[[image|id=308|align=left]] CORNELL UNIVERSITY, Ithaca NY - This past Sunday evening, April 10th, President Skorton of Cornell University was able to address the students and faculty of Cornell and answer their questions at a special edition of "The Sunday Forum." Hosted as usual by WVBR’s own Kyle Scott and Cornell’s VP of Communications Tommy Bruce, the town hall style forum, which took place at Cornell’s student union building, Willard Straight Hall, proved illuminating to the student body and faculty, who were able to listen live on 93.5FM, at WVBR.com, and on CornellCast.
Skorton first addressed his presidency so far. He stated that “the dance that is Cornell” refers to paying attention to the humanities, balancing the dynamics of people, and dealing with the recession, as well as the many other balancing acts that must be performed. He discussed his experiences living in the dorms for a few weeks each year and how it lets him interact with students on a day-to-day, informal basis. When asked what major addition he would like to see accomplished during the rest of his presidency, he had quite a bit to say. He would like to see people who cannot afford to attend the university but who are very qualified be able to attend without issue, he would like to see a set direction and plan for Cornell, and he wants to see a better financial plan for attending to long term monetary issues. President Skorton also emphasized that decisions are rarely made from “the top down,” and are often started as initiatives by individuals.
Hosts Kyle Scott and Tommy Bruce then got deeper into the question and answer phase of the event. In response to a question about how the financial crisis has affected the university and financial aid, he replied that $175 million dollars have been transferred from the endowment into financial aid for students, making the cost of college easier on the families, who were hit harder by the recession than the university. He also mentioned that the major difficulties so far have included layoffs from the university staff, as well as the consolidation or elimination of some programs.
Watch the full-length video of the event below!
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Student health has also been a major concern for President Skorton, in particular dealing with mental health and suicide prevention, and now also dealing with the Greek system on campus and the death of a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. In response to a question sent by a parent via e-mail asking whether the fences make parents afraid to send their children to the school, Skorton replied with great concern. Good schools create stress, he said, and the fences show that Cornell is a school that recognizes the problem and is trying to deal with the issue. He said that along with the strengthening of Gannett Health Services’ mental health department, means restriction is a major part of the plan to prevent impulsive behavior that results in a life lost that could have been helped.
I then asked President Skorton about the “Reimagining Cornell” initiative, in particular the rumors of a new School of Public Policy that could be formed in the near future. He responded that the decision is being made by those to which it is relevant; faculty and department heads are discussing it and how it might be implemented. Public policy, he said, has become very popular at the university, which has very strong government, policy analysis and management, economics, and other relevant fields of study. Consolidating them would make studying these topics easier for students by making it easier to take classes in different, but relevant topics, whereas now different majors with similarities are often found in different schools within the university.
A Cornell University tour guide posed a question asking President Skorton to elaborate on the term “means restriction” in regards to suicide attempts. He responded by saying that it should be easy to ask for help, easy to identify those who need help and give it to them, and easy to save people who are not identified from making impulsive decisions.
In response to a question concerning stress for students, Skorton said that the administration is coming together with students to identify and reduce stress sources at Cornell. This includes the resolution passed by some of the faculty which stated that professors should not give out assignments over major breaks. Students present at the forum retorted that although the faculty are making an effort, it is inconsistent and overall not very effective.
Similarly, a question was posed about Cornell being a “pressure cooker” university, which Skorton acknowledged as being true. It is that stress, he claimed, which students and faculty alike must deal with, and which gives the university its acclaim. And most students, he added, are able to really prosper under the stress.
Co-host Tommy Bruce asked a question of his own about the increased number of applicants and whether that will affect the quality of student that is admitted to the university. According to President Skorton, the university already receives so many applications that it is turning down well-qualified students that would do great work at the school, so the quality will not be affected. He did say, however, that this will help add more diversity to the student body. In response to a follow-up question about the possibility of increasing the size of the student body, Skorton said that increasing the size of the student body would lead to a worse education for all those enrolled, so it is not likely to happen anytime soon.
Responding to a question about Cornell’s ranking according to U.S. News and World Report and improving it, Skorton reminded those in attendance that many of the individual programs and schools are actually in the top 5 in their respective fields, and that some rankings have the school placed at number 15 in the world. Cornell is trying to stick to its “ethos,” as the president put it, rather than trying to one-up its competitors.
President Skorton’s next question regarded improvement of the university regardless of the rankings. To do this, he said, the school must increase its diversity, add more faculty, add more courses and fields of study, increase the amount of financial aid it offers, and especially try to get more funding for the arts and humanities, which is quite difficult and made worse by the current financial situation.
The final question was about the future of Cornell, and where he sees it going in the future. President Skorton replied that he would like to abolish the view that everything is autocratic, and would like to have everyone “come together more as an institution.” Most importantly, he stated, he wants to stay true to the founders’ vision of any person being able to find instruction in any study.
When asked how he will measure his success at the end of his presidency, he said he really did not know, but he hopes that he is still wanted there when he decides to leave.