JEANETTE PEREZ ROSSELLO: Good evening and welcome. My name is Jeanette Perez Rossello. I am a class of 1991 from the College of Human Ecology. I am currently a pediatric radiologist at Children's Boston Hospital and I am also an associate instructor in radiology at Harvard Medical School. Welcome to this evening's feature event, "The Value of Leadership in the 21st Century." A special welcome to the Cornellians that are joining us via Facebook. Tonight's event is brought to you by Cornell Mosaic and the President's Council for Cornell Women, where I serve as a steering committee member.
We are in for an engaging panel discussion, five fabulous Cornell women that are in the business of helping others see what is going on around the world. Before we get started, I would like to point out that we will not be taking questions from the floor audience. This is to respect our time constraints. However, all of you will have the opportunity to interact with the panelists during the reception. For the Twitter and live stream audience, we will select a few questions that you can submit by using the hashtag cornellcalc.
And now it is my pleasure to introduce our moderator, Kate Snow, a fellow 1991 classmate. She is a graduate from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences with a degree in communication. Kate is a correspondent for "The Rock Center" with Brian Williams. She's a former correspondent for "Dateline NBC" and Kate continues to serve as a fill-in anchor for "NBC Nightly News." She contributes to all platforms of NBC News and throughout her career, Kate has covered breaking news, stories that affect parents and children, politics, presidential elections, White House, Congress, and many others. So welcome, Kate, and welcome to all the panelists.
KATE SNOW: Thank you so much. Can we get a little shout out for ALS out there, a little [INAUDIBLE]? Thank you. Thank you. Because everybody up here on the stage with me, they're all arts.
SHERYL TUCKER: Yeah, arts.
KATE SNOW: See, I knew that was going to happen. I'm going to introduce the panel real quick just so we all know who we are and. And then we'll start right in with questions. We wanted to get right into it. But on my right, on your left, is SE Cupp. She's a 2000 graduate. She is the youngest of us. She's the author of Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media's Attack on Christianity, also the co-author of Why You're Wrong About the Right. She has a regular column that you may know about in the New York Daily News and she's a contributing editor at Town Hall magazine, also a regular contributor to Politico's Arena, a big TV commentator. Hopefully you watch MSNBC, but if you watch CNN or Fox or any of them, you've seen SE She's all over the place.
Right here to my right is Sheryl WuDunn. She's the first Asian-American reporter to ever win a Pulitzer Prize, which I think is a pretty darn big deal.
She's know for a lot of things. By the way, no slackers up here-- not myself, but these four. Sheryl it is the best-selling author of Half the Sky, which is a great book. She's a business executive, she's a lecturer. Currently, she's the senior managing director at Mid-Market Securities and president of Triple Edge, which is a social investing consultancy. She's also a member of the Cornell University Board of Trustees. She has co-chaired the Academic Affairs Committee, former member of the University Endowments Investment Committee, and a member of the board's Finance Committee. So she's done just a little bit for Cornell over the years. All these folks.
To my left is another Sheryl, Tucker. Sheryl Tucker is class of '78, award-winning business journalist, publishing executive. She's helped investors, corporate professionals, and companies build wealth, advance careers, grow philanthropy. That's been a big mission of hers, specifically helping people that have a lot of money find interesting ways to give it away, which I'm sure a lot of people in this room would like to see people invest in Cornell. So she's helping with that. She's also currently serving as a consultant to the Time Warner Foundation. So that's your big mission right now is serving as a consultant to Time Warner on issues of philanthropy. She's also a trustee and chair of Mosaic, which you heard was sponsoring the event tonight.
And then to my far left is Cathy Merrill Williams, '91 just like me. Cathy is owner-- was there applause out there? Cathy is owner and publisher of Washingtonian Magazine Incorporated. If you live in DC, you know exactly what that is. It's the media company that includes Washingtonian magazine, one of my favorite magazines, a leading monthly here in Washington. They have more than 300,000 readers. Also, the popular local website Washingtonian.com, Washingtonian Bride and Groom, Washingtonian Custom Media, and Washingtonian Events. They've got a whole thing going on.
She is active in the community. She sits on sits outside boards, she chairs two of those. She's a lifelong Washingtonian, lives in the District here with her husband and two kids. I think several of us have kids up here, we're moms as well. So that's our panel. And I want to start right in. I was trying to think about how to frame this. These women are all thought leaders, they're all leaders in their fields, and that's probably why you're here. And I wanted to start really big picture since you're all successful leaders. And you've all worked in media.
You're all sort of synthesizing the issues of the day and telling people what to think about. SE, I want to start with you and I want to go down the row. When we talk about leadership-- and this is a big, broad question-- but where do you see the biggest failure of leadership today?
SE CUPP: Well, first hello and thanks for having me and thanks for coming. And unfortunately, because I do speak for a living, my voice is going. I apologize.
SHERYL TUCKER: We haven't even started yet.
SE CUPP: I know. If it cracks, I'm not getting emotional-- just, it's going. Yeah. Because I cover politics, I guess I'll look to the current situation and say without trying to get too partisan here-- we don't need to fight-- but I think the failure on the part of this administration, and frankly the administration before it, to address our economic issues in an effective and lasting way I think has been the greatest failure of leadership that has affected all of us in every sector. And if you look back to the genesis of this economic collapse with Fannie and Freddie in the housing market, which started out as government influence over housing, I think it's a huge mistake that the last administration and this administration continues to exert government influence over so many aspects of our lives.
And again, this is not an Obama thing. bush did it as well. I think this culture that we live in-- whether it's Hollywood, the media is to blame, and certainly a lot of our political leaders-- have not remembered that we are a culture that should inspire personal responsibility and self-reliance. Those are not values that I think are being fostered by a lot of leadership right now, and that's unfortunate. We should be in positions to take care of ourselves. I mean, we worked hard, we got where we got because we worked hard at it.
And we might have gotten some mentorship here and there, but I didn't get any handouts. I'm sure you didn't, either. And I think we sit back and we wonder why kids grow up so lazy these days. And they are, they are so lazy. Well, the culture around them really fosters that. And I think more personal responsibility in every aspect of our universe, our political universe and our media universe, I think would go a long way to solving so many of our issues.
KATE SNOW: Go ahead. Jump in, Cathy.
CATHY MERRILL WILLIAMS: I mean, I really don't think that kids are lazy. I think that-- I don't.
I think most people here who interact with Cornell students don't think that. We have a lot of young kids that come through our office that work for us. We have intern programs three times a year, I have a lot of young people on the staff who work really, really hard. Now, there are certain young students who have a sense of entitlement to what they want in a job. But fortunately, the economy has fixed a lot of that. What I saw five years ago is very different than what I see now.
But I see people who graduate with a lot of debt, who work hard, who take extra jobs. I don't think that has fundamentally changed at all. People might want foosball tables and ping pong and all of this sort of stuff in their work atmosphere, but I disagree with you. I think the biggest failure of leadership is that we have too many people who put party over country. And that is the fundamental problem right now in our system.
SHERYL WUDUNN: I think actually if you want to look at what leadership means, at least from the country's point of view, I think we can look at it from the political, from the military, and from the economic point of view. We used to have leadership in all three fronts. I think that is waning partly because we started taking things for granted. We went too far out on the military front and we are setting a terrible example for the rest of the world, and we see the implications for all of that because of the two wars that we're playing. So I think that is an issue.
And then on the economic front, I think we were dealt a bad hand. I think it was very difficult to put particular blame on the political leaders because they actually had to clean up this mess that was the result of a number of conspiring factors. But I do think that there has been sort of a falling out of the kind of leadership that should actually have taken better care in stewarding the economic leadership. And we have this issue now in Europe where we really are taking a back stage because we just don't know what to do. And I think that partly, it raises the question of, is there a systemic problem?
Is the way we function in the government, is there something wrong with it because the two parties can't work together? There is no stasis in the government, nothing is operating very well. So I think people are asking the question, is there something in the way our system is organized that we have to change now because it was set up 200 years ago and it's not appropriate for now? But then I also want to say, even though we're criticizing all of this, what would you do in those circumstances if you were in these leadership roles?
It's not easy. And so I think while we on one hand we like to criticize, if you were to put yourself in the shoes either of Obama, of Ben Bernanke, or other people, do you really think that you could do a better job? It's not easy. It's humbling, in fact.
SHERYL TUCKER: I have a challenge with not only our political leadership. But as a business journalist, in my vantage point of when I was an executive editor at Money or when I was the editor-in-chief of Black Enterprise looking at the way that the business leaders make decisions, whether or not they really make sense long-term. We watched the financial meltdown a few years ago and we realized that a lot of things were built on policies and programs and products that were not built to last.
They were definitely short-term kind of solutions to make money in a fast way and there wasn't a sense of accountability of what would happen. And covering that, you would see these products come out and you would see many of them that brought down some of the greatest institutions in our country in terms of financial companies, and you knew that they were bogus from the very beginning. But what were the ethical issues or values that were discussed in those boardrooms as they created these products and offered them and gave them to organizations, individuals, countries that would never be able to afford them?
So this was not anything that should have been a surprise. And so it's for me one of the things that we need to really hold our leaders accountable is how they make decisions, their ethics and the values behind some of the decisions that are made.
KATE SNOW: But you're talking about corporate America, right?
SHERYL TUCKER: I'm talking about all decisions. I agree with what everybody is saying that that's as important as our legislative leaders, as well as our business leaders, or our policy leaders. It doesn't really make a difference. But we need to think about how we make decisions and the impact of them, not just for our current use but going forward.
KATE SNOW: How do you force that to happen, though, for example, in a corporate boardroom, where money and profit is really the driving force?
SHERYL TUCKER: That's a challenge. That a true challenge when you have the cycles. I think that in some ways, the organizations that were set to cover them-- whether it's the media, whether it's policymakers, whether it's organizational leaders that are watchdogs for those organizations-- really kind of let the American people down in that, where we did not really put the feet to the fire when some of these things came out in these decisions. There was kind of a lot of people talking to each other about them, but I'm not sure we really helped everyone else understand some of the pitfalls that were going to happen if it continued that way.
SHERYL WUDUNN: OK. Applause for women. Applause for women. So I know I'm borrowing and stealing from other people, but it has been said that if the board of Lehman Brothers or if the name of the company was Lehman Brothers and Sisters that maybe there would have been actually more diversity of opinion on the board and they would not have made some of the decisions that they did.
KATE SNOW: I was going to ask you because you work in investment banking now. You've been a writer, you worked for the New York Times for a long time, you won a Pulitzer Prize. But you now are in investment banking, right? So as you view the world, is good leadership rewarded by Wall Street?
SHERYL WUDUNN: Is good leadership on Wall Street rewarded? I'd say that it's really the profit motive. I mean, there are great leaders, people who are great managers on Wall Street, I have to say. But that's because the goals that they are given is they have to enhance shareholder value. And so with that in mind, I think that was a lot of the issues related to what happened in the crash in 2008 is that they were very short-term oriented and when they were sort of trying to sell a deal to Turkey or to Greece, what was in their minds is, this is how much money I'm going to make.
And so the top chief salesman is going to go out there,and he may be the CEO of the company, he's going to go out there and say, yeah, this is what we need to be done is get this deal. So I think that it's the reward structure, it's the incentive structure. We are dealing with CEO pay that is, I think many people would agree, quite high.
KATE SNOW: Astronomical.
SHERYL WUDUNN: And so there is something to be said when you see people working at nonprofit organizations, for instance, and they're barely making ends meet when they're doing good and they should actually be paid more than people who are selling other things that probably aren't necessarily adding so much social value.
SHERYL TUCKER: I think there's something to be learned about this-- two things. One is that if you look at a lot of the people we call leaders these days, we might want to wonder in grade school what grade they got in the work and play category together. Because clearly, cooperation and leadership is an important task that we should all think about.
KATE SNOW: Maybe they skipped kindergarten.
SHERYL TUCKER: Yeah, maybe.
KATE SNOW: SE, do you agree-- does everybody on stage agree with this notion that if women were in more of the boardrooms-- I mean, we're all women up here so let's address the elephant in the room. You're making a face. Why are you making a face?
SE CUPP: Because I don't love identity politics. And it was interesting last night at the debate, the four GOP contenders were asked to name some Hispanic Republicans that they would appoint to their cabinet or into their administration. And Romney ticked off a list of names and then Newt Gingrich ticked off a list of names and Rick Santorum ticked off. And Ron Paul was the only one who said, I'm not going to give you names; I would appoint the people who are most qualified. And that's the right answer.
I don't think any of us on this stage are successful because someone came up to us and said, I need to find you a leadership position, plucked us out of a crowd, and put us into a leadership position. So while it's good to see 2010 was actually a banner year for women in politics, a lot of women running for office, and it's good to see more women in the boardroom-- that's great-- but I don't love the quota mongering and I don't love the idea that we need to push an identity bloc into the forefront. I think we should search for the most qualified people and hope that they rise to the top and do the best job.
SHERYL WUDUNN: OK. So let me turn this on you and so let's say for the past few decades--
SE CUPP: I see how this is going to go.
SHERYL WUDUNN: I'm very even-minded about--
SE CUPP: I'm used to it.
SHERYL WUDUNN: No, no. I'm actually very-- but let's say if you look at the past few decades and you look at Cornell University, other universities and the makeup of the student body, it was probably predominantly male, right?
KATE SNOW: It's actually moving predominantly female.
SHERYL WUDUNN: That's my point. And so you see--
KATE SNOW: Got ahead of myself.
SHERYL WUDUNN: --that elite educational institutions for decades have been educating a field of many, many men. And that's why many, many men have gone into corporate America. So let's just say if you just open the floodgates and let anyone who is best qualified to get in, probably what would happen is that you would have more female students. Because I think that in general, they tend to test better.
I was talking to the dean a school who said, my goodness, one year we did open the floodgates and we just did it according to their grades and their stats and we had 60% girls. We can't continue that. So they actually tempered it down. But in some ways, if you think of how to balance that and get more women into corporate America who are qualified, what if you actually just opened the floodgates-- you don't even have to do affirmative action for women in universities-- and just have another couple of decades where there's mostly women. You'd flood the market with very qualified women and maybe they would rise to the top.
SE CUPP: Absolutely. That's a free market solution. I like it.
CATHY MERRILL WILLIAMS: But wait. Sheryl, let me say that-- two thoughts on that, which is that there's this question about what is the goal for women? Right now senior corporate executives that are women make up about 14% of corporate executives, but there is this sort of notion that it should be 50-50. And it takes away from the fact that there are women who want to leave the workforce to raise their families. I mean, I have many great friends who are stay-home moms who do that. I am with SE on this one, that you have to sort of pick the right person for the job.
And we have these incredible women leaders now that are I mean, the president of Harvard, of Brown, of Yale are all women; corporate America there's plenty of examples at Pepsi and Hewlett-Packard was and Xerox. They are all women. I think we spent a little too much time focusing on women. I have never had a piece of leadership advice that wouldn't apply equally to a man or a woman, with the exception of, if you're going to cry, make sure your office door is closed.
Because I think that women do tend to be a little more emotional. But I'm not such a women's person. I think we spent a little too much time focused on it.
SHERYL TUCKER: But I think that the question was more women in the boardroom would make a difference or in--
KATE SNOW: In leadership positions.
SHERYL TUCKER: But think about this, that diversity powers innovation. So if you have different perspectives coming together to deal with issues, you will have different points of view, different references, different accountabilities, different checks and balances. And when you have like minds all in the room together, then the idea that you might think outside the box is pretty limited. And so I think that in that sense, do women make a difference or not? The reality is that having a diverse experience to draw from will make a difference. And even within your own experience.
I was reading a friend of mine's thesis and it looked at what would make great nonprofit leaders and would they come from the business sector versus the nonprofit sector, which one is more likely to be the better leader? And her conclusion was it didn't really matter. What mattered is how diverse the experience of was the leader and if the leader was pushed out of his or her comfort zone more than just staying in one lane all the time, the likelihood that even within an individual they would bring more experience and better leadership to the organization.
SHERYL WUDUNN: No, I totally agree. I think that look, we are different. And I don't want to say that I'm exactly like a man. I mean, hopefully I wasn't chosen wrongly because I was only a woman. But I do think that we are different and you always play to your strengths, you always play to your edge, and women are different from men. And I think that women in leadership positions do make a difference in many ways. It's not necessarily always good, it could be bad, but it makes a difference.
They lead differently. So for instance, if you look at Secretary Clinton-- and not all women lead alike, either-- so Secretary Clinton, I think that although she's done a very, very good job, she's logged a zillion miles, I mean, she's done a really good job in encouraging the State Department, the morale is very good there. I think she's protected her budget and she's also given the challenge, she's done a good job on foreign relations. But I think the other thing that she has done that's made a difference is that she really has been a spokesman for women in the rest of the world, and that's something no other secretary of state has done, even previous women.
So it's not just the fact that she's a woman and she's doing this. And in the rest of the world, being a woman does count because I think that there is discrimination against women. We're lucky here in the US that it's a lot better than in other places, but being a woman does hurt you in places. It counts in other places. And if you can focus on the women in development, that does turn the tides.
CATHY MERRILL WILLIAMS: Let me say I totally agree. I mean, I'm talking domestically. Internationally, the only way we are going to fix some of the intractable economic issues in the rest of the world is to get women employed.
KATE SNOW: Did you read her book?
CATHY MERRILL WILLIAMS: Yes. But that is clearly-- I mean here in America where we have come very far. If you have 50% of the workforce that is not allowed to work, you're not going to get very far.
KATE SNOW: And I don't mean to make a joke. I mean, you wrote about that extensively and you talked about moral leadership and the role of women. So tell us what you mean by moral leadership.
SHERYL WUDUNN: Well, I think that it really sort of derives once a power has political, economic, and military leadership, which the US has achieved in a way that no other country has achieved. The next step really is to use that leadership for something, to make the world a better place. And I think that the US in some places, locations has taken a good stand. I mean, you can agree or disagree, but Obama did take a stand when it came to Egypt and to the Middle East on the democracy movement there.
But in other cases, the US has fallen short. So I think that you obviously have to pick your spots. But I think that the US can do a little bit more on that front.
KATE SNOW: If I can, I want to go back to Sheryl because you were touching on talking about how we foster women in leadership roles. Diversity officers-- and this is a sticky subject, I know, but there are a lot of companies now that have chief diversity officers. Is that helpful? Does it help women, does it help people of color, or do we need more than that, is it enough?
SHERYL TUCKER: Well, I mean, I think a chief diversity officer is a signal to the organization that the leadership is comfortable with talking about diversity. However, I don't think that embodying that power in one person is far enough. First, you have to start off with bold leadership, leadership that's comfortable saying that diversity is part of our mission of what we're doing in the organization that is connected to whatever the organization's bottom line is-- engagement, money, profits, whatever it is, influence. And then you need what I call local vocal advocates, people who will drive that diversity mission through the organization in a very meaningful way.
But if the company hasn't figured out what the diversity is supposed to do-- whether it's to drive innovation, as I talked about, drive creativity, to gain perspectives beyond the normal perspectives that might gather together-- then the organization doesn't really have a rallying force around diversity. And that's when the organization's efforts usually fall apart. So if you look at some of the organizations where diversity is you have to do this and not do that, those tend not to work. When you offer something that I think is interesting, a way to customize it within the different areas of the organization and they can take ownership in a very meaningful way, then that diversity officer has something to work with.
KATE SNOW: Can you give me an example? I'm putting you on the spot.
SHERYL TUCKER: Can I use the Cornell example?
KATE SNOW: Sure.
SHERYL TUCKER: Do you mind?
KATE SNOW: Don't look at them. Yes, you can use it.
CATHY MERRILL WILLIAMS: Charlie [INAUDIBLE].
KATE SNOW: You can say anything. Don't look over there.
SHERYL TUCKER: I mean, I'd like to use it because it is something that we're all touching on and I think it will be very interesting and engaging. Instead of saying to all the different parts of the Cornell community, you have to do diversity this way or that way, giving the different administrative areas of the schools, the staff, the different parts of the community a menu of things to work on and the identification of the resources of how to make those work, gives this effort a lot more chances of success than had everyone in Dave Hall said, this is what you have to do and this is the only way to measure success. So once you put a way for people to own that diversity effort and then understand how it's going to be measured and what the accountability structure looks like, you will probably have a better success ratio than not.
And I say this because I've covered diversity for most of my career and have done a lot of work with a lot of different organizations and corporations around diversity. And I'm sorry to say for many of these organizations, the efforts did not pan out because there was never any local ownership of the effort. It was something that the boss said we had to do without a really understanding of how to get it done.
KATE SNOW: I'm going to go back over to SE, bring up politics again. I was in Florida for the debate that we-- why are you laughing because I go to you on politics-- because that's your thing.
SE CUPP: Sure. Sure.
KATE SNOW: That is your thing. You told me that the other day. You said, politics is my thing.
SE CUPP: You're right.
KATE SNOW: I was in Tampa. NBC sponsored a debate on Tuesday, so I was in Tampa for that. And I went around and I was talking to Florida voters for a piece that we're doing for next week, for Monday. And I hope you'll all watch, please, because we need every viewer we can get great.
SE CUPP: Great [INAUDIBLE].
KATE SNOW: I know. Nice segue there. But no, here's the thing. We were talking to Florida voters, a lot of undecided voters, a lot of anger at Washington, at this town. And a lot of sentiment, as you mentioned before, that things just don't work, there's no unity and you can't have leadership without unity. So instead of talking about the negative, though, my question is, how do we find unity? How do political leaders in this town come together and where do you see us going? Is it possible? Please tell us something positive.
SE CUPP: Gosh, I wish I could. This intractability that has sort of marked the last three plus years was both inevitable and not unique. It's not the first time the House and the Senate or Republicans and Democrats have been at loggerheads or that there's been a divisive kind of polarizing figure, whether that's Obama if you're on the right or Boehner if you're on the left. And let's face, it these issues are galvanizing. They are serious, people are passionate about them, whether it's a social issue or a fiscal issue, people are out of jobs.
And there is one thing the American people have zero sense of humor on, and that is unemployment. You can be as partisan and gimmicky as you want about a myriad of issues, but when you start politicizing unemployment, the American people put their foot down and get really, really angry. They want solutions on unemployment, and they want them now. They don't care who gets the credit. So what you're seeing, I think, is the natural state of politics.
I mean, this happens from time to time. Not everyone is getting along and let's work for the greater good. That really rarely happens. But it's amplified, I think, by the fact that the economy is bad, unemployment is high, and people want action in ways that are more immediate than they do on almost every other issue out there. They can wait on an immigration policy. They waited for 20 years on health care reform. They will wait, but they have zero patience when it comes to jobs.
KATE SNOW: So Cathy, I'm going to ping pong over here because you live here. And we were talking on the phone the other day about this, that you see little examples of bipartisanship, if you will.
CATHY MERRILL WILLIAMS: There's lots of examples of roadblocks and of lack of leadership for the 535 people on the Hill. But there's a lot of examples in Washington of people who do great. And it's frustrating sort of as a native Washingtonian that you don't see it. Most people who work for the federal government are very, very committed civil servants who really do care deeply about this country. You will not find--
Thank you for them. You will not find people who work harder than on the Hill if you talk to AAs on the Hill, legislative-- you know them. I mean, they're there 100 hours a week ignoring their families to a large degree. Same with people in the White House, they care deeply. They might care too deeply. But I happen to live in between sort of one of the really well-known Republican lobbyists and a really well-known Democratic lobbyist who are together, they're at each other's houses, they share parties, they're at the same fundraisers. And that's true of a lot. There used to be more of that.
Ted Kennedy was great at inviting people over for dinner. If we had a little more Alan Simpson-Ted Kennedy-esque relationships, things would be a lot better. But in Washington, there is on the next level down a great sense of community, a great sense of caring among Senate and Hill staffers, among federal employees. It's not as politicized. It's just somehow or other, there's a real lack of leadership in that 535.
KATE SNOW: Is there some secret to getting them all to work together, to getting people to pull together on jobs? I mean, I think you're right, that is the issue.
CATHY MERRILL WILLIAMS: There is a secret. There is a secret. When the country comes to crisis, they get together. Look what happened after 9/11, right? We had legislation within two weeks pass to set up a fund-- it was unprecedented-- to pay victims. It was something that had ethical problems written all over it. I saw Ken Feinberg, the pay czar, I had breakfast with him yesterday. People came to him--
KATE SNOW: I'm sorry, did you say you had breakfast with him yesterday?
CATHY MERRILL WILLIAMS: Yes, with Ken Feinberg. He said, people came to him and said, my brother died in Oklahoma City. Why don't I get paid? My father died in the First World Trade Center in '93. I didn't get a check. But we came together, we did that. We came together for TARP. Paulson and Geithner worked well together in a transition. You might disagree with TARP, you might think it's a bad idea, they might not have implemented it well. They came together, they got something passed when we were on the brink of economic failure.
I mean, there's examples and examples. But it seems to be only when the country really is screaming and yelling about one big issue. I don't know why it didn't happen on the deficit because everybody knows that that's a mess and we can't get it passed there.
SHERYL TUCKER: Well, I think a big part of this is kind of back on the voters and how we choose our leaders. I think that you were saying that things may have to change, Sheryl. One of the issues is that picking leaders that actually understand economics is probably more important now than ever before. But if you ask most of the voters what they know about their candidate's understanding of the real issues of job development, business development, economics, they wouldn't know. They would kind of know the sound bytes that went along with what they said about these areas, but do they know how much their understanding is?
And so when you watch like when they were grilling the auto leaders, you could tell that some of the people in the room really actually understood what was happening with the auto industry and you could see a lot of people who-- yeah, the initial hearings-- didn't understand it. And so I would almost want to send a lot of our elected officials to summer school and get--
SHERYL WUDUNN: No, no, no.
CATHY MERRILL WILLIAMS: Hold on. Let me take this, though. I think, I don't know, it's a question for the audience. Maybe the problem is the other way. Because I have thought about this, as well, and I checked the stats on this. Our elected officials now are way more educated. I fear saying this in front of this great Cornell University sign. But 70% of the Senate has not a college degree, but has a higher than college degree, a master's or a PhD. And that's 50% on the Hill side. Maybe we need more Harry S. Trumans who didn't have a college degree, some people who have some grit, some--
KATE SNOW: I hear people going, oh, come on.
CATHY MERRILL WILLIAMS: No. I don't mean Harry S. Truman, but I mean people who show real leadership skills and grit instead of looking into their education and taxes.
SHERYL TUCKER: Well, I think they're educated; I'm just not sure if they are knowledgeable about these issues.
KATE SNOW: Yeah.
CATHY MERRILL WILLIAMS: I can't--
I can't disagree. There's a problem up there, I just don't know what it is.
SE CUPP: I think it's very interesting. And to your point, I mean, there is a difference between a degree and real life experience, whether that's leading a company or hiring and firing or whatever the discipline is. And I think one perfect example of that, at least on the GOP side, Mitt Romney is running as a private sector candidate, which I think marks the first time in history that someone has run away from their executive experience. The governorship used to be the upper echelon unimpeachable qualification for a president to be, and here you have Mitt Romney going out saying, don't say the G word.
Let's talk about the fact that I have been in the private sector for 25 years and ignore the fact that he would have been in the public sector had he been elected more often. It's fascinating and I think a real sign of the times that you have a governor who is saying, let's look at my business skills and not my executive experience.
KATE SNOW: I'm going to pick up on-- you teed this up perfectly as you were talking about education. And we have that Twitter and Facebook audience out there somewhere and they're sending in their questions. So someone wrote, can higher education do anything to better prepared leaders for the challenges that we're talking about up here on stage? So what can Cornell, what can other bodies of higher education, institutions of higher education do, Sheryl, I'll put it to you to help solve a crisis of leadership?
SHERYL WUDUNN: Right. Well, I think there are a number of things that we can do. I think that there is a crisis in education on several fronts right now. One is that what brought America to the place where it is, the global leadership, is that we have education for the masses-- for everybody. We didn't really care whether you got a Cornell education or you got a community college education. In fact, what really makes a country tick and elevates the level of a country's economic prowess is better education at a community college level. Because you just need to get everybody educated.
And I think that we're dipping now on all of the global statistics. We're instead of number one in terms of the best educated, the highest number of graduates from high school and from college, we're slipping to number 15, number 20. I mean, we're way down there. So I think there's been a failure there. And higher education can also help with secondary education. So it's not just that you know the higher education institutions can sit back and say, well, that's secondary education's fault. And higher education can play a role in trying to figure out what is the best way to really bring, again, bring us back to mass education?
KATE SNOW: Are there literally courses that should be taught that aren't being? I mean, I don't know. I haven't looked at the syllabus in a million years so I don't know.
SHERYL TUCKER: I don't know. Cornell was where I think I really cemented learning how to be a leader in the sense that it was a place where you were able to have an organization, there was always some funding available, there was always-- I mean, the reality is the fact that I am on a trustee board is amazing to me. When I was in the university, I had a newspaper and a magazine and sometimes I took the administration to task a lot in that. It was in independent publications. It wasn't part of the Cornell Sun, it wasn't part of anything.
And it was amazing to me that there was always a dialogue that was going on. So if you have organizations, even more important than I think classes, where they really look at these organizations as important to helping develop leaders, sometimes supporting them while they're learning and doing is as important as any class. So in any kind of organization, you have to do a budget, manage people, and those kinds of things. And I think that universities have to take some of these student groups seriously in the sense of helping to look at the leadership. I know PCCW does a lot to make sure that the leadership of women that not only lead women's organization, but there is an encouragement to lead coed organizations as well so that you don't see that drop-off in junior and senior year that you see in women leaders and a lot of campus.
KATE SNOW: And I meant to say the course catalog. I'm sitting here thinking, it's not a syllabus, it's a course catalog. Anyway. For those of you who are going, what is she talking about? Cathy, did Cornell make you a better leader?
CATHY MERRILL WILLIAMS: I was thinking about this when we were talking about leadership. It's this great field of study, is leadership born or is it learned? I think Cornell gave me the opportunity to be a better leader. I don't think it made me a better leader. That being said, when I was thinking about it, I asked my assistant and several other people in the office-- I didn't even know it was going to come in as a Twitter question-- did your college help prepare you for leadership?
And across the board, they said, my high school did. My high school talked more about leadership. There were more clubs, more activities. I think everybody feels a little lost in college. You get there and you're trying to figure out which way is this? It takes you sort of two or three years to get settled before you know there's a good lunch at The Big Red Barn and you don't have to eat at Willard Hall every day. But I mean, who realizes that before-- I don't know, is that's still true? I mean, it took--
KATE SNOW: [INAUDIBLE] had really good lunch when I was here.
CATHY MERRILL WILLIAMS: But-- so I don't know how to do it. I don't know how you teach leadership, other than provide people the opportunity to get involved in a lot of things on campus. And the more things you get involved in, the more likely you are to grow to be a leader.
SE CUPP: I think that's absolutely right. I was an art history major, not using that at all today, but not to say that it wasn't a fun experience-- and it was, I loved it. But no one on this panel talked about the class they took that gave them this opportunity for success. I worked at the Cornell Sun the three years that I was at Cornell, and that was where I learned not only what I wanted to do for a living, but probably the only time in my life that I'll ever get to tell other people what to do. I was an editor there--
KATE SNOW: I know about that. Really?
SE CUPP: Absolutely not, no. I will be taking direction for the rest of my life. But I was an editor there and--
SHERYL WUDUNN: Wait until you have kids.
SE CUPP: Oh, yeah. That was a leadership experience for me that changed the course of my life. And I think when you talk about the college experience, so many people focus on the curriculum. And so much of college is what happens when you're not in class. And that doesn't mean that the parties and all of that is the experience, but it's those opportunities to find out who you are, to find out what your career should be, to experience those leadership pangs and understand what that feels like and work with other people and boss other people around in my case, which I did really well-- that experience.
And even today, I couldn't tell you who I sat next to an art history class. But I run into people from the Sun everywhere. I can tell you Andrew Ross Sorkin is at CNBC and Mickey Rapkin is at GQ. And I mean, all the people that I worked with are in this business working with me today. Those are the experiences. And it won't be the Sun for everyone, obviously, but those are the experiences I think that you take beyond the classroom, beyond graduation, and into your future lives.
KATE SNOW: Professors out there-- are there professors here? There are professors cringing right now.
SE CUPP: Sorry.
KATE SNOW: Sheryl, someone else wrote in. And I wasn't going to go through this because I didn't know if would be of interest, but someone wrote in on Twitter and said, how did the panelists make the transition from what they did at Cornell to where you are now? So I think it might be instructive. Let's go back to SE and start there because you're the most recent grad.
SE CUPP: Because I can remember it?
KATE SNOW: Sorry to keep saying that.
SHERYL WUDUNN: I've forgotten.
KATE SNOW: So you can remember. Everyone else can think while you're talking.
SE CUPP: Well, again, I worked at the Sun and I knew that I wanted to be a writer. I didn't know that I wanted to be a political writer, I just wanted to write. So I got writing jobs out of college, a bunch of different kinds. I worked for travel magazines, I worked for the Bond Buyer which is a municipal bond daily-- that was a mistake. I had zero business working there. And then I ended up at the New York Times for eight years. And at that point, I decided I wanted to write a book about politics.
And I also went back to school and got a graduate degree at the same time. And that sort of ushered me into this political writing career. I literally wandered in by mistake. I feel lucky that they let me stick around here. It just happened to be timing and sort of the political climate of the time was right and hard work.
KATE SNOW: Right. You did write a book, there's a little hard work in there. Sheryl, same question. I'll just go down the line because I think people are curious the link between-- because you are in a leadership position now.
SHERYL WUDUNN: Right. I mean, my life has been so eclectic and strange. And I think that probably the only link that I had to journalism when I was at Cornell was I was a pre-med history major and I was just moving into the History Department. And I was talking to a professor and I said, what am I supposed to do with history? Because he was trying to convince me to be a history major. He goes, well, you can go into journalism. And at the time, of course, I was pre-med.
I said, why would I ever want to go into journalism? But life is strange and so I ended up in journalism, of course. And that was a wonderful profession, it's great. So history does prepare you for journalism. But I think also just what Cornell did for me was that it gave me an intellectual awakening. I mean, I just had great professors at Cornell, I mean, amazing professors who just opened my mind and allowed me to be more open-minded about things.
So I was open-minded about journalism and then I went and moved to other things, I was in banking. I mean, I've just done a lot of things and I think that open-mindedness is really what I've taken from Cornell.
SHERYL TUCKER: I think I knew I wanted to be a journalist from my freshman year running these two publications. So what I learned, though, is that you can affect change through the media. When we wrote about things, we did get calls from people, we did engage in dialogue with people. Sometimes we didn't do it in the most diplomatic way and we still got respect from the people that we were taking to task. And so it's been important for me to understand and use the media to help build understanding around different things. I think that that has also-- I think I learned a lot of compassion at Cornell through others.
I was meeting people with different circumstances than I had. I grew up in a pretty suburban middle class life, and when I got to Cornell, my roommate was from a rural area in New York state, which I didn't even know New York state had rural areas because all I knew was New York City. So I met more international people than I ever did. It definitely gave me a compassion to help others and to work with others, which is now blossoming itself in my new career choice in philanthropy.
CATHY MERRILL WILLIAMS: I can-- Kate, you and I were talking about this earlier. Some people graduate and they just have this sense of, this is what I want. And then other-- I say other, but I think most people graduate and really don't have a great idea what they want to do. So I fell into the great unwashed masses. I went to work for a think tank because academia, thinking thoughts seemed good. It was slow-paced. I had been history and government, and that led me to some campaigns.
It wasn't until I was sort of in my mid-20s that I figured out that what I really liked was business. And I had worked for a year for a company and discovered that, boy, those accounting guys in the corner, they're interesting to me. What are they doing? What does profit margin mean? And I had been pretty strong in math. That led me into consulting and into business. But weird things happen in life. I spent five years running E-Z Pas working for Michael [INAUDIBLE], who's now head of the FAA.
And a told chip, I mean, that's what we would always-- the girls, very few girls and transportation working on toll systems. Anyone who has driven through Route 1 on the Jersey Turnpike, I've walked that as a construction site many, many times. So even though I grew up in a journalism family, it was business and then I ended up the old fashioned way, in our family business. I consider myself more of a business person than anything.
KATE SNOW: I didn't know that. I thought you were journalism. Did you get an MBA?
CATHY MERRILL WILLIAMS: No. I got a master's in public administration, and an MPA. So life has, as Sheryl said, eclectic corners that take you places. But if you work hard, which I think most people do, SE-- and I wanted to say from the opening shot, there was a guy over here in the front row who I'm going to point out who came up to me before the panel. He's a junior in a high school here in Washington who writes on his school paper, wants to go to Cornell, talked his way in to come here today.
It's Friday night. I'm sure there's other places he'd rather be. If that's not a hardworking guy. Charlie, you should get him an interview.
KATE SNOW: Now I lost my train of thought. Where are we going?
CATHY MERRILL WILLIAMS: You work hard, you do well.
KATE SNOW: I actually kind of say that every time someone-- because I get those phone calls, too, how did you end up with NBC? And it wasn't exactly a straight line. It took a long--
CATHY MERRILL WILLIAMS: How did you get there?
KATE SNOW: Well, thank you. Mine's a long story. But basically, WVBR, which is the Voice of the Big Red, which still exists on campus, slightly off campus. When I was there, it was on Linden Avenue in that really nice building. Does anyone know? It's still there. You live on Linden Avenue, it's right there. I worked for WBVR. I got into it thinking that I was going to be a radio DJ and ended up in the news department by accident, honestly.
I went there with my dorm mate and she and I we're going to DJs, and the next thing I know, I'm covering the Ithaca City Council and loving it. And I went from there into radio, went to grad school along the way-- couldn't get a radio job so I went to grad school. And then after that, I went to CNN as a producer and a booker and then decided, I want to ask the questions on TV rather than being behind the scenes and went out to New Mexico.
I told you it's a long story. I worked my way back-- worked my way back. New Mexico-Atlanta, Atlanta-DC. I was here for five years covering the Hill, covering the White House, and then moved to New York for Good Morning America and now for NBC. So that's kind of my trajectory. But it's what you said about the Sun in my case, too. I got a lot of great experience at VBR. But I also was a communication major and I have to give some kudos to the com department for a lot of the coursework that I had because it really did help prepare me.
There's a news writing class that I will never forget that still to this day I think back to in my head when I'm writing a story. So anyway, that's my brief story. it's not about me, you are the panelists here. So I want to change subjects if I can because Cornell just won this really big bid. It's gotten a lot of attention where I live in New York City.
If you don't know-- probably everyone in the room knows this, but they just won a bid against other universities to build a brand new applied sciences campus in New York. And this is a really big deal. A huge donation came in. It's going to be a big deal, big campus. What would you panelists tell Cornell leaders as they envision this and prepare to build this campus? What advice, if I may be so bold, would you give the leaders of Cornell in terms of what to do, what not to do? You're looking at me quizzically. I won't start with you, then. I'll go this way. Cathy.
CATHY MERRILL WILLIAMS: Clone Chuck Feeney, first, would be the number-- the number one thing. I mean, it is a great thing for Cornell. I think it presents some challenges, as well, having a dual campus. So be strategic about what is there, the classic undergrad education. I think Cornell will always be Cornell. I hear there are people that think, Cornell is moving to New York. That's insane.
I mean, that is insane. Cornell Ithaca is always going to be a great campus. But this gives Cornell quite an advantage to find people jobs, to have access to the great brain trust that's in New York, and to help be part of a redevelopment of an area that needs redevelopment. I think it's exciting.
KATE SNOW: Sheryl, you talked so much about global education. I imagine this fits right in with what I'm guessing you think needs to happen.
SHERYL WUDUNN: Well, I did say this before to some of the people at Cornell, and I really do feel that this is an opportunity. It is transformative for Cornell. And I do think it's an opportunity if you look at what [INAUDIBLE] says about creative destruction. Cornell has a chance to build something very organically from the very beginning. And it is a moment where all of you, each one of you, if have a point of view, if you have a suggestion, send it in.
Because I really think that they can build this right now. I mean, it's the most advanced that we can be in creating a new institution from scratch. Let's get it right and let's do it fabulously well. So each one of you, please think about it.
SHERYL TUCKER: I think I would push again that diversity powers innovation. And I think the fact that there was such a coalition of diverse people that were pulled together to help get this initiative passed and I think the leadership of Cornell reached out in many, many ways. And I think there is a lot of leadership in our midst in this tech and science area. And so I also think that the strength of this will be how we leverage all that we are to bring this to bear. And also connecting into the one thing that I would love to see was brought up last week at the Pan-Asian New Year Festival that CTAA put on.
One of the local politicians talked about connecting into the public schools. I think this is a very visible and significant nod to the importance of STEM and getting younger people involved in science and technology and engineering and mathematics and getting them not at just the high school level, but bringing it down so they start getting involved in fourth grade so they get the math and science they need to be able to get into a Cornell. So we hope that we make that connection strong and really bring out some interesting programs that these public schools can take advantage of.
SE CUPP: Yeah. I mean, as Cornelliand, it's hard. Ithaca is not an easy place to get to. So it's always nice to see Cornell expanding its reach beyond Lake [INAUDIBLE]. It's hard to get to. We were talking earlier. I am on another board at Cornell, they have meetings every winter. I can't go always. And whether it's Cornell in Qatar or Cornell in New York City now or Cornell the country, that expansion of reach is something all of us look for.
This alumni event where you are all here in one place is the perfect example of how we live beyond graduation and extend our experience out into the world years after we leave. So I think that's a huge benefit for all of us in the Cornell community.
KATE SNOW: We only have about five more minutes because there are drinks waiting, in case you didn't know. So just quickly, I just have one more. And this is sort of a big broad topic, but President Obama today-- I emailed all of you about this earlier-- President Obama is in Michigan today talking about affordability and access to higher education. And he brought it up in the State of the Union, if you saw the State of the Union the other night. He's got some proposals. Obviously, they're his Democratic proposals, haven't moved forward yet.
But today he was talking about giving more federal grant money to colleges that contain the rise of tuition. So universities that perform well are not having tuition go up and up and up will actually get more federal grant dollars. What do we think about that? What do we think about affordability? I mean, I'm saving already for my six- and my nine-year-old in case they want to go to Cornell. I'm dead serious.
SHERYL WUDUNN: I think that's a great idea. I don't see how you can not like it. The question is, how do you implement it and where do to get the funds to do it? But I do think making it more affordable and reaching out to more people. We need mass education. We need education for everyone, not just the people who can get into Cornell.
KATE SNOW: You're on the board, you're on the board. I don't even understand how it works. Can tuition be contained? Can the growth be contained?
SHERYL TUCKER: It's difficult to contain the growth. Growth has some funding responsibilities to it. And so unfortunately, I think we will see tuition increases. Over the years, we try not to just do them for doing them's sake. But I think what's most important is that the universities-- and Cornell is one of them-- making a bigger commitment to make sure that the school is affordable to more populations than who can naturally pay for them. And so that's where philanthropy becomes really important because we want to be able to be that school that any student can learn.
But for certain schools with certain growth factors, tuition increases are going to be a reality. The other end of that is how do we help those who deserve to be here afford to be here?
SE CUPP: Well, sure we'd like to make college more affordable. That said, I'm not sure everyone should go to college. We are a nation of thinkers. We don't build anything anymore. I thought it was a striking sort of disconnect in the State of the Union when the president said, we need a return to manufacturing and everyone needs to go to college. I don't know who's working in the factories if we're all in school.
We need more, as you said earlier, community colleges that can better service people, that are more affordable, that are better quality schools; we need to return to vocational education. I haven't seen a trade school in years. We need to be teaching people how to learn skills, marketable skills, in addition to the intellectual scholarship that we all benefited from. That's great, but maybe a return to manufacturing would be eased along the way if we weren't all in school.
CATHY MERRILL WILLIAMS: SE, if you return to manufacturing or go into manufacturing, you need a college degree. It's not sitting there sewing on a button.
SE CUPP: That's not true.
CATHY MERRILL WILLIAMS: This is computer robotics, this is supply chain management, this is-- a lot of education is required. And there's a lot of trade schools and there should be more community colleges.
SE CUPP: A lot of education is required for certain jobs. But a return to manufacturing, factories are shuttering their doors not because they don't have enough highly qualified robotics trained.
CATHY MERRILL WILLIAMS: But you can't tie manufacturing to education-- I mean, you can't separate manufacturing and education. No.
SE CUPP: Sure you can.
SHERYL WUDUNN: Now it's getting really juicy.
KATE SNOW: We managed to keep it--
JEANETTE PEREZ ROSSELLO: We need to do this over cocktails.
KATE SNOW: Is it time for cocktails? I think we've got over. I was just checking my phone, we've gone over. I want to thank everyone. Are you going to thank everyone?
JEANETTE PEREZ ROSSELLO: Thank you, everybody. Thank you, Kate, SE, Sheryl, Cathy, and Sheryl, for a thought-provoking very entertaining conversation. And I really want to invite everybody to continue the conversation outside with a lot of wine. And then thank you all to our Facebook audience that joined us all the way from Australia also. And at 7:30, please join us to root for Cornell versus Colgate at the hockey game in the lobby bar. So we hope to see you there, too. Thank everybody for attending today.
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Moderated by Kate Snow '91, Correspondent, Rock Center with Brian Williams, NBC and featuring panelists S.E. Cupp '00, author of "Losing Our Religion" and "Why You're Wrong About the Right," a New York Daily News columnist, and a political pundit; Sheryl WuDunn '81, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, best-selling author, and business executive; Sheryl Tucker '78, special projects manager/philanthropy, Time Warner; former executive editor, Time Inc.; and Cathy Merrill Williams '91, president and publisher, Washingtonian Magazine Inc. Introduction by Jeannette Perez-Rossello '91, pediatric radiologist, Children's Hospital Boston; instructor in radiology, Harvard Medical School.
In this century - in this election year - the world is at a critical juncture, and Cornellians are making an impact as the university tackles some of the world's greatest challenges. Five fabulous Cornellians, who are leaders in their fields, offer unique insights on some of the world's most essential topics in the fields of business, philanthropy, politics, higher education, gender equity and sustainability. Please join us for an engaging panel discussion from women who are in the business of helping others see what's going on in the world.