From David Skorton

A Year, a Thank-You, a Look Forward

skortonaS I HAVE TRAVELED TO MEET alumni across the country and overseas during my first year as Cornell's president, I have often been asked what has surprised me so far about our University. The answer comes easily: it is the engagement of the alumni in the life of our institution. Whether in loyalty, constructive criticism, networking, support of our students as they seek internships or permanent employment, or generous financial backing of the University's aspirations, Cornell alumni are a breathtakingly involved group. I thank you all for making Cornell a priority in your lives.

During our first year, Robin and I aimed to learn as much about the student experience as possible.We lived briefly last fall in Mary Donlon with first-year students and spent some time with upper-level students at the Carl Becker House on West Campus, where we are house fellows. Through meetings with elected leaders of the undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, through open forums and office hours with students, and in my few chances to sit in with excellent student music groups, I have begun to understand more about the strengths and challenges of the student experience at Cornell.

In the next year it will be important to continue a strong emphasis on building a diverse campus community, on finding the appropriate balance between curricular and other aspects of student life at Cornell, and to focus even more intently on issues of mental health at our university. The unthinkable events at Virginia Tech gave new urgency to our efforts to ensure that we are doing all we can to prevent such an occurrence at Cornell and to deal with emergency situations of every sort. Since that tragedy, Vice President Susan Murphy '73, PhD '94,Dean of Students Kent Hubbell '67, BArch '69, and Dr. Janet Corson-Rikert, director of Gannett Health Services, have been further refining our approaches to mental health services, including preventive and early-identification measures for students in distress.We have also been working to optimize our emergency preparedness and communication systems throughout the campus, and we are considering the important intersection between mental health records on our campus and the background-checking procedures for purchasing firearms. The latter is, of course, a national issue, but we should do our part to consider its ramifications for Cornell.

Diversity continues to be an issue of great importance.With leadership from Provost Biddy Martin, Vice Provost Robert Harris, Vice Provost David Harris, and others, we are moving ahead with a focused Diversity Initiative for the entire Cornell community. I hope to be able to report more tangible outcomes in the near future.

The core of the University's excellence and promise for the future is, of course, its superb faculty. As you may know, we are entering a period of unprecedented retirements among our faculty. In her first Academic State of the University Address, Provost Martin talked of "rebuilding the University," and it will be a job of gargantuan proportions to maintain the excellence of our great institution during a time of rapid turnover in the ranks of both our distinguished faculty and our talented staff. Nonetheless, I am optimistic that we can do so. Support for students and for facilities is also urgently needed; together with support for faculty, these are the foci of our comprehensive university-wide campaign. I hope to engage many of you in intellectual and financial support of these endeavors.

In large part through student leadership, and building on the work of our faculty and staff over many years, we are continuing our assertive efforts at planning for initiatives in sustainability, including environmental stewardship, alternate energy systems, and sustainable development. By the time you read my next column, I hope to be able to share news of a more detailed approach to sustainability and development being planned by the provost, the executive vice president, and others on our campus. Stay tuned--Cornell will continue to be a leader in this critical area.

Returning to the thought with which I began: the most welcome and, again, most surprising aspect of my transition to Cornell has been the enormously helpful, straightforward, and hardhitting feedback and input that I have received from so many of you. I hope that you will continue and even redouble your efforts to be in touch with me, so that together we can work toward the best future for upcoming generations of Cornellians.

Thank you again for an extraordinary first year.

-- President David Skorton