TOMMY BRUCE: Well, good afternoon. I'm Tommy Bruce, Vice President for University Communications. And I'm very happy to see you all here. And I'm also quite honored to introduce to you-- I'm going to introduce to you Pete Meinig, Chairman of the Board of Trustees. And I'll let the Chairman make the announcement.
PETER MEINIG: Well, I have the great pleasure of announcing to the university community that today, this morning, at our board of trustees meeting, my good friend Bob Harrison was elected chairman of the board of trustees of Cornell University effective January 1, 2012. I will continue as chairman for the next nine and 1/2 months, and Bob and I will work very closely together, and he will take on the responsibility as chairman the beginning of next year.
TOMMY BRUCE: At this point, Mr. Chairman Elect, would you like to--
ROBERT HARRISON: Well, this is a tremendous honor. I have been on the board for nine years, this time around as an alumni elected trustee and then a board elected trustee. And this is actually my second stint on the board because I was a student trustee in 1975 and '76. I graduated in '76 from the Arts College and had been a student trustee at that time. So this is really quite an amazing circle closed for me, and I'm very honored and privileged to be in this role starting January 1. Happy to answer any questions that anyone has.
TOMMY BRUCE: Questions? Go ahead, Liz.
AUDIENCE: I'd like to ask Mr.Meinig, are you going to stay on the board as a trustee?
PETER MEINIG: No. The custom at Cornell, and I believe it's the appropriate custom, is when the chairman steps down, the new chairman comes in, the chairman does not continue on the board. And that's certainly my intention. I believe that's proper, frankly, for any board, whether it's a corporate board or a university board.
But Cornell has a way of keeping former trustees, emeritus trustees involved, and I'll be at Bob's service and at the university's service. And anything that I can do to help going forward, I'll be very happy to do.
ROBERT HARRISON: We do have a tradition at Cornell-- when trustees have served at least two terms with honorary service, great service-- we do have a tradition of voting them as emeritus trustees. And we have about 72 or 73 emeritus trustees who are senior members of the board who spent at least two terms with the board and then became the emeritus trustees. And many of them show up at every single meeting and contribute to the discussion. And my guess is that that would apply to Chairman Meinig as well.
TOMMY BRUCE: Go ahead.
AUDIENCE: What do you plan to do differently than Mr. Meinig?
ROBERT HARRISON: Not a lot. He's been a great role model, I have to say that I have learned a tremendous amount from watching him as chair for the past nine years. And I'll give you a contrast between the way it is now and the way it was when I was a student trustee in '75, '76 just to make the point. I think that then, student trustees were essentially tolerated.
They were not treated as they are today, which is as full members of the board whose views are taken dead seriously, and respected by the board, and encouraged to participate in the discussion. And I think that a large part of that change in culture has been what Pete has brought to his running of board proceedings. And I guess I would say that that's something that I would want to continue.
The second thing that is, I think, very appropriate is Pete has involved-- Chairman Meinig has involved many parts of the Cornell community in discussions when we're here on campus. We've initiated dinners with the deans. We've initiated receptions with the faculty. Last night we had a dinner with students.
And obviously, we can't do it with all students or all faculty, but we do do it with representatives. And that has really given us a great opportunity to hear directly what's on the minds of different constituencies. And I think I'd want to continue that. I guess if you're asking whether I would change anything, I think I need a little bit more time in the job before I come up with that list.
TOMMY BRUCE: Jim. Go ahead.
AUDIENCE: Yes. First, Pete, congratulations and thank you for your tremendous service to the university. It's been appreciated by many of us. As you look back over this decade that you've presided over, is there one thing or one event that sort of focuses the advice you're going to give to Mr. Harrison as he goes forward?
PETER MEINIG: Well, Jim, let me say I have nine months to go. And to be honest, I haven't started reflecting. I think we'll probably have a chance to have some more conversations in the future where we can do some reflection. My focus today is really on what's going on at Cornell today and what's going to happen at Cornell for the next nine months and beyond, and how I can provide a good transition for Bob.
But I'll be happy to talk to you in the future about some reflections on the past. I think today's about Bob and the excitement of having a new chair elect and, and I would hope that our focus today would be on that. But I'm not ducking the question.
AUDIENCE: I'll consider that an acceptance of an interview.
PETER MEINIG: Yeah, thank you. You got it.
TOMMY BRUCE: Go ahead.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] Full circle, being able to come back to Cornell. How does that feel?
ROBERT HARRISON: Well, I don't really feel like I've left Cornell. I graduated in '76, went over to Oxford for a couple of years, then went to Yale Law School. And I really have, since I've been back in the professional world, stayed in touch with Cornell. I've been involved with reunions ever since the first one. And I've, as I said, been on the board for the past nine years. So I really don't feel like I've ever left this place.
AUDIENCE: So Mr. Harrison, why did you decide to become the chairman?
ROBERT HARRISON: Well, there's a fallacy in your question. People don't decide to become the chairman. What happens is there are many people on this board who are qualified to be chair. And there's a long process that involves what's called the Committee on Board Membership searching for any successor to the chair that currently exists.
And so that process has been ongoing for many months. And just in the past few weeks, the board committee asked if I would take on this responsibility. But I didn't actually campaign for it.
PETER MEINIG: Let me just reiterate a point that Bob made. You know, we have a large board, 64 members, including the public members of our board. And I would say, almost without exception, every one of these board members is a board leader, a board chairman of a board in his or her own community. So these are very strong leaders, and so our pool is very large. And Bob rose to the top of that pool. But we have a very well-qualified board of trustees. And it's almost an embarrassment of riches.
And the challenge that the chairman has is involving all of the trustees, keeping them involved because they're all leaders. And our board members do a great job of checking their ego at the door and acting as a board member should do, acting for the collective good of the university. And we're truly blessed that that is the case.
TOMMY BRUCE: In the back. Please identify yourself.
AUDIENCE: Everybody, of course, hurting financially at this time. And I think of the board voting to develop a budget with a tuition increase for next year. How do you plan on handling these challenges that the university is facing moving forward?
ROBERT HARRISON: Well, the board, at the same time, is very conscious of those challenges, and in the depths of the financial crisis, increased the financial aid package by essentially digging into the endowment and providing incremental $30 million or so of financial aid annually.
And so I think the board is extraordinarily sensitive to both the increasing costs of higher education, on the one hand, and the increasing challenges that the families of our students, a majority of our students, are going through. And the financial aid package, I think, is the way to bridge that gap.
TOMMY BRUCE: Go ahead.
AUDIENCE: Hi. Susan Kelly with the Cornell Chronicle. Mr. Meinig, what would you say Mr. Harrison brings to the table in particular? You just mentioned the deep bench that we've got here at Cornell? But what, in particular, does he bring to the chairmanship?
PETER MEINIG: Well, Bob has a great background. He has a great education-- Cornell, Yale-- great business experience, and frankly, great experience through the Clinton Global Initiative in the public sector. And Bob has demonstrated his capability for many years on the board. He's chaired numerous committees on the board.
He most recently has chaired the executive committee. He led the task force that looked in depth at the medical research building project, which was a major commitment by our university. And he's done all of this with great success. And so it's background, it's performance, and it's great expectation for the future. And Bob certainly fills all of those qualities.
AUDIENCE: I'm here with The Daily Sun. Just sort of more generally speaking, what do you see as the role of the board of trustees in working with Skorton, making decisions, and if at, all opposing any decisions he makes?
ROBERT HARRISON: Well, the board, as I've seen it now for the past nine years, is very much a supportive board of the administration. It is not sticking its fingers into running the university. It's really providing advice. It's seeking to be told by the administration what is going on on campus and what are the proposals to deal with some of the major issues, the major challenges-- the strategic planning process that President Skorton and Provost Fox just went through is a perfect example of that-- and then essentially endorsing those.
To the extent that there's something which we disagree with, we'll say it. The board is a very candid group, and yet we don't feel as if it's our role to manage the university. It's our role to essentially support the management of the university. And that's why we have President Skorton and his team. And he has done a phenomenal job in the years that I've observed him.
TOMMY BRUCE: One more question. At this point, thank you very much. Good luck.
ROBERT HARRISON: Thank you guys. Thank you. This is still the chairman for another 10 months.
PETER MEINIG: Thank you, everybody.
ROBERT HARRISON: Thanks.
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Robert S. Harrison, a 1976 Cornell graduate and chief executive officer of the Clinton Global Initiative, was unanimously elected chair of the Cornell University Board of Trustees at its March 11 meeting in Ithaca. Harrison's two-and-a-half-year term begins Jan. 1, 2012, when he will succeed Peter C. Meinig '61.
Tommy Bruce, vice president for university communications, joined Meinig and Harrison to make the announcement at a press conference March 11 in the Statler Hotel.