It is a pleasure to be here this morning with David Skorton, Cornell's 12th President, and Elizabeth Garrett, Cornell's 13th President-elect, who begins her tenure this July 1st. It is a unique opportunity for the campus community to hear from both of you, certainly in this special year of our sesquicentennial. So I'll start with just a few questions. And I thought--
Joel, could I--
--interrupt you by just saying one thing. Before we get into the questions, I just want to tell everybody out there who's looking at this, and those who are reading this, how thrilled I am with Lucky 13. And the search committee and the board of trustees did a fabulous job. And I want to say to all the folks who are going to read this on campus and off, you're going to really enjoy the leadership of Elizabeth Garrett. Welcome to Cornell.
Thank you so much. And it has been great fun to get to work with David during this transition and work together to think about our future together. I feel enormously fortunate to be following in the footsteps of a leader like David. So thank you, number 12.
Thank you, 13.
Excellent. Well, I thought we would start by talking a bit about your thoughts on the role of a president of a major research university. I could certainly think of a few of the more important traits-- the ability to build consensus, confidence, vision. What do you think about those three? Or what other elements would you say is most important for a successful university president? David, why don't we start with you?
Sure. I think you have some of the right elements, for sure. I might rearrange the order a little bit. I'm a big believer that universities-- and actually, many big organizations-- thrive from the bottom up, and that top down sort of leadership and management doesn't usually fit with this paradigm exactly. So I think vision is number one.
And I've learned, by making many mistakes over two presidencies, that the most effective tool a president has at a successful research university like Cornell is persuasion. Is persuasion. And that persuasion has to be based on a vision that can be compelling enough to bring people along, no matter what part they play in a complex organization. And then, of course, confidence in the vision, as you suggest, is very, very important. And then, the ability to try to bring folks together.
Sometimes, unfortunately, people will not come together in a very gated organization, like a research university. And so the other thing I would add is that the president has to occasionally be very decisive and have the courage of her convictions to push forward. Despite, sometimes, the lack of a total consensus, especially on difficult issues.
I agree with David that vision is the most important aspect of a presidential leadership. And that vision comes from conversations with the constituent groups, with the faculty, the staffs, the students, the alumni. And it's the president's great role to bring those groups together to think about their ambitions, their hopes and aspirations for the future, and then articulate that for the institution in a way that captures all of those desires, and ambitions, and hopes.
I also think what's very important-- and I have been so pleased at Cornell to find this-- is a president cannot succeed unless he or she has a terrific team of people. This is a complex organization, a university. And Cornell is particularly complex, with its hybrid nature of public aspects but in a private liberal arts research university, dedicated to the very best teaching, with a wide geographic presence not just in New York, with all of the extension, and New York City, and Ithaca, but also throughout the world. And no one person can manage that kind of complex institution without the help of a great team of academic and university leaders, and without the support and active involvement, engagement, by faculty, staff, students and alumni. So the presidents are really only as successful as the people she or he has around that President.
As a member of that team, I happen to agree with that.
You know, if I can just add one thing of thought that was stimulated by 13's excellent comments. In a college town like Ithaca, where we're the largest employer by far-- not only in the city, in the town, but the county-- one of those constituencies that's very important is to be on a listening tour constantly in the community beyond our walls. Everyone in a place like Tompkins County is hugely affected by Cornell University decisions and actions, whether or not the individual actually works for Cornell.
Excellent point. David, any advice for Beth as she prepares to start her tenure? What are the more difficult parts of the job? The hardest to describe to someone about to take on this responsibility?
So forgive me for sort of a contrarian comment, but my main advice to number 13 is don't worry too much about what number 12 did. Because Cornell is a gentle place. The Cornell community is a very gentle community, very emotional and sentimental about their leaders. Hopefully, not too sentimental while they're in office. But you have-- and I mean this from the heart-- you have a fabulous record in academia as a scholar, as a public servant, and as a leader, and especially as an academic leader in one of the nation's top schools. Now that's saying a lot for me, since I went to UCLA to be able to say something positive about USC. But I've grown as a person a lot.
And I can say that USC is one heck of an institution. And its recent, very positive academic trajectory-- and not only in the sorts of things we think about in Ithaca, but in the health sciences, which are such an important part of USC and Cornell-- you have been a fantastic leader. So the one piece of advice, the most important piece of advice, is to have the courage of your own convictions. And the tradition of former presidents of Cornell is to be there when the current incumbent wants advice, whatever, but not to impose that. So the number one, I think, is to do your own thing, and don't worry too much about 12, 11, 10, 9. I think you don't have to worry at all before that.
Just as Beth has already eloquently said, in building that vision-- through listening, and digging, and asking questions, and being responsive to constructive criticism-- I think that, no matter how far you get, how many years you've been president, it's always good to continue to do those soundings, always to be on a sort of a listening tour as you're slugging out the day to day issues. Those would be the two main things. Do your own thing, and constantly listen.
And Beth, you have been-- I guess it's been since late September, when you were announced as the President-elect. You've been very much on a listening tour. I'm wondering, any reflections? Any thoughts based on what David--
Well, this transition period is really a gift to me. Very few academic leaders have the opportunity that David has made possible for me to really spend time meeting people, listening, getting a sense of the culture, of the aspirations. Usually, you're named, and then a few weeks later, you're in the job, thrown in, and making those kinds of decisions that David talks about. And so I think of this as an enormously important time for me, as I think about the next steps for this institution, building on the terrific foundation that David and so many before him have laid for all of us.
And I have been listening. I've been in Ithaca a few times. I've been in New York City. I've traveled around meeting alumni. I'm going to continue to do that until we, my husband and I, move here on July 1st. And it's just been great. One of the things that has amazed me has been the deep enthusiasm for Cornell by all of those constituencies. The students love it. I remember I went into one of the buildings in the residential area, and I saw students over with their iPhones checking it out, because they could tell that this was somebody they'd seen, and they were figuring out if I was the 13th president. And they came over, they welcomed me. The faculty have been excited to share their work with me. I'm visiting all the schools. I visited staff.
And the alumni-- I will say, David, what impresses me about Cornell's alumni is not only their deep love for this institution. But when they talk about their years-- and as faculty members, I think this is going to resonate for us-- they mention particular faculty members and particular classes that made a difference in their lives. And I've been involved with a lot of schools, both as a faculty member and as a student, and I have never seen that, a uniform response. But you know, they'll talk about the sports, or the environment, or the cold, or the-- but to have them talk about actual classes, you know, that just makes someone who is a professor at heart really feel like this is the kind of place that we want to continue to nurture and to move forward.
This is such a perceptive observation among many that you've made. I was also struck-- and still to this day continually am struck-- by the tough connections, strong connections, that people have with a particular professor. And you always hate to single someone out, but our dean of the continuing education summer sessions, Glenn Altschuler, has been here for a few seasons, and is not only a really good teacher, but has this tremendous history of being a very strong and effective advisor for generations and generations of undergraduates. And I still, in my waning months, will run into people who will say, well, say hi to my old professor Glenn Altschuler. And I'll say, tell me what you mean by old! And I can't actually tell you the whole story of what they say. But that's just one of many, many examples. It's a very, very astute observation.
Well, let's look back a bit and your long careers as students. Here's a chance for us to give some thought as to who, in your background, which teachers kind of stand out as ones who helped you learn lessons that perhaps might be of particular value in your current role and in the role you're about to take on. Who's had that big impact, from whether it's high school, college, your career since?
Well, one professor in particular from my undergraduate years at the University of Oklahoma stands out, because I still stay in touch with him. Professors who profoundly shape your life are people who not only teach you how to think, how to be resilient, how to use-- in my case, I was a history major. History is a way to inform decisions currently and in the future. But they are also people who give you a confidence as a student, who help you think about how you're going to forge your own path.
And a professor of history-- it was an American history professor from whom I took a lot of classes at the University of Oklahoma, named David Levy. I think of him and some of his colleagues teaching me how to write, teaching me how to think critically, how to take what we learn about the past and move it into the future. I studied as a history major, and also as a legal scholar, institutions always fascinated me, both formal institutions and then informal ones that grow up over time. And thinking about how those institutions shape outcomes.
But David's real influence on me was not so much what happened in the classroom, but it was his advice, and it was his support and his confidence in me that has made a difference. And he's somebody that I see every time I go back home. And I think about all the generation of students. You know, as a professor, when people think about your legacy, your legacy is your students. Right? They're the people who move into the world, who take-- they don't exactly what you told them. I don't know if they remember everything. They take the tone and the support and the energy. And that's what David has meant to me. And I still stay in touch with him.
And what was his reaction when you told him you had been selected as the next president?
So I saw him at Christmas, when I went home to visit my folks in Oklahoma. And I had just been reading Carl Becker's The Founders, which is a spectacular history of Ezra and A.D. White. And I think it's remarkable that Cornell's history is written by very serious historians. Often histories of universities are sort of written by popular-- you know, not really serious scholars. And Carl Becker has written this fantastic book that I recommend.
And I had not told David that I was reading it. He shows up with his personal collection of Carl Becker's works that are not always available now. And he said, I want you to give these back to me, but I want you to read this very special part of Cornell that I know will speak to you as a historian. And then I showed him The Founders and said I'd already started my homework.
David, in your past, who has made that impactful-- level of impact in your life?
I've had three teachers who have affected me strongly. In elementary school, when my family moved from Wisconsin to Los Angeles, I had an elementary school teacher, Mrs. Hunt. And I had a stammering problem, pretty severe stammering problem. And she was-- not so much in an academic sense, but in a sense of giving me the courage, and motivation, and optimism that I could get through that-- she would actually call on me in class and tell me, I'm going to call on you today, I want you to just take a deep breath, and some little tricks in those days that they had for coping with stammering. So that helped a lot in that.
When I was a first year medical student at Northwestern University, we had a real unexpected profound illness in the family. And I was distracted, and I failed a course. And it was histology. And the group-- it wasn't a single faculty, but the group of faculty and teaching assistants-- got together and said, we're going to work with you in the break between this and the next quarter. And they surrounded me by sort of motivation and a little extra home, home assignments, sort of an independent study. And I went through and had a very positive trajectory the rest of medical school.
The last one, who was the most profound, who just passed away recently, is a professor named Joseph Perloff, who was a cardiology professor at Penn, who moved to UCLA the day that I started my cardiology fellowship. And he was a pioneer of caring for patients with inborn congenital heart disease, by far the most common birth defect in the developed world, by far. And following them as they transitioned into adolescents and adults, and had babies, and got jobs, and all the things that we take for granted in adolescence and young adulthood.
And in meeting him, I was so inspired by the motivation that he gave the patients themselves and their families to just look toward the future. I just fell in love with the field and with the guy. And he was my mentor right up to the week before he passed away. And I had a chance to go back to Los Angeles and deliver one of many thoughts about him at a memorial service. And he had a really profound effect. I was all set to go into private practice in Beverly Hills. I had my life all planned out. And he turned my thinking, interested me in research, and really had a big effect. So Mrs. Hunt, the histology group at Northwestern, and Joe Perloff.
And it strikes, it's this wonderful continuum, that here are these individuals that impacted you. And I'm sure there are countless individuals that you had this role in their lives.
Well, you hope so. You really hope so. I think one of the most delightful things about being a professor is being in an airport, going from one plane to another, and hearing someone yell from across the aisle, Professor Garrett, where are you doing? That's a real, you know-- it's just really fun to think about people that you've been able to touch then going out and shaping the world.
Yeah, that's terrific.
See, when I hear somebody call my name--
You never know why they're calling you.
I want to turn the attention a bit to some of the challenges that we face, not only at Cornell, but at higher education institutions around the country. Just to pick a few, I'd love your perspective on how we are faring with them. Mental health, sexual assault, hazing. I'm hoping you can talk a bit about how you approach them from your backgrounds. David, as a physician. Beth, as a legal scholar. How are these issues shaping what we're doing as an institution, as a place where we're educating students? And what more can we be doing?
Well, certainly our backgrounds, I'm sure, influence what we think about. But my guess is we both approach this, actually, as a president and a professor who believe that we have to have a community in which our members are safe. We are trusted with the greatest treasure of a family, the education of their children. And I always feel that when a family sends us their children, they're sending us those children to be made responsible adults, to have their minds expanded, their opportunities and their frontiers expanded, and to be kept safe.
And I have always believed that, as an academic community, we have a responsibility to take care of each other. We cannot tolerate sexual violence, assault, treating people with disrespect, as hazing does. That is not acceptable behavior for an academic community. And if we see people who are moving in that direction, we need to tell them to stop. If we see people who are in a vulnerable situation, we need to protect them. We are a community that takes care of one another. And my guess is, as presidents, we approach that with that first and foremost.
And certainly, I'm also a lawyer, and I think about how we also navigate through various regulatory requirements and how you create institutions to allow the appropriate response to emerge from a University when bad things happen, as they inevitably do. But to me, that's really kind of secondary. The first and foremost instinct is I want my students, and my faculty, and my staff, to be safe and in an environment where they can flourish and move their research, teaching, education, and creative work forward.
I can't imagine anybody could have said that better. I agree completely. And the only small thing I would add is-- in addition to watching out for each other and to absolutely not tolerating behavior that's disrespectful, dangerous, or worse-- I think we want to have, as was implied in Beth's remarks, an environment that feels so safe that people will come forward with their issues. And too often, certainly in sexual assault and in mental health problems, the stigma, which is so unfair and so illogical, the stigma is so strong to this day I believe that people will not come forward. And of course, since we don't know who doesn't come forward, we don't really have any idea how deeply the problem goes.
We can estimate, we can deal with instances that come to our attention in any of these areas that you talked about. But I think having people feel safe, as an extension of what you said, safe enough to come forward and take a chance. To trust the president and the system that they will be heard and that justice will prevail, whatever that means in the case, is very, very important.
And I remember the year that we had the six suicides, which was my most difficult year as a leader, ever. I hope I never have a year like that again. I said on campus, if you learn one thing at Cornell, learn to ask for help. And it was gratifying to me that students were chalking it on the sidewalk and saying things. And I hope-- I don't know, but I hope that that exhortation somehow moved people to be courageous enough.
And it does take courage to come out and say, you know, I'm hurting. I'm struggling. Something is happening that I don't really have my arms around. And I know, because of your approach to people, and the fact that you have so much faculty experience, that the whole community will understand that you also want them to come forward, and that you will set the tone, as you already are doing in this interview, to have people know that they're safe with you and your team. It's very, very important.
Well, and David, you've taken a lead in this. I think in the country, you've really been seen as somebody who has taken a lead in creating that kind of environment. And one of the strengths of Cornell is all the work that David, and Susan Murphy, and others have done to create an environment where people are comfortable. But you're exactly right, it's something we have to say all the time. Education can't just be an orientation about the need to come forward and the resources that we have.
Cornell has tremendous resources to help students and faculty who are dealing with mental health issues, issues of stress, family issues. Things happen in life, and you need help. And we have resources to deal with that. But we have to constantly remind people. Because, of course, when you get into trouble, it's often the time that you feel the most alone, and you don't reach out your hand and ask for help. And that's when we really have to come in. But I do think Cornell really is an exemplar for higher education, and it's been through David's leadership and the leadership of these terrific individuals, and I think the faculty also making sure that that's part of what they see their responsibilities. So we will continue that message.
Just a very slight disagreement with number 13. I think my part in that was marginal, and I do think it's very, very good of you, and I thank you for mentioning Susan Murphy. Through two decades of Distinguished Service as a Vice President for Student and Academic Services, she has really set the standard, including the formal health services and the informal environmental. So one of the things we're celebrating during this 2015 year is Susan's retiring from that position, although she staying with us. So thanks for bringing her up.
Let's talk a bit about the cost of a Cornell education. David, you often say that you wish you could have done more during your tenure to try to keep costs down. At the same time, your financial aid initiative stands as a hallmark of your administration. Beth, you've spoken candidly about how a college education is a smart investment, and it's worth going into a reasonable amount of debt to finance it. Can you share your thoughts, both of you, on the cost of a college degree? What's the value of a Cornell education? How do we balance that with the realities of debt burdens that students often are faced with after they graduate?
Well, right now, about 1/3 of adults in the United States have had a college education, which means 2/3 have not. And so of course there's skepticism, understandable skepticism, about whether you really have to go to college. In some of the circles that we move in, especially being at the cocoon of a research university and one of the top ones anywhere in the world, people tend to think, well, everybody's got to go to college, and so on and so forth. And I'm a believer that it's very important to have post secondary education. I don't think one size fits all. And I think one of the many strengths of the American higher education system is its variety, and its comprehensiveness, and its breadth.
So I think, number one, not everybody has to go to a school as expensive as a research university, and they're very expensive. The publics and the privates are expensive. The I kind of schools that both of us have worked at in recent years are really, really expensive. Well over $1,000 a week to go to these schools. And that's a lot of money by anybody's measure.
However, again, I agree very strongly with Beth's comment, or at least what you attributed to her, that a reasonable degree of debt is a good investment. And that's a very important philosophical point to make, but there's so much data behind it. Now, even though certain aspects the American economy have definitely recovered from the worst of the great recession, there's plenty of people struggling out there, still a lot of unemployment and, I would say, underemployment.
And so people want to think, you know, what are the tangible vocational benefits of a college education? And if you look at the inflation adjusted income of people without post-secondary completion, it's either flat or going down, depending on the demographic group, whereas that's not the case for those who have completed a post-secondary degree, which means the gap between those without a college education and with is actually widening for a variety of regrettable reasons.
And so, it doesn't take much math to figure out that, yes, it is definitely worth getting college degree. And despite outliers that are written up, sometimes in a sensational fashion, in the media, the average indebtedness-- I get the numbers approximate-- it's in the $30,000s, $33,000, something like that. It's less at Cornell. And so, you know, it's an individual decision. The price of a car, and not even all cars, against a lifetime of opportunities and a lifetime of increased earnings. I think it's a pretty easy choice.
And Cornell's really taken a leadership role through David's term, in very tough economic times, making sure that great students who were admitted into Cornell can afford to come here, not withstanding its cost. And that has allowed Cornell to have a tremendously diverse undergraduate population. I'm always very proud of the number of first generation college goers are in our environment and in our community. Because education has always been the promise of America. That's what America has stood for. And to see first generation college goers, and then thinking about how that profoundly changes their lives, is an inspiration to me as an academic leader.
And it is certainly the case, as David said, that experience at a research university, with a vibrant residential undergraduate community as part of it, as part of the teaching mission, is expensive. Even those who pay the full sticker price of Cornell's education are not paying for the full cost of their education. And I really think of education that results in a Cornell degree, which results in a very valuable asset, is worth investment. It's worth investment by our government, by our country. And that investment comes through Pell grants, through investments in our research, through various other mechanisms.
It's worthy of investment by the university community, which happens when our alumni support us through philanthropy, through endowing scholarships, through supporting our teaching. And it is very worthy of investment by students and their parents. And it is a very rational decision, in thinking about that investment, to think about incurring some level of reasonable debt that doesn't appreciably change the future opportunities once one graduates. Because this is an asset, this degree, that's going to return value not just economically, but in changing your life. Right? Lifelong openness to ideas, to education. Frankly, I don't think there is a better investment in the world than a Cornell degree or a degree from a place like Cornell.
And so I think we, as part of higher education, need to try to change the terms of the debate a little bit to focus not just on cost, but also on the value of that investment and the value of that. I will say one thing that does concern me, and I'm sure it does David, as well. These debates tend to be focused on undergraduate debt and the cost of an undergraduate degree. And we want to make sure that, if our students do graduate with debt from an undergraduate program, that the debt is not only manageable for them to go on and think about their lives, whether it's in public service, or in business, or in government, but it also doesn't then add up, when they go to graduate school, to an unsustainable amount of debt.
It's interesting, because the country is focused on undergraduate debit. But if you look at the growth of student debt, it has largely been in the graduate arena. And there again, it's a good investment. You know, getting a law degree from Cornell, medical degree from Weill Cornell, or any number of our graduate degrees, is a great investment. But we don't have the resources as much to help with financial aid there. And I know the schools themselves are looking at how they can help with philanthropy and other mechanisms to deal with that debt burden. But I think we have to look at both parts of our mission, both undergraduate and graduate, and think about that whole package when we think about how one finances acquisition of this amazing asset, a Cornell degree.
This is such an important point. Thank you for bringing it up. It took me 21 years to pay my total debt off, and I was the first one in my family to complete college. My sister started and had to drop out. And it's a very, very important point. And I think the reason, as you say, Beth, so accurately, that we don't tend to focus on it, is a teeny tiny part of Americana. So 1/3 of people get an undergraduate degree. Very few people go on to get a terminal doctorate degree, so far. And so people tend not to think about that as part of the general experience.
But from the point of view of delivering the services that we deliver, and thinking about the value, as you well said, we should have to think about that. And actually, Cornell has a terrific track record of people going on to graduate and professional degrees. And so that's-- it's very, very right.
So it's more relevant, I think, for our community than it might be for the overall.
Beth, you referenced the role of the federal government in helping to invest in financial aid. Certainly another area where federal investment over the years has proven extremely important to the societal advances we consider vital to our lives is the investment in research. And, as we know, for a variety of reasons, the federal investment in basic science research is on a stable-- at some points, less than stable-- trajectory. What can we do about that? And importantly, what do you feel about the opportunities to look at, perhaps, private sources of investment to go along with that?
Before we go there, Joel, the way you phrased that question made me think about another very important investor, both in our education here at Cornell, but also in the research that we do here. And that's the state government. And with respect to what we do in New York City, it's the city government. So I think one of the interesting things about Cornell and its complexity is that our focus, in terms of the government support that we receive, and how we think about returning to the larger communities some value for that investment, is we also have to think about the tremendous support that we get from the state of New York for our contract colleges and other work that we do throughout the university. And then, of course, the very special relationship we have with New York City as we move forward, and the exciting project that David started that I think will fundamentally shape this university, and that's Cornell Tech.
I love the way you've hijacked the conversation away from Joel's question, because your thing is so much more interesting than the sort of somewhat boring thing that Joel put in front of us. Sorry.
That's all right.
But thank you for reminding us, in this conversation, and all who read and listen to this and watch it, that there's really a three legged stool the Cornell has been part of. And that is the government writ large, so the federal, state government, and so on, our own capacities, and the unbelievable breathtaking philanthropy that we've gotten, whether from individuals, families, corporate, corporate foundations, other foundations. And so, it's so important to remember-- and in that governmental leg-- to remember the city government, the state government, the federal government. And Joel will correct me and edit this, if this is wrong, please. But the Cornell Cooperative Extension is also supported by counties. And some of those are, I think, passed through funds. But nonetheless, counties.
And so many levels of government support are important. But as you're leading us to-- obviously, we're all going to be very, very, very supportive of pushing our government to not forget the investment-- it's not a giveaway, it's not charity-- the investment that they make by research. And the only little twist that I would add that you've heard me say many times is that, as a lifelong scientist spending a life in medicine, I know that our toughest societal problems are not going to be solved by science alone.
And because I really believe that to be the case-- and we can talk about many examples of our-- in fact, some of the ones that you brought up earlier, in terms of behavior and campus climate, are problems that are going to be solved by social scientists, by people other than what you and I may refer to as basic science, by which I think we generally mean life sciences and physical and mathematical engineering sciences, so-called STEM disciplines. They're unbelievably important, but I hope that the country will not turn its back on the social sciences, the humanities, and the arts. Because that's part of what it means to be fully human, and, in the case of the social sciences and humanities, part of what it means to actually solve these problems.
Well, and that's what makes university research so important, right? There are different-- the reason the government must continue to keep us at the forefront of the world, in terms of university research, is first and foremost, it's done in the environment of an entire research university. And when corporations or businesses do research, and that's very important, it's often a silo.
Here, we have great fundamental scientists pursuing knowledge and discovery for its own sake. That then can be taken out in the world through translational work, through engineers, through people at Weill Cornell, through any number of arenas. It's surrounded by great social scientists who are asking hard questions about how it affects policy, how it affects behavior, how we construct institutions.
And then, we have the humanists around us who are asking deep and important questions about how does this interact with growing inequality and access to some of these amazing discoveries? How do we communicate the joy and the importance of these discoveries, not just through dry scientific and scholarly papers, but through the arts? Through music? Through different kinds of communication vehicles? How do we ask hard questions about some of the ethical issues? That's why it's important to do science, a certain kind of science, in a university and not rely entirely on the corporate sector.
Another reason I think it's important-- and one worry I have, not just with the level of government funding, but also its increasing emphasis on immediate translation into results, and a need to show immediately why giving David $2 million is going to solve this problem within this number of days. Of course that's important, and that's what it ultimately leads to, but you don't have that pipeline. You don't have the researchers, and the students , the post-doctoral students, the PhD students, just pursuing discovery and truth for its own sake.
You know, there's so many discoveries that our colleagues in universities have made. We don't even know what they're going to mean for awhile, right? We're not even ready for them yet. But when we need them, it's important that they're there. And that will never happen outside of a university context. That's what we're about. We are about finding the truth.
The thing that makes us the happiest as professors is just trying to solve a really hard problem just to do it. And then maybe we'll take it on, or maybe somebody else will, but you can't lose that. And that's what makes the United States so special. it's what's put us at the lead in innovation, in research, in all of these fields, if you look at the world. But if you look at our investment, the United States investment in this kind of research is going down relative to our competitors in the world.
And I just think, as a matter of the United States standing in the world and where we want to be, we can't cede the leadership role in this area. This is the best investment that the government can make in anything. And I think we-- and I know David has been a leader in that-- but I really intend to try to be at the forefront of this conversation, and making sure people know the special things that happen in Cornell and how they affect everybody's lives.
Well, I think these very important issues that you raise, and the way you raise them through Joel's good offices and some of the folks around us today, that it will get out to the public. Because you have very, very convincing ways of putting that. And at the risk of being a little redundant, I want to focus, again, a tiny bit on the social sciences. Because multiple times over the last 20 or 30 years, there's been an honest lack of appreciation of the value of the social sciences in Congress. And we're going through an issue right now of perhaps purposeful disinvestment, for example, through the National Science Foundation. I know that you're aware and very active in that.
I do have one little bone to pick though, if I might.
When you talked about the dry papers and so on, where you referring to my 1986 book, Cardiac Imaging and Image Processing? I'll tell you why I hope not. Because when that book came out, it was a critical success. And the reviewers said everyone in the field should buy this book. But Beth, only my uncle Leo and my mom actually bought the book.
I think you'll find a third purchase. It's right on my bedside. Because I occasionally have some trouble going to sleep, and it's just right there.
Well, this will put you to sleep right away. And I've got to tell you, the publisher, which I don't want to mention, I still owe him a tiny bit of money on the advance since 1986. So please do read that book.
You talked earlier about the incredible Cornell alumni network. I've been here just now a little over 10 months, and I'm struck, on a daily basis, by this hard to quantify passion for Cornell that everyone who's been here feels and carries with them through the end of their lives. What is it about the Cornell alumnus? The Cornell alumna? How can we make sense of this unbelievable attachment to this university? And importantly, how can we best tap into it? What can we do to make sure that these alumni are being as engaged as they would like to be? What opportunities can we make sure are continually in front of them? David?
Well, you've hit it right on the head. And I was at-- I've been at a lot of universities with fabulously effective and excited alumni pools-- UCLA, Northwestern University, University of Iowa. I have to say, I've never experienced the kind of connection that people have to Alma Mater that I have at Cornell. I don't understand it, but I believe it's true. I wish I understood the mechanism of it. I will say that the phenomenon of reunion weekend-- which I went the first time, Beth, before Robin and I actually started on the Cornell payroll, in June of '06. Just a few weeks before we started, I went to reunion weekend.
And I thought, well, you know, I've been to a lot of alumni events. And it was unbelievable. It was absolutely unbelievable. And the highlight for me, every year at reunion weekend, is so-called Cornell [INAUDIBLE] night, where people sit in Bailey Hall, one of our big performing arts and lecture venues, and talk about Cornell, sing songs. You've been to one?
No, you haven't been to one.
I was out of town last June, but I'll be here this year.
Oh, I'll have to go.
It's really really, really amazing. And when you ask, how do we tap into it? I have a strong point of view on that.
I think it's respecting the alumni. As Beth mentioned earlier, when she was ticking off the constituencies at the beginning of our discussion, she said faculty, staff, students, and alumni. She just kept them all together, and that's the answer. What Beth has already tumbled to is the answer. To consider the alumni part of the community, part of the decision making, part of the forward planning, not only as a means of support. And we do get unbelievable support from alumni. Not just financial support, but political support, moral support, all kinds of support and constructive criticism.
But if the alumni feel-- and they're smart, and they'll know if they're being handled-- if the alumni feel that we are considering them part of the grassroots that plans and lives the university, they get even more engaged. And one of the things that I've learned through your predecessors and through my work with you, which has been such a joy already, Joel, is that adding on a few minutes of Q&A at the end of even a very formal speech opens the door not only to those few minutes, but to them emailing you afterwards, because maybe you took 3 questions, and there were 20 that didn't have a chance to be asked.
And I have gotten so much wonderful, wonderful input from that. Sometimes I disagree with it. What's the difference? It's the interaction. And so I think taking them seriously-- not just saying that we take them seriously, but really taking seriously, to me, that's the secret, if there is a secret, in taking that unbelievable engagement and even ratcheting it up a bit.
I agree with all of that. And the only thing I would add is, the other thing that has amazed me about the alumni is their attachment to the current students and faculty here. I talked a little bit about their memories of their professors in the past, and I really got to witness that. I was fortunate-- Joel and I were together in Washington DC, and we visited our great alum, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, on the Supreme Court. And I had known her when I clerked on the DC Circuit, and she was a circuit court judge. And I knew her husband, who is a fantastic tax scholar and practitioner. So we were just going in to talk to her, but it turned out the Cornell Glee Club was performing at the Supreme Court. And that was a wonderful. I got to participate in that.
But the thing that was special to me is when Justice Ginsburg took our students and gave them a special tour of the Supreme Court, and as only Ruth Bader Ginsburg could, talking about where the building was, and women's political movements that had been involved in that section. And I watch these students-- from freshman to senior-- watch her, and engage with her. And I watched her share her knowledge and her love of the Court, of the law, of Cornell. And that special bond, there was just something magical about that.
I really will never forget Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is a slight person, surrounded by these young men all hanging on every word that she said. And that to me was-- that kind of connection-- of course, it's wonderful when our alumni support us with their financial resources and their gifts. But it is that personal connection and sharing that kind of a story. And now, some of our students may be able to envision themselves someday standing in her place. Right? That's a really special thing. And I just thought I was fortunate to get to be part of it.
I felt lucky to be just an observer of it. It was terrific. So the theme of the spring issue of Ezra magazine is "Cornell Looks Forward." So let's take some time and look forward. Let's take us-- we're in our sesquicentennial year. Let's look 50 years beyond. The year is 2065. Wow. What do you think our global research university is going to look like at our 200th anniversary?
That's interesting. Because we talk a lot about whether technology has disrupted higher education so that it'll be unrecognizable in 10 years, let alone 50. My own sense is that what we're doing here on the Ithaca campus will look, in some ways, very much the same. I don't think there will ever be anything that replaces the special residential experience of an undergraduate education that happens, I think, particularly well at Cornell and the Ithaca campus.
Will there be more technological advances that change the way that we interact in our residential community? Absolutely. Will we take advantage of those? Will more of our students, thanks, I think, to some of David's inspiration, be traveling more globally? I hope so. Absolutely. Will our faculty and student body be even more diverse in all of the ways that we think about, as well as their approaches and their perspective, et cetera? Absolutely.
But I think that there is-- you know, if you think about universities, they are the most durable institutions, other than religion. And while they are resilient and they change, there's a fundamental nature of them that does stay the same, because there's a value in that.
But I also think that we will have more ways of reaching the world through technology, whether it's online, or distance, or whatever they call it. I'll be 101, so I'll still be here watching what happens. But you know, there will probably be different ways that we expand the reach and the influence of Cornell, reaching more people through new technologies and new ways of communication. We'll probably have even a deeper connection of our various campuses, including our footprint in New York City and our Ithaca campus.
I hope that Cornell Tech, which I think will be one of the things that we will talk about forever at Cornell, that David and others on your team made possible, and are dedicated alumni there too, that's really going to shape the way we as an institution approach teaching, research, interactions with the industry, et cetera. And I think you'll see profound influences of that in 50 years. But there will be some things that look the same and some things that are really different, is my guess.
I think that's very right. I would just add two minor things. One is, I think that it's likely that universities will be less departmentalized by 2065. Now, I'll be 150, and I'm sure I'll be there. And why you're laughing is beyond me, Vice President Malina but anyway, I think that the trend is toward more interdisciplinary work. And the interesting thing about the team that really put together the thinking for the Tech campus, there's no departments on that campus. There's areas of concentration that their leaders are calling hubs, for lack of some other term.
And I think it's likely-- just as you stated earlier, Beth, when you were talking about how problems are solved in the world, and these concentric circles of science, and social science, and humanities-- I think that things may become more problem based, or skill based. And perhaps we won't be as rigidly departmentalized. That's one.
And I think your comments about technology and the very low likelihood that a really top residential school like Cornell will change are right on, with one caveat. If the country-- employers, and grad schools, and professional schools-- ever get to the point where they can accept so-called competency-based educational achievement as an entree to the next level. For example, could you imagine, or could I imagine, a student going to law school or medical school without a baccalaureate degree? Now, in the case of medical school, for years, for generations, there have been six years schools. I went to one. I wasn't good enough. I was on the barely eight-year plan.
But Northwestern had, I think still to this day, a six-year program out of high school. And you didn't go for a baccalaureate degree. You went for a medical degree was some undergraduate type courses. And whether it's that kind of thing, or whether in certain specific fields-- I'm going to make something up-- statistics or some engineering fields. Whether a student could prove that she or he has the competency to go on to graduate training, or to an employer, without actually doing all the breadth requirements for a baccalaureate degree, I can't imagine it.
But other people, whom I greatly respect, can imagine it. And I think it's not impossible. So that's not so much a technological issue as it is, what do people think is necessary to go from Step 1, to Step 2, to Step 3? And there are, as you well know, some very prominent universities that are beginning to experiment with competency-based education and some sort of standardized testing.
And you can't imagine the legal profession without the bar. I can't imagine the medical profession-- I can dream about it, but I can't imagine--
When I was taking the bar, I wished I could have imagined it then.
I know, but I can't imagine the medical profession without the standardized tests, the boards. And so the only time where I see the word "disrupted" juxtaposed with something is not so much MOOCs or a particular technology, but just the idea, could a graduate-oriented institution imagine taking someone to go on to advanced training, and thinking, and creativity, and discovery, without getting a baccalaureate degree? I think that they may someday come. It'll be after my time, but those are the only two things-- non-departmentalization and the possibility of competency-based education. With that exception, I totally agree with what you said.
And I think we'll see moves in that way. My guess is we may-- and 50 years sounds like a very long time, but it could really be just tomorrow if you think about it, in terms of the length of an institution. Just [INAUDIBLE] you can envision that world with a competency-based training because, as you know, in Europe, law school is the baccalaureate degree.
I will say that, as long as I am a University leader, I will resist that trend, because I've always contrasted what we do at a great research university with a residential academic experience and, say, what happens in Europe, or Israel, or other places where law is the first degree-- my own field, which I knew better. I think we have better lawyers, and better professionals, because we do have this four year period where we emphasize the liberal arts. Where we emphasize creative thinking, where we emphasize resilience. We're not about, in the first four years, stuffing students' heads full of facts.
And it helps that they come out with some of those facts. But what we really want them to do is to have a different way of approaching their lives and solving problems. We know now-- I just think back to when I graduated from college. Not that long ago, but the changes in the world since then are tremendous. And it's really the foundation of a liberal arts education that's allowed me to be resilient. And I never thought I was going to be a university president. I never thought that.
So I think it could happen, but I do think-- and again, it may be right for some people. I think one of the best things you said is that the strength of the United States is a very heterogeneous higher education environment. And not one size fits all, and we shouldn't act that way. But I do think there will always-- I always hope there will be a role for a very robust liberal arts education as the foundation for any graduate study. I think that creates better citizens, better scholars, better professionals, better leaders. Those four years are really a corridor of transformation for a student. And I think we'd be giving something up if we looked solely at the skills and competencies needed to get the first job, because you then won't have the skills and compensate for the third, fourth, and fifth jobs.
I certainly agree with you. I'm not convinced it won't happen, but I certainly agree with you. I certainly agree with you.
Well, one final question for each of you, and it has to do with legacy. We're still a 2065. David, how will the university community talk about the Skorton administration?
Well, they'll be shocked to know that Billy Joel never contacted me to go on the road after my four minutes on stage with him. They'll be disappointed. Tears will be shed. I've shed plenty. Except for that, I would be the last person to predict what the legacy might be. I'll tell you what I feel the best about. What I feel best about, that Beth has already eloquently said, is that our undergraduate student body is more diverse-- economically, and racially diverse, and ethnically diverse than it was, because the generosity of our alumni and the reallocation of funds by the deans and provost at that time, toward more robust need-based undergraduate student financial aid. And that's the thing I feel the best about.
These things are personal. All professions, everything in life, is personal. And because of my background, what my family went through, the only way that I could have reacted is as I did. And so that's what I feel the best about. What the legal will be, I don't know. I'm sure though, Joel, that this interview will be among both of our legacies. And people will say, you got to work with Joel Malina in his early days. In his early days.
Oh, I like that.
When the camera's turned off, I'll tell Beth what I think your later days might be like.
And Beth, you're still five months out from your first day as president. But putting that aside--
I should already be thinking about my legacy.
That's right. What would you like your legacy to be when those are looking back at the Garrett presidency?
Well, first, let me say I think David has been typically very modest. I think that the Skorton years, which is what we will them, will have really created an amazing legacy for Cornell. And one of the most important ones is what he described. But, you know, David navigated this institution through very difficult times and allowed it to come out of those difficult times, which all of us in higher education faced-- a strong institution, a robust institution, an ambitious institution, one that took on risks and opportunities. Cornell Tech is one I've mentioned, but there are many others, and one that came out a stronger institution. And I think that actually, we will be, when somebody writes the next 75 years, that's going to be a really important and really interesting few chapters.
You know, it's too early for me to be thinking about legacy. I've just got to think about moving in and getting settled. But I do think I'll just go back to something I've said. I think for anyone who is, at base, a professor-- and at base, university presidents, who we are are professors. After we're presidents, we'll be professors. Before we were professors. And your legacy is always in that respect. The students you got to interact with, and the faculty that you were a colleague to, and whose work influenced you, and hopefully you had an influence on their work. And as a president, it's not just people in your own discipline or people you work with in interdisciplinary work. It's creating an environment where faculty thrive and do the very best research and creative work in teaching that they can.
So I think, in some respect, every president's legacy are the faculty and the students that come after that President, because of things they put into place.
All I can say is "go 13."
Well, I think part of our collective legacy will be the majesty around our upcoming celebration here on campus on Charter Day, of our official 150th birthday. I'm looking forward to being a part of it. I know both of you will be here as well. This has been an absolute joy. I wish we could continue to do this for longer, maybe once a week, come back to this same table.
I want to go to the Smithsonian and get to do it in parts of the cool place he's going to be in charge of.
That would be great.
One thing I have to say is we've done such a fabulous job. Beth, especially, but I think myself as well. You have no editing to do. I feel like that's just not fair.
Right, but there hasn't been enough of you asking me questions. This does need to be, in some capacity, about me.
You know, as soon as those lens caps goes on, we're going to really drill you.
OK. Well, thank you again.
Thank you. Thank you.
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David J. Skorton, Cornell's current and 12th president, and Elizabeth Garrett, who will become Cornell's 13th president July 1, sat down with Joel Malina, Cornell vice president for university relations, to discuss the challenges facing higher education, what it takes to be a successful leader at a top research university, Cornell's sesquicentennial year and the future of the university.
Recorded February 2015 at the Cornell Broadcast Studios in Collegetown.