ITHACA, NY – On Thursday, Cornell University held the official dedication ceremony of its new humanities building, Klarman Hall.

In the opening remarks of the ceremony, Interim President Hunter R. Rawlings III spoke of the significance of adding a new humanities center for the university, noting that it was bucking the trends of many other higher education institutions.

“Cornell’s commitment to the humanities stands in marked contrast to much of the current national discussion at universities and in the public, which views college as a purely instrumental means to getting a job,” Rawlings said. “Given how high the stakes are in the current political environment in this county, we need to recognize what is really at stake in a college education. To be effective, education should be liberal, in its original Latin sense: suited to shape free citizens.”

Rawlings and several other speakers drove home that one of the unique of the the humanities is its power to “awaken opposition to one’s own views.” In other words, humanities is a discipline that strongly encourages debate and opens people up to exploring ideas that they may not agree with.

It also teaches people to celebrate the expression of knowledge and critical thought, which Rawlings called the most important goal of a university.

Interim president Hunter Rawlings III. (All photos: Mike Smith / The Ithaca Voice)

Gretchen Ritter, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, lauded the design and location of the new building. Ritter said that as part of the arts quad, Klarman Hall is part of the emotional center of the campus, but also serves as an inviting gateway to the other schools that unites the upper and lower campuses.

“It is open. It is welcoming. And it invites you to participate,” she said.

Gretchen Ritter, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Klarman Hall is named for Cornell alumnus Seth Klarman and his wife Beth, two of the principle funders to the project.

Seth Klarman echoed Rawlings thoughts about the importance of humanities as a source of debate and exchange of ideas. He encouraged the university to be open to bringing speakers whose ideas may be challenging, difficult or even offensive.

To illustrate his point, Klarman explained that Goldwin Smith Hall, which is connected to Klarman Hall, was named for an early Cornell faculty member — who happened to be an anti-Semite.

“Perhaps Goldwin Smith would be turning in his grave if he found out that Goldwin Smith hall was connected to Klarman Hall, but I’m not losing any sleep,” Klarman joked, adding that despite Smith’s prejudices, the names on the buildings weren’t a reflection of Cornell’s true character.

“Cornell shows its true character on a daily basis, not by the names on its buildings or the identities of its donors, but in its admissions standards and diversity and in the quality and character of leadership, faculty, administration and board. And most importantly, in the open, tolerant and respectful atmosphere it maintains for open and difficult conversation and debate to take place,” Klarman said.

Beth Klarman.
Seth Klarman.

Aside from its $61 million price tag, Klarman Hall is holds a handful of interesting distinctions:

  • Klarman Hall is the first building on the campus to be funded entirely through philanthropy
  • It’s the first humanities building to be added to the Cornell campus’ arts quad in over 100 years
  • It’s the home of the largest auditorioum on the Arts Quad and a 7,700-square-foot glass-covered atrium
  • The building is LEED certified and built with sustainability in mind, including rooftop photovoltaic panels, rainwater capture and reuse, living green roof areas and light wells to allow daylighting
The ribbon cutting.

Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.