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From the President

The Cornell Ethos: New statement of core values distills what makes our University extraordinary


Jason Koski/UREL

If you ask alumni what is so special about Cornell, the answers are as diverse as the individuals. Many refer to our founding principle of “any person, any study,” and talk about the academic, intellectual, and human diversity they discovered on campus. They speak of exploration and opportunity, of scholarship and curiosity, of the vast array of experiences that were open to them, and shaped them, as Cornellians. They describe an education acquired in and beyond the classroom: through athletics and activities, sororities and fraternities, clubs, labs, and the Big Red Band. Yet at the heart of every narrative of what is special about our University lies the same core: the Cornell ethos that harks back to our founding. It is an ethos that our university was built on, that has evolved and been strengthened in the years since—formed and absorbed by generations over the course of their time at Cornell.

Last semester, at the recommendation of both the Presidential Task Force on Campus Climate and the Provost’s Task Force to Enhance Faculty Diversity, we undertook a community-wide process of discerning—through focus groups, listening sessions, and feedback—a description of that Cornell ethos, through creating a statement of Cornell’s Core Values. The statement, and the process by which it was created, were intended both to develop a shared sense of what it means to be a Cornellian, and as a way to share the University’s culture, standards, and expectations with those new to our community. I have found it a valuable benchmark against which to make the decisions that affect our community, as well as a welcome tool for describing to others what, indeed, is so special about Cornell.

At Cornell, we value:

Purposeful discovery: We value the process of discovery through learning, teaching, scholarship, and innovation to advance the University’s mission, in all cases striving with integrity for excellence and purpose. The search for and the dissemination of knowledge are tightly linked: as A.D. White noted, “The power of discovering truth and the power of imparting it are almost invariably found together.”

Free and open inquiry and expression: We are a community whose very purpose is the pursuit of knowledge. We value free and open inquiry and expression—tenets that underlie academic freedom—even of ideas some may consider wrong or offensive. Inherent in this commitment is the corollary freedom to engage in reasoned opposition to messages to which one objects.

A community of belonging: As a university founded to be a place where “any person can find instruction,” we value diversity and inclusion, and we strive to be a welcoming, caring, and equitable community where students, faculty, and staff with different backgrounds, perspectives, abilities, and experiences can learn, innovate, and work in an environment of respect and feel empowered to engage in any community conversation.

Exploration across boundaries: Ezra Cornell embraced a vision that we would be a place to “find instruction in any study.” To that end, we value the importance of all academic disciplines and celebrate the power of connections among them.

Changing lives through public engagement: As the land-grant institution of New York, with our main campus within the ancestral homelands of the Cayuga Nation and a long history of national and international connections, we value engagement in our community, our state, and the broader world, learning about their needs and strengths, and applying the knowledge we create for the benefit of society.

Respect for the natural environment: We value our role in advancing solutions for a sustainable future and we recognize the close relationship between people and the Earth, acting in ways to live and work sustainably.

— Martha E. Pollack