Ithaca, N.Y. — Welcome to the city of gorges, Elizabeth Garrett!
The next Cornell president was introduced Tuesday on campus amid hoopla and high hopes.
Garrett, who will become the university’s 13th and first-ever female president in the summer of 2015, comes with a wealth of experience in academia and government. It seems like a print-out of her CV could stretch to the top of the clock tower: No other candidate, we imagine, could have had such a decorated and accomplished career.
But for all of her impressive bonafides, Garrett — we’d humbly submit — has one blind spot: She doesn’t know Ithaca.
With that in mind, The Voice would like to offer a list of modest suggestions for the start of Garrett’s time at Cornell:
1 – Live in Ithaca
It’s been well over 50 years since Cornell President Deane Waldo Malott became the first university president to move off-campus and live in Cayuga Heights. No Cornell president has lived on campus since, and most have opted for the suburban confines of the Heights instead.
According to the Cornell history book recently published by professors Isaac Kramnick and Glenn Altschuler, President Malott said he was moving to Cayuga Heights “to avoid the nighttime noises of barking dogs and other animals.”
Given the recent proliferation of deer in the Heights, this explanation seems to no longer hold much merit. And there is such a clear, compelling reason to live in Ithaca: to fully understand the furious town-gown debates that continually rise out of mutual misunderstanding.
Without living near rowdy students, without seeing the potholes, without talking to long-time city residents, it’s difficult to understand Ithacans’ perspective on Cornell issues.
Ithaca officials are debating making its police officers live within the city limits. It seems equally, if not more, important for the head of the city’s most important private institution to at least spend some time living in the city as well.
2 – Become a member of the community
Even more important than living in the community is for Ithaca’s next president to be a meaningful part of its civic life in some important way.
Given the increasing prominence of NYC in Cornell’s world, it may be easy for President Garrett to jet off to see a Broadway show or head to Park Avenue.
But we hope Garrett finds her social life right here in Ithaca. Luckily, we have a few suggestions:
Become a regular at the Kitchen Theatre Company. Enjoy the Farmers’ Market on weekends. Eat at Simeon’s on Friday nights. (It could be back open when you get here!) Join the Lynah Faithful.
The sort of informal ties that arise out of casual interactions will make Garrett more attuned to her university’s place and, we expect, a better president overall.
3 – Encourage the faculty to move downtown
A spurt of attractive, quality development in downtown Ithaca is remaking the landscape of the city.
We hope Garrett will encourage the university’s professors — and, in particular, its young associate faculty — to take advantage of these new housing options.
Building up a faculty presence in downtown Ithaca would certainly be good for the city by bolstering its tax base and retail market.
But having professors live downtown wouldn’t just be good for Ithaca: It would be good for Cornell, too.
Imagine a thriving Commons full of even more vibrant intellectual life, where professors’ money decreases the storefront vacancy rate, and where you could walk into a coffee shop and rub shoulders with international experts on a wide array of subjects.
This would allow the university to promote its idyllic scenery and its cosmopolitan credentials. It would provide a counter-argument for those in Cambridge and Philadelphia who scoff that Cornell lacks the off-campus hubs of its Ivy peers.
4 – Defend Cornell’s trustees and its cafeteria workers equally
A university president may feel bound to follow the general direction set by the Board of Trustees. He or she may similarly be drawn by the strong orbital force exerted by Cornell’s Faculty Senate.
But we’d hope that the next president also remembers to fight for the university’s less powerful constituencies: its cafeteria workers; its maintenance staff; its cleaning crews.
They are a part of the Cornell and Ithaca family, and should be treated as equal members. That takes a university president willing to make sacrifices on their behalf.
5 – Don’t forget what makes Cornell great
Cornell has defined one of its “overarching aspirations” to be “widely recognized as a top-ten research university in the world,” according to the Cornell Sun.
Garrett should scrap this wording. Cornell should strive to become a great university, a noble employer, a friendly neighbor, a world-class educator and so many of the other things it already does so well.
It should not define itself on the basis of others’ approval.
We were encouraged by Garrett’s initial words, in a speech yesterday.
“Cornell is fundamentally shaped by its founders’ lasting vision of a university built on egalitarianism, inclusion and public engagement, as well as the breadth and diversity of ways in which this vision continues to be expressed across the University,” she said, according to the Cornell Sun.
6 — Read The Ithaca Voice
(Sorry, we couldn’t resist.)
Did we miss your suggestion? Join the discussion over on our Facebook page.