SPEAKER 1: This is a production of Cornell University.
ANNE KENNEY: There can be no better person than Frank Rhodes to give the library reunion lecture, provocatively entitled, Ezra's Unreasonable Vision. Frank Rhodes' long tenure with Cornell as president and professor of geological sciences combined with his graceful and elegant book on The Creation of the Future-- The Role of the American University, makes him the perfect choice to speak about the legacy of Ezra Cornell and the future of higher education.
His resume reads like a full compendium of who's who within academic community. He's not just for one person, but for an entire generation of scholars, and I'm just going to highlight a little bit from it.
He is a graduate of the University of Birmingham, England and he holds four degrees from there. But he also holds 37 honorary degrees from institutions in the United States and abroad.
He's a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a former Fulbright Scholar and Fulbright Distinguished Fellow, a National Science Foundation Senior Visiting Research Fellow, a Visiting Fellow of Clare Hall Cambridge and Trinity College Oxford, past president and member of the American Philosophical Society, recipient of the Bixby Medal of the Geological Society, the Justin Morel Award of the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, the Higher Education Leadership Award of the Commission of Independent Colleges and Universities, recipient of the Ian Campbell Medal of the American Geological Institution and the Reginald Wilson Award for the American Council on Education.
President Reagan appointed Rhodes a member of the National Science Board, which he chaired. President Bush appointed him a member of the President's Educational Policy Advisory Committee. He served as chair of the governing boards of the American Council on Education, the American Association of Universities, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, as a trustee of the Andrew Mellon Foundation, and a member of the board of directors of GE.
He's published widely in the fields of geology, paleontology, evolution, the history of science, and education. I've already mentioned his seminal book, The Creation of the Future, that deals with the role of the American university. But he also chaired the National Commission on Minority Participation in Education and American Life that produced the report, "One Third of a Nation." And he co-chaired the group that produced the report, "American Potential in the Human Dimension." And he's a member of the Association of Governing Boards 1996 commission on renewing the academic presidency.
On top of all this, we know what a spellbinding speaker he is, and I know we're all looking forward to his take on Ezra's Unreasonable Vision. So please join me in welcoming Frank HT Rhodes to the podium.
FRANK RHODES: Thank you.
Thank you, Anne, for that far too generous introduction, and am I on? Am I carrying?
FRANK RHODES: How about now?
FRANK RHODES: Good. Thank you, Anne, for that far too generous introduction, and thank you for your very warm welcome. Horace Mann once declared that the surest way to disperse a mob is to announce a lecture on higher education.
And I am appalled and a little worried that you may have the wrong room for this particular gathering.
Adlai Stevenson once remarked, "It's my job to speak. It's your job to listen. If you get through before I do, do feel free to drop off."
And I make the same invitation today. Ezra's Unreasonable Vision is the reason that we are here this afternoon. Not the library associates lecture, certainly not Frank Rhodes, but Ezra's Unreasonable Vision brings us together. And I want to argue today that it is the basis of our national well-being and historical success, and it is potentially the best weapon we have against the poverty, and injustice, and hatred of the world around us.
It was an unreasonable vision, and it remains an unreasonable vision. I do hope, as Anne pointed out, that you will visit the Hirschland Gallery in Kroch Library and see the marvelous exhibition that has been arranged there. I have to confess I haven't visited it except online. But even online, which I've studied in detail, it is a remarkable exhibition.
Ezra Cornell was born on January the 11th, 1807. He was born at West Chester landing, the oldest of 11 children, the son of Elijah and Eunice Cornell. His father was a potter. And from the age of six, he was actively involved in things connected with the family business.
He had little formal education, but he did a deal with his parents that he could attend the winter quarter of school, the three months of winter, in exchange for preparing land for tilling and farming. And there are touching accounts of the agreement that he and his brother made to prepare four acres, pulling out the stumps and tilling the soil, in exchange for those three months of formal education a year.
At 17, he assisted his father in building a structure for the pottery. And at 18, he asked his parents if he might build them a two-story frame house to replace the log cabin in which they were then living. This was at the Reuter, where he had moved as a young boy, about 40 miles east of here. And his parents agreed, and Ezra Cornell built the house, and became known instantly and celebrated in the community as the builder. And so he was.
He was also, as well as being the builder, someone who describes himself throughout his life as a farmer mechanic. That was his own description of his profession, but he was so much more. He was a prolific writer, both of private letters and letters to the Ithaca Journal and the Ithaca Courier, letters of accounts of his travels, and instruction in agriculture.
He was an inventor. He was an entrepreneur. He was an astute businessman. He was an active politician. He was a philanthropist. And he was, for all of us here, the founder, the founder of this remarkable institution that represents his unreasonable vision.
He left home at 19, and he traveled to Syracuse as a journeyman carpenter with $9 in his pocket and all his possessions slung over his shoulder in a kerchief that his mother had made. He was robbed of the $9 and his week's wages at the end of the first week, but he soldiered on. He moved from Syracuse to Homer, doing odd jobs, picking up what he could. And he arrived in Ithaca in 1828, 21 years of age, as a mechanic, as a carpenter seeking work.
His first work was working with the growing mill business in Ithaca in [INAUDIBLE] Cotton Mill at Cascadilla Creek. But soon afterwards, he obtained employment, which was to last for several years, with Colonel Beebe. And he became responsible for the maintenance and for the reconstruction of Beebe's flour mills and plaster mill on Fall Creek. And it was through those that he developed the appellation of Beebe's man. He was the manager of Beebe's operations.
He married in 1831, and he married Mary Ann Wood, variously described in the reading I've done as an Episcopalian and a Methodist. There are Episcopal Methodists I know, and it may be that Mary Ann Wood was one such. But she was out of meeting, and Ezra Cornell's family were prominent members of the Quaker community.
And as news of his marriage returned to his parents' home and to Reuter, he was excommunicated from the Quaker community. They wrote and notified him of that excommunication, and he replied that he would not change his views. He was required if that excommunication were to be lifted to express his regret for the marriage that had taken place. But instead, he replied that this was the best thing that he had ever done.
And that separation, that enforced separation between the Quaker community and Ezra Cornell was to shape, in many ways, I think his later views on his relationship to denominational inclusiveness.
Mary Ann was a devoted wife. I would have to say also in some ways, she was a longsuffering wife, and Ezra will forgive me, I'm sure. Because for much of their marriage, they were apart, and she faced near destitute living at times. Together, they had nine children, the oldest of whom, Alonzo, was the governor of the state of New York. Three of the children died in youth, another died at age 15. Five of them grew to maturity.
By a year after his marriage, Ezra had bargained with his employer about the purchase of land near Fall Creek, and he developed a small estate and built a house, the Nook, in which the family lived for over 20 years, and in which all their nine children were born.
The late 1930s were difficult times in Ithaca. And towards the end of that decade, Ithaca was in deep recession. Colonel Beebe had to sell his mills, and that left Ezra Cornell for the first time in recent years, without a job. He decided to concentrate on his land and his farming. He built houses on land that he'd separately acquired. He opened a grocery store for a while.
But in 1842, he purchased the rights to a new plow. BP&M Plow, the Barnaby and Moore's Plow. And his plan was to sell those rights to mechanics and blacksmiths so that locally, they could manufacture these plows and reap the profits that followed.
The plow had the characteristic that it could plow either on a horizontal surface or an inclined surface, because the inclination of the blade could be adjusted. And Ezra Cornell's thoughtful plan was to purchase those rights, obtain those rights in Maine and in Georgia, selling them in Maine in the summer, and in Georgia in the winter. And so he left home and literally walked much of the way between the two states.
A year after, he was in Maine in the offices of a man called FOJ Smith, who was to prominently figure in Ezra Cornell's life. FOJ Smith was the publisher of the Maine Farmer. He was a character whom some gave the initials FOG Smith, because his dealings were frequently foggy and hazy in dealing with other people.
But Ezra Cornell found him bent over his desk studying the design for a new trenching machine. 10 years before, Samuel Morse had invented the telegraph, means of transmitting telegraphic signals. But the invention had languished because no method existed for conveying the message from the transmitter to the receiver.
And Smith was looking for a way to bury a cable underground which would carry the current and the message. Morse had devised a means for putting an insulated cable inside a lead pipe and then burying it about 2 and 1/2 feet underground. Cornell literally invented a machine to do just that. And Morse took him on at a salary of $1,000 a year, inviting him to construct the first line between Washington and Baltimore.
Early in the construction, the insulation broke down, and Ezra Cornell became convinced that that particular method of burying the cable in a lead pipe would simply not work. The only alternative, he argued, reading all this himself with the limited formal education that he had, the only way that would work would be to carry the wires on poles with glass insulators at the top. And he convinced Morse that this should take place.
And on the line that Ezra Cornell had constructed on May the 24th, 1844, Morse's famous message went out, "What hath God wrought?" That changed Ezra Cornell's life. And the common view is that that created Western Union. And from there on, Cornell was a benefactor, a rich wealthier man spreading his philanthropy across institutions locally, and especially here at Cornell. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The next 10 years were years of intense hardship for Ezra Cornell, and not least for Mary Ann and their growing family back in Ithaca. Almost all the next 10 years were spent away from home, often under conditions of great hardship, stringing the line up between poles in all kinds of boiling and freezing weather, correcting poles that had slumped downwards, opening new lines not only between places in the east, but as far west as Milwaukee, and Detroit, and parts of Canada, working literally day and night to sell the idea of the overhead telegraph line to people who would invest in the myriad of companies which were springing up.
Cornell lived on the edge, and Mary Ann at home also faced difficult times. Cornell was frequently ill. He developed typhus at one stage. He was constantly traveling. He spent during 1845 six months, he tells us, going between New York and Boston, trying to sell shares in the new company, unable to do it, out of money, sleeping on three chairs for a month, existing on $0.25 a day, or the equivalent of, for food. In threadbare clothes, in worn-out shoes, his wife and children struggling at home, but all the time investing in the stock, all the time thinking about the small companies that were springing up and which were ultimately to be combined together in a brilliant business strategy by Ezra Cornell in what later became Western Union.
Throughout these years, he speculated, he studied, he created, and it's easy to forget what a marvelous business entrepreneur Ezra Cornell was. It was also during these years and just before them that he became actively involved in Whig politics here in Ithaca, here in Tompkins County, and beyond that, more generally.
In 1856, he was a delegate to the first Republican National Convention. In 1861, he was elected to the state assembly, and two years later to the state Senate. He campaigned for Lincoln in the campaign of 1860, and he met Lincoln at Lincoln's inauguration in 1861. He was one of the earliest Republicans. And that Republican view, the opposition to slavery, the notion of the union of the states, the conviction that hard work was part of the recipe for advancement, that was part of the Ezra Cornell political philosophy.
By 1858, his biographer Philip Dorf tells us he began to feel rich. And so he was, because for more than 15 years, he was the largest shareholder of Western Union. In that particular year, in 1858, Western Union returned $140,000 to Ezra Cornell, and he became a very wealthy man.
A year before, he bought property in Fall Creek, and had entered the farming business in a serious fashion, becoming a breeder of purebred short-horn cattle. He wrote in his cyphering book from his youth at just this period, "My greatest care is how to spend this large income to do the greatest good to those who are properly dependent on me, to the poor, and to posterity." And one of the sections of the wonderful exhibition that has been prepared is labeled just that, To the Poor and to Prosperity.
Ezra Cornell's philanthropy began in a local way. It began locally with philanthropic needs, widows and orphans of the Civil War. He carried relief supplies to the front and witnessed the first battle of Bull Run, carrying emergency medical supplies. He created, as you've just heard, the Ithaca Reading Room that bore his name, providing not only funds for books and journals, but also for the land and for the construction.
And these were reasonable visions. He became a supporter of Dr. Samantha Nivision's Cascadilla Place, with its emphasis on hydropathic care, a water cure sanitarium, and its emphasis on the education of young women to be doctors and nurses. These were local achievable visions.
But there was another vision that was much less local and much less reasonable, and that's the vision that first brought him into contact with another dreamer, Andrew Dickson White. One of the qualifications that Ezra Cornell had made in establishing his public library was that the library should be governed by a board, made up of the ministers of all six local churches, the principles of Ithaca Academy and the Ithaca Public Schools, and the oldest lineal male descendant-- and that's still true, with Ezra Cornell on the Board of Trustees-- and six citizens from the community.
And Andrew Dickson White, a wealthy professor of history at the University of Michigan, not from his professorial salary, but from his family inheritance, was chair of the literature committee of the Senate. And the proposal for the incorporation of Cornell's library came before Andrew Dickson White, and he was attracted both by the character of the proposal and the method of government that Cornell himself had chosen. It passed.
In 1862, Lincoln signed into law an act known as the Morrill Act, named after Senator Justin Morrill of Vermont, which was to change the face of the nation and to bring about a remarkable alliance between these two men. Ezra Cornell had become widely known in regional agricultural circles, and he served as a trustee of the Agricultural College at Ovid, just up the road here on the other side of the lake. That college had a very difficult beginning. And ultimately, it founded.
Ezra Cornell invited Andrew Dickson White to come to a meeting at the state fair at Rochester, where the Board of Trustees would seek to wind up the affairs of that college and think about how its role could subsequently be filled.
At the meeting, which by all the records we have, was a depressing and gloomy one, Ezra Cornell finally said, "If the trustees will agree to move the college from Ovid over to Ithaca, I will contribute 300 acres and $300,000 if they agree not only to relocate it, but also to take half the proceeds from the Morrill Act and apply them to the college."
Now, the Morrill Act provided for the sale of federal lands in support of states who would provide education in the agricultural and mechanic arts, 30,000 acres for each member of Congress. The other half, the one that Cornell proposed not to use, was devoted to the Peoples College in Havana here in New York.
Andrew Dickson White arose at the meeting and said that that remarkably generous gesture was one he opposed, but it's one that he would support in the Senate if the whole of the Morrill Act provision were devoted to this new university, and not just part of it. And so the alliance between those two dreaming men came together, separated by almost 30 years in age. They coincided in having an unreasonable vision of what might be achieved.
Ezra Cornell's offered gift of $300,000 grew to 500,000 by the time the bill had gone through the senate of the state. And it grew because in a remarkable meeting walking down the steps of the state capital in Albany, these two senators, once having been on opposite sides of the same issue, were chatting.
And Cornell said to White that he had about $500,000 that was surplus to the needs of his particular family. What should he do with it to best serve the needs of humankind? And White replied, there were really only two choices, charity and education. "Charity is best left to the kindly instincts"-- these are his recorded words-- "the kindly instincts of many in the population. Education in the early years is catered for by the state. But the biggest need is for higher education, for university education, in an institution more comprehensive, more ample, more generously endowed than any that now exists in the state."
And so the two men came together, a remarkable coming together because AD White as a young man, an unhappy undergraduate in his late teen years at what is now Hobart College, then Geneva College, tells us that he'd been given a book with graphic illustrations of Oxford and Cambridge, and he lay there building universities in the air as he read that book. And I quote him, "with libraries as rich as the Bodleian, halls as lordly as that of Christ Church or of Trinity, chapels as inspiring as that of King's towers as dignified as those of Magdalen or Merton, quadrangles as beautiful as those of Jesus and St. John's."
What an unreasonable vision for Andrew Dickson White. But Ezra Cornell's vision was even more unreasonable. And the convergence of the two, the confluence of those two aspirations, brought about the institution whose sons and daughters we are today. Everything about this new university appealed to Ezra Cornell's most devoted causes.
Data-based agricultural productivity. He was the local data-insistent man in cattle breeding and crop production. Everything converged in this new institution. Scientific experimentation, technological invention. Ezra Cornell had been deeply involved in both. Concern for the poor, which runs as a thread through everything that he wrote during those years. His aversion to slavery, the notion that any person must have admission to this new institution. His entrepreneurial spirit, his absolute insistence that women's education should be part of the new institution.
The role of the individual and the state working together, and oddly enough, a visit to Oxford that he had made in 1862, where he'd visited two different institutions in England, an agricultural college in Cirencester and the Dreaming Spires of Oxford.
And a year later, he wrote in his diary, "Inquire what effect large endowment on college. How many grads do they send out, et cetera?" And these two visions, Andrew Dickson White's classical liberal education in the Dreaming Spires of Oxford, and Ezra Cornell's practicalist insistence on the application of knowledge to life, they came together in that single institution.
And so the bill passed the Senate championed by Andrew Dickson White, and Cornell came into existence. With the charter granted there's a need for a site. And there's a wonderful story told of Alonzo Cornell, and Ezra Cornell, and Andrew Dickson White, and Francis Finch walking together discussing the site which the university should occupy.
Two possible sites were pointed out, one a plot of seven or eight acres overlooking what was then the village of Ithaca, a second one on a plateau about 200 yards away from it, on higher ground. And those with Ezra Cornell debated and discussed which of those two sites should be selected.
And Ezra Cornell is said to have commented to them, "Young gentlemen"-- they all in their 30s, he approaching 60-- "Young gentlemen, you appear to be considering the location of half a dozen buildings, whereas some of you will live to see our campus occupied by 50 buildings and swarming with thousands of students."
"So where should it be?" they inquired. "Where should it be located?" And Ezra Cornell turned east, and swinging his arms north and south, he said, "Here on this line extending from Cascadilla to Fall Creek. We shall need every acre for the purposes of our university." And so this university came into existence on the spot.
Ezra Cornell was intensely involved in every detail of the preparation for his new institution-- the design of buildings, the layout of the buildings on the campus, the construction of the buildings. He contributed $10,000, for example, for the purchase of a collection of fossils. He bought books for the library. He sent Andrew Dickson White to Europe to purchase models for art and architecture students.
He wrote a beautiful letter preserved in the exhibition to the fire chief downtown, apologizing that the students had raised a false fire alarm, and offering a hundred dollar check to the firemen for their inconvenience. No part of the university was a stranger to the founder. And with great enthusiasm, he embarked on the construction of the campus and the implementation.
And so on the opening day on October the 7th in 1868, 412 freshmen students attended the gathering, the largest freshman class of any university in the country on this remarkable campus. And Ezra Cornell's recorded remarks are, "I trust we have laid the foundation for an university where any person can find instruction in any study." And so he had, and he died in 1874.
And on the first celebration of his birth, the centennial celebration in 1907, his visionary predictions had come true. There were over 3,000 students, including 400 women, including a host of international students. The buildings on the arts quad that are now familiar, some of them had already come into existence. And plans were in hand for the construction of the ag campus, and with it, a whole new range of activities for Cornell. And so that dream continues. This unreasonable vision lives on today.
He literally broke the medieval model for universities, which had dominated those Dreaming Spires that he and Andrew Dickson White had dreamed about, broke the mold because the medieval model persisting well into the 19th century was based upon knowledge as contemplation, knowledge in isolation, the ivory tower.
What Cornell did was to affirm the union of knowledge and action, of learning and life. Cornell introduced knowledge into the field, into the farm, into the factory. Cornell embraced the needs of the nation and brought them into the lecture room. Cornell recognized the challenges of society and dragged them into the labs of the university. A new kind of university was developed.
Listen to Frederick Rudolph, the historian of higher education. Frederick Rudolph writes, "Cornell brought together in creative combination a number of dynamic ideas under circumstances that turned out to be incredibly productive. There was no way to stop the arrival of the American University. Andrew Dickson White and Ezra Cornell turned out to be the developers of the first American University, and therefore, the agents of revolutionary reform."
"The United States has been so coastal in its definition of what has happened that even now, in Cambridge and Baltimore, New York, and Philadelphia, the suggestion that Ithaca, New York is where the American university was first successfully defined still comes as news."
"The telegraph has not reached Boston and New York." What was Ezra's vision? An institution has now become over 4,200 institutions. Any person has now given way to an embracing composition of the student body in every university in the nation.
47% of college-age white men and women are now registered in college. 41% of African-American men and women of college age, 18 to 22, are now enrolled in college, and 35% of Hispanic men and women. And minority enrollment in the last decade has increased at the rate of 51%, whereas non-minority has increased by 3%. That is any person.
Women now outnumber men, to the tune of 56% of the total enrollment. And their growth in enrollment during the last 35 years has increased three times as fast as men. Any person, and that needs to continue, because the college degree having once been an adornment, is now an essential to life. It is estimated that over 90% of future jobs will require an advanced degree, and that the gap between a high school graduate and a college graduate is now a million dollars during a lifetime.
And then any study, the classical curriculum of 1865 has been blown apart, not abandoned, but incorporated in a wider curriculum. Newman's idea of a university has been wedded to Franklin's idea of practicality. And I love the fact that Ezra Cornell was distantly related to Benjamin Franklin, first cousin five times removed on his maternal grandmother's side.
The university that Mr. Cornell invented has become the foundation for everything that is successful in the life of the nation. Culturally, medically, in terms of health, in terms of industry, in terms of business, in terms of agriculture, every aspect of our lives has been touched by this remarkable vision.
And so today, it would be good to end at that point, and perhaps you're wishing I should. It would be good simply to celebrate that fact and talk about the wonderful implications from law, to engineering, and from poetry, to politics that higher education has had upon our lives.
Is it a perfect model? No, of course it's not. It is, as Churchill said of democracy, it's the worst of all forms of government, except for every other. And in fact, it has its flaws. The curriculum is fragmented. There is departmental territorialism, which is corrosive. Structural reform remains elusive in our universities. The public schools languish.
On our international rankings of the percentage of the population who graduate from college, we have slipped from first place to seventh place, in spite of the fact that knowledge matters so much. Half our students do not graduate in time. Not at Cornell, but nationwide.
Science and engineering numbers of graduates are far too small. But on a larger canvas, the situation is far more serious. If one looks at the world, the needs of the world other needs that Ezra Cornell and his contemporaries faced in the 1860s.
HG Wells once declared, "Human history is more and more a race between education and catastrophe." half the world's population is below 30 years in age. It is estimated that there are 30 million people qualified for but unable to obtain admission to universities and colleges worldwide. Our graduation rate in this country is 37%. In Africa and parts of Asia and the Middle East, it is close to zero.
But all the problems we face, not simply of poverty, not simply of hunger, not simply of inequality, but also of hatred, and division, all these problems in the end are influenced by education, by higher education.
And so the question for us, I think, is, how do we share this unreasonable vision which a century ago in the mid-1860s was so effectively powerful in transforming the life of this country? How do we share this unreasonable vision with the larger world? I have no answer to that solution, but it's one that you and I must address.
David Skorton, President Skorton two weeks ago at commencement, pleaded with graduates to start a movement to develop a new kind of Marshall Plan based on educational cooperation and sponsorship. And that's the kind of seed from which efforts such as the renewal of Ezra Cornell's vision might grow.
You and I are the lineal descendants of Ezra Cornell. Ezra is here, and we honor him, celebrate him. But in a real sense, we are also part of that remarkable lineage. And it is the extension of that unreasonable vision to which we're called.
How to re-enact it, how to explore its reformulation and reapplication, not simply on a statewide basis, and not on a national basis, but on a global basis, to the dwindling resources, to the exploding population, to the burgeoning climate change that now threaten us down the road. That is the challenge, it seems to me, to be as inventive as was Ezra Cornell.
You who are class leaders, you who are campaign contributors, you who are Cornell benefactors, you who are Big Red supporters, you who are loyal alumni, you who are concerned citizens, how do you and I reinvent this vision on the larger campus? Because it is your commitment, and creativity, and devotion, and help that can make Ezra's unreasonable vision refocused, and renewed, and reformulated, still a means of bringing hope to a divided and suffering world. Men and women of Cornell, sons and daughters all of Ezra Cornell, welcome to the unfinished business. Thank you.
ANNE KENNEY: Wow.
Frank has agreed to entertain any questions or hear comments from anyone in the audience, if you would care to ask a question. All right.
AUDIENCE: I agree with everything. The vision, the dream, the achievement. However, it's like not wanting Haitians in the Bahamas, or whatever. There were all the pithy little jobs that the educated people do not want. And we have to nurture intelligence and pleasure in their jobs, and have somebody who will bend and shovel. We don't need just equipment. Unfortunately, we need workers.
FRANK RHODES: I agree. I agree.
AUDIENCE: You can't educate everybody with a PhD because [INAUDIBLE].
FRANK RHODES: No, I agree.
AUDIENCE: I'm sorry.
FRANK RHODES: Would you repeat the question?
Come to the mic and do it.
AUDIENCE: I'm not very good with mics.
FRANK RHODES: No, no, it's OK.
ANNE KENNEY: That's all right. Neither are we.
AUDIENCE: I don't know-- wow, I'm working. I've been in the Bahamas, and they don't want the Haitians. But the Haitians do what the Bahamians won't do, and we have that in this country. And I agree with the dream, and the vision, and the achievement here.
But somehow, we have to increase the intelligence, the education, and the pleasure in menial work, because not everybody is going to be at our level. We have to have people working for us, and happily. Dr. Rhodes nodded and said, yes, it's quite right. So I'm putting the ball back in his park.
FRANK RHODES: No, I agree with the point you made. And you may remember somewhere hours ago in the early part of the lecture, I said Ezra Cornell's conviction was that two things were needed. One was education and the other was hard work. I think that's what drove his political views as well as his educational views. But he was the embodiment of this. He was a farmer mechanic. He worked with his hands as happily as he worked thinking about his philanthropy. And it is not either/or. It is both. I agree.
AUDIENCE: We have to nurture the people who cannot be here.
FRANK RHODES: Absolutely. Absolutely. I agree. And that's why languishing schools are a problem for us. Yes, please.
AUDIENCE: Name half a dozen organizations that you feel have started to pick up on the vision that you're presenting, or embody some of the passions that we think has a chance of succeeding.
FRANK RHODES: I had a little trouble thinking of any, to tell you the truth. It's such an amorphous kind of challenge that I don't know any organization that is really taking hold of this one.
AUDIENCE: What about some of our ex-presidents of the United States?
FRANK RHODES: Well, the Jimmy Carters, and the George Bushes, and the Bill Clintons between them, if they would make this an international undertaking, I think it would have force. It would have driving power. But it is so difficult to know how to get it off the ground at the kind of level that most of us operate in, certainly at the level that I live in. I wish I could say here are half a dozen. I'm not able to do that, which probably shows it's an unreasonable vision.
AUDIENCE: I believe you said the graduation rate is 37%. I'm a believer in two years of compulsory federal service for every 18-year-old American. I wonder how many or by how much we would increase the graduation rate if we had university students who had put in two years of federal service in this country before they entered the university. And whether that was in the military or picking up trash in Yellowstone, I think it would be of immense value to students have a gap between high school and university.
FRANK RHODES: I think many people would agree with you. I did not say incidentally, just for the record, that the graduation rate is 37%. I said that 37% of our adult population are graduates, which is a little different. But I think there is evidence that the degree of maturity and persistence in study is very definitely increased by one or two years of public service of that kind. Yes, please.
AUDIENCE: It seems like we are losing many young boys and girls to higher education because of the deterioration of the family, and the family unit, and the issues involved there. And educators struggle with capturing a child for six or eight hours a day when there are problems with drugs and all other sorts of social issues going on in a home. How can the educational institutions have an impact on the family institution?
FRANK RHODES: Yeah. How can educational institutions improve the stability of the family? I wish I knew. Now, in contrast to being able to speak about no foundations or others involved here, there are scores of foundations and worthy organizations devoted to this.
But we're grappling with something as complex as problems of human nature and fidelity, and that is tough. It is very tough. But it is not an encouraging picture, certainly in this country. I'm not sure it's as discouraging in other parts of the world. I've cast a thorough pall upon the day.
AUDIENCE: I'm wondering what Cornell can do or is doing to either encourage its students or broader community to respond to some of the challenges you've outlined.
FRANK RHODES: Yes. What is Cornell doing or what can Cornell do to encourage the kind of community service we're talking about? I retired 12 years ago. And I wish-- before I retired, I could have quoted you figures, but I can now not quote you figures. But I can tell you the participation of Cornell students in just this kind of activity is extraordinary in support programs and volunteer programs in the community, coaching youngsters in school, dealing with homeless families, serving food shut-ins, and working with environmental groups.
And that the participation of Cornellians in formal yearlong, two-yearlong programs and service, the Peace Corps and others, is very high. Maybe there are people here from Cornell who can give more details than I can on that. But I can assure you that that kind of public service is alive and well on this campus. Well, thank you, Ann.
ANNE KENNEY: Thank you once again, Dr. Rhodes. He did give a plug for the exhibit, which is in the reading room-- sorry, the exhibit room of the Kroch Library. And we will also be holding a reception there now until six o'clock. I hope you all will join us.
You reach Kroch Library by going through Olin, and going all the way to the end, and then down two flights. It's a wonderful exhibit, and there will be staff from the division of rare and manuscripts collection there to answer questions. So thank you all for coming.
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In his Reunion Weekend talk, President Emeritus Frank H.T. Rhodes exposes the personal and historical sinew of the founder's life and radical philanthropic dream of comprehensive higher education for all. He asked the standing-room-only audience of alumni in Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium to join him in "re-imagining, reformulating and reapplying" that vision on a global scale for the future of a world rife with suffering and threatened with environmental collapse.