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November / December 2007
From David Skorton
An Employer of Choice
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Written by President David Skorton   
Thursday, 15 November 2007

President Skortonit's 9 a.m. and today's undergraduate has a paper due for her 2:30 p.m. class. She's already done research online, but there are a few things she'd like to check in the library. With more than 7.7 million volumes and thousands of journals in Cornell's collection, it's a bit daunting. An experienced library professional guides her to the material she needs, and she finishes the paper in time to check in with the Financial Aid Office about her award for the coming year. She then dashes back to her West Campus residential house for a reception and dinner with a visiting speaker. It's a typical day for our undergraduate--but also an example of how teamwork between faculty and staff contributes to the quality of the Cornell experience.

Just as you remember the professors who were important influences on your life at Cornell, I'm sure you also recall staff members who connected you with corporate recruiters, coached your athletic team, helped you through the intricacies of studying abroad, prepared the food in your dining hall, and were out shoveling snow long before your 8 a.m. class. Cornell is a large and complex organization, and the partnership between faculty and staff makes it work.

Staff members are found not only on the Ithaca campus, but also at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, and at the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City and Doha, Qatar. Some work as extension educators in counties across the state and New York City. Others support the work of faculty and students in locations around the globe--from Washington, D.C., to Arecibo, Puerto Rico, to Paris, Rome, Nepal, China, Africa, and other localities in which Cornell operates educational programs or research facilities. They also provide key services to alumni. Especially important to many of you are the individuals based in our ten regional Alumni Affairs and Development offices, who help to keep alumni connected to each other and to the campus.

I have heard from many alumni in the business world about how important it is to operate the University in an efficient, business-like fashion. While the business models that many of you apply in your own companies may not always fit well with the inquiry, discovery, and mentoring that go on in the classroom, studio, and laboratory, the way in which we handle the administrative functions of the university-- from accounting to auditing to human resources--should meet the highest standards of efficiency and accountability.

I am proud of the way our staff members develop creative solutions, streamline procedures, improve efficiency, and reduce expenses. Our Utilities Department has been recognized for its outstanding energy systems, which reduce pollution and cut costs. Since 2004, we've been recognized as a "best workplace for commuters" by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for our efforts to reduce single-occupant vehicle commuting. The Cornell Police Department has had award-winning programs in traffic safety since 2001 and in STOP DWI initiatives since their inception more than twenty years ago. We are one of the top fifty employers for workers over fifty, according to the American Association of Retired Persons. And Working Mother magazine named us a "100 Best" company for working mothers again this year.

Attention to staff was one of the commitments I made in my inaugural address, and it is one that continues to be important to me, personally, as well as to the future of Cornell. Over the next decade or so, we expect to replace up to 40 percent of our staff because of retirement. The impact may be even more immediate than with the retiring "boomers" on our faculty because staff members tend to retire at an earlier age, often as soon as they can afford to do so. We face special challenges in recruiting outstanding staff members who can continue to move Cornell forward. We will continue to develop policies and programs--from dual-career assistance to support of K-12 education in Ithaca and the surrounding region to a near-campus childcare center--that will make us an employer of choice for those whose work is essential to the continuing strength of the University.

I invite those of you who have dealt with issues of concern to staff members in your own businesses to share your ideas and best practices with me so Cornell can learn from your experiences and become an even more innovative, efficient, and responsive employer than we are today.

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