Margo [? Neiderback. ?]
DAVID SKORTON: Hi, Margo, how you doing.
AUDIENCE: Office of Alumni Affairs, Student Alumni Programs. First, thank you so much for your inspirational leadership all these years. The mark you've left on this university, on our students, our alumni, and our staff is truly phenomenal.
DAVID SKORTON: Thanks, Margo.
AUDIENCE: So, from so many of us, thank you. 10, or 20, or 25 years from now, what will you remember most about your experience here at Cornell.
DAVID SKORTON: That's a great question. Nobody's asked me that. What will I remember 10, or 20, or 30 years from now-- wow. I'll remember the first time that I came to the community, which was in 1995, when Hunter Rawlings was inaugurated. We were working together at the University of Iowa. And they asked did somebody want to represent Iowa in the processional for the inauguration. And I quickly volunteered. I'd never been here before.
And as the processional was walking around, parts of the arts quad, I was-- it had nothing to do with me. I was choked up by the beauty of the place. And by the obvious care with which people lovingly kept the place beautiful and forward looking. And I remember thinking, wow, Hunter's a lucky guy to be here, never thinking that some years later, you know, 11 years later, I would get the chance to be here. I'll never forget that day. It was really, really, really beautiful.
I'll also never forget the first time that I went to shared governance groups here, like I did also at the University of Iowa, that people were really, really engaged. And I had a funny preconception, that-- I'd never been in private higher education, only in public, UCLA, and University of Iowa. And I sort of thought that those were probably more populist kind of things, and maybe in a private school there wouldn't be there that same kind of engaged, shared governance leadership.
But there really was here. And it was every bit as robust as anything I'd ever experienced, even though it's not a public institution. It had that feeling, that soul of a populist kind of setting. And I remember being very, very impressed certainly with the EA, but with every one of the shared governance groups. I Honestly, especially the SA, of all of them. Because the students were so willing to bring things forward. And many, many, many resolutions came.
But the EA was the first thing I noticed. Another thing that I remember was the length of the winter. And I remember-- I mean, Iowa is considerably colder than it is here, because there's no mountains or anything separating some areas in northern Canada, where it's really cold, from that part of the country. Just, it's really cold. But the winters are long here.
And Hunter, once again, as my point of departure for Cornell, made a joke after he first came here. And he said there were four seasons at Cornell. I'm sure you've heard this at Ithaca, rather-- already winter, winter, still winter, and construction. Those are the four things. And I've also heard it said that there's two seasons in Ithaca, July 4th and winter. That's what I've heard. But I have to admit, when they're letting the dog out the other morning, and it was like frost time, I thought this cannot be happening already. So I remember that year after year-- it actually did happen, every single time.
And we were in some conversation, yesterday or the day before, I lost track of when it was, and somebody talked about six months from now and so and so, when we'll be in the dead of winter. And I quickly went, November, December, January, February, and I thought, yeah, unfortunately that sounds right. So I was a little surprised by that.
And then the last thing that I think I'll remember, as long as I draw breath, is the interaction with the community And the things I've learned from members of the community. Gary Stewart and some other colleagues, Lynette Chapelle Williams, and Mary Opperman, and others, got us-- organized a meeting with a group that calls themselves The Local Leaders of Color. And it's really chaired by Marcia Ford, the longtime director of the Greater Ithaca Activities Center, just retiring next June.
And we had a chance to meet on a relatively regular basis, all the years that I've been here. And learned a lot about the community. And the willingness of people in the community to come forward, like the shared governance groups on campus, and speak truth to the big organization on the hill, was really, really moving.
And we've been through some hard times here. Let's face it. The recession has been pretty tough. We all know that. Nobody knows it better than you. And a lot of other issues that have come up, some of which have put us at loggerheads with the community, and the willingness of people to talk across those natural divisions, something that's been very, very, very impressive to me. So those are just some of the things. Thanks, that's a great question. Please--
AUDIENCE: I too wanted to thank you for your time here. I think you've done an amazing job and wish you luck in your future endeavors.
DAVID SKORTON: Thank you.
AUDIENCE: My name is Eric Bamford, I work in [? Cals. ?] Different representative groups across campus, from students, to faculty, to staff have called on Cornell, hoping for a dedication to divesting from fossil fuels. I attended the rally on the previous Friday, where nearly 100 people came together to hear speakers talk very compellingly about the reasons why we should. You've repeatedly said that it's financially very difficult to do, which is obvious, going cold turkey. But I wondered about maybe doing a feasibility study, about at least starting that process, and making setting some goals, to begin divesting from fossil fuels.
DAVID SKORTON: Thanks for bringing that up. It's a very, very important issue. And to be very honest with you, as I've tried to be on this and every issue, I've struggled a lot with us. I'm proud of the fact that long before my time, long before my time, Cornell has been the leadership capacity in thinking about ways to run the campus differently in terms of fuel consumption of whatever type.
So the Lake Source Cooling Project, the expensive, but very worthwhile capital project to develop the combined heat and power plant, these are ways that brought us down about a third, give or take, in our carbon footprint. And I did agree with the faculty senate resolution that asked to accelerate the pace at which we would seek to become carbon neutral from 2050 to 2035. And just as you've said, I've been reticent to recommend to the board that we divest at all from fossil fuels because of the razor thin margin that we have.
And I don't want to over exaggerate the financial situation of the university. We're in better shape than we were by far in '08-'09. But we still are very, very barely balanced. And as I tried to say before, and I apologize publicly if I didn't make this clear, I think the intent, the objective to be gained through which people are suggesting things like fossil fuel divestment, the objective of getting the country to make a turn, a more serious and rapid turn on climate control, is very, very much to be lauded and sought after.
In this particular case, separate from the whole issue of whether it will be effective or not, separate from that issue, I don't know what the effect will be on our finances. And it's because I don't know and because the margin, although we have a little tiny margin, is so small, that I'm just not willing to do it right now. And I've tried to be clear about that. It's not that I don't believe it's reasonable. I did suggest a divestment when I first came here, related to Darfur, which the board supported. So I'm not allergic to the concept of divestment.
But right now, and in this particular case, I'm not willing to take a chance. And it would be pandering to you to say that I'm only worried about layoffs. I am worried about layoffs, but it goes beyond that. I'm worried about financial aid. I'm worried about the faculty hiring. I'm worried about the level of compensation of every employee at the university. And we're staying at equilibrium, but we're pedaling hard to stay there. And so that's the reason, it's the uncertainty.
And I invite you, I implore you, to keep after us about this, keep talking about it. I offered to give time from my report at the Board of Trustees for people to make their case. And this is one of those rare decisions where I actually don't have the decision making power. The board makes all the investment decisions through an investment committee, which is quite autonomous.
But I have, of course, the prerogative to suggest to them. And I have suggested to them that we don't do this right now. And so that's the reason why. I appreciate you bringing it up. And BJ, how are we doing? Should we stop? One more? Time for one more question, especially if it's just thanking me and no questions. One more-- OK, here we go.
AUDIENCE: Thank you, no more questions. So since you brought it up, in response to a previous question, are there any kind of thorny issues out there, things you wish you had tackled during your 8 and 1/2 years here and haven't gotten to, and would like to push that ahead for our next attention in the future?
DAVID SKORTON: You betcha, you betcha. One is that I still feel like we are not getting the job done on accessibility, financial accessibility to the university. We're doing better than we were doing by far. But there's a slice of the socioeconomic spectrum, people whose assets are such that they do not qualify for the really generous financial aid, but don't make enough money to pay this really, really expensive education.
And so I regret that we didn't make more progress. We made some. I wish we had gone further. I think during the onset of the recession, when we really tightened our belt a lot, and we had the staff retirement incentive, and then we canceled some vacant positions, and then we had layoffs aplenty, I think that we, in some areas, made the workforce too thin. I've been very public about that. I think we went overboard in some areas, through all good intentions.
And you all are doing an amazing job. And as you probably know, without me telling you, the work hasn't gone down here. It's only going up. And so, I think we've gone pretty far in that direction. And then, one other thing that I think is an unmet goal, that I believe we can still meet and make some progress while I'm still president, is to continue to improve our interactions with the community at large.
All the communities that are part of Cornell-- of course, Ithaca and Tompkins County is a big one. Geneva, New York is the big one. New York City to an increasing extent is our hometown. As well as other places that the university has programs, much different kind of situation-- Rome, Italy, Doha, Cutter, and so on. But especially here in Tompkins County, we are the community and the community is us.
And I think it's really, really important that we continue to find ways to work together. And I intend to do that, working with [? Savante, ?] and Herb, and other leaders in the community, and throughout Tompkins County. So I'm going to get off here so we can get on to the real business. And I thank everybody for everything. Thanks for coming today.
BJ SIASOCO: Thank you, again, President Skroton for your thoughts and dedication to this university. We'd also like to present the Employee Assembly Staff Appreciation Award. And surprisingly enough, we'd like to present it this year to President David J Skorton in recognition of in honor of your years of outstanding service, staff advocacy, and support of shared governance at Cornell.
DAVID SKORTON: Wow, I am seriously caught unawares on this one. Wow, this means so much to me. This is really, really something. I will treasure this forever. And I'm glad my wife is here to hear this. I'm going to be sleeping with this tonight, honey, I'm sorry. Thank you. Just amazing, thanks. I'm going to hang onto this. I'm not giving it back.
BJ SIASOCO: Thank you again, everyone, for attending the President's Address to Staff. If you're interested in participating in shared governance at Cornell University at the President's suggestion, please feel free to contact any of the Employee Assembly members who will be out in the lobby on your way out. We want to hear from you. And we want you to participate in shared governance here at Cornell and make a difference in our community. Please enjoy lunch in the lobby as well and have a wonderful afternoon. Thank you.
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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."