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July / August 2010
Letter From Ithaca
'A Unique Link' (Redux)
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Thursday, 08 July 2010

Worth a Closer Look

Read Jim Roberts' Inaugural Issue
(Large PDF File)

Introducing Jim Roberts
(PDF)

Looking back—and ahead—after a decade at CAM

Cornell will celebrate its sesquicentennial in 2015, but I'm marking a personal milestone this year: ten years at this magazine. I arrived in June 2000, as work was being completed on the July/August issue of what was then Cornell Magazine. (We put Alumni back in the title a year later.) My name does not appear on the masthead of that issue, but I am listed as Editor & Publisher beginning with September/October 2000. In "An Open Letter" on page 2 of that issue, CAM Committee chairman Larry Eisen '66, ME '67, introduced me as "a third-generation Cornellian [who] has had a distinguished career in magazine publishing." He went on to characterize the magazine as "a unique link between Cornell University and its alumni community" and expressed optimism about strengthening that link.

Jim Roberts '71
Jim Roberts '71
 

Before returning to Ithaca, I had not thought much about my family's long-standing connection with Cornell—but I had to pause after Kevin McEnery '70, MBA '71 (who served as CAM Committee chairman from 2006 to 2008) pointed out an interesting fact: when my grandfather, Henry Roberts 1875, arrived on the Hill, Ezra Cornell was still alive. That made me think.

After I took the job, Larry Eisen and I agreed on a series of goals, with two at the head of the list. The first was to improve the magazine's working relationship with the administration. I tackled that job head-on, trudging around campus to introduce myself to deans and administrators, up to and including the president. It took a while—and a few folks gave me an earful—but I think that CAM now has a mutually respectful relationship with Day Hall. I'm grateful to have had the chance to speak at length with three sitting presidents in both formal interviews and informal conversations, and I'm pleased that David Skorton accepted my invitation to write a column for CAM, which has enhanced the dialogue.

The second goal has proven more difficult: expanding CAM's distribution to reach as many alumni as possible. We've done that in one respect—our full-content website, CAM Online, is available to anyone with Internet access. (And this would not have been possible without financial and technical support from Cornell.) But the print magazine remains stuck at a circulation of about 28,000, even though there are now more than 200,000 alumni. I'm thankful for every one of you who pays class dues, because you provide CAM with most of the revenue we need to operate. But I'm frustrated that our circulation is restricted to dues-payers, especially when I compare it to those of our peer institutions— almost all of whom have universal distribution supported by university subsidies.

Expanding circulation will take money, and it's no secret that these are difficult financial times at Cornell. President Skorton, Provost Fuchs, and other administrators have had to make many tough decisions. Budget reductions have affected every college and unit, and they've hit us, too, as ad pages have been cut by many campus advertisers. Even so, I remain hopeful that the situation will improve, and that we will someday find a way to send a print copy to every alumna and alumnus who wants one.

Right now, we are engaged in talks with key administrators in search of a solution. Because of the financial situation, implementation of any expanded distribution plan may be years off— but I'm more hopeful than I have been for years that we will find a reasonable compromise. Doing so can only enhance that "unique link between Cornell University and its alumni community" that Larry Eisen wrote about ten years ago.

— Jim Roberts '71

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