ITHACA, N.Y. –– Frank H.T. Rhodes, Cornell University’s ninth president, died Feb. 3 in Bonita Springs, Florida. He was 93.
Frank Harold Trevor Rhodes was born in Warwickshire, England, on Oct. 29, 1926. He earned his bachelor’s, doctor of science and doctor of philosophy degrees in geology from the University of Birmingham, England. He taught at the University of Durham and the University of Wales, Swansea, where he also was dean of the faculty of science. He was a life fellow of Clare Hall, Cambridge, a visiting fellow of Trinity College, Oxford, and an honorary fellow of Robinson College, Cambridge.
In the United States, Rhodes taught at the University of Illinois and Ohio State University (as a Fulbright scholar and a National Science Foundation senior visiting research fellow, respectively) before joining the faculty at the University of Michigan in 1968 as a professor of geology. In 1971, he was named dean of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts and, from 1974 to 1977, he served as Michigan’s vice president for academic affairs.
Rhodes was named Cornell president in early 1977, succeeding Dale Corson.
At his inauguration, Rhodes issued a call to Cornell and other research universities in the United States to work together to become “a new hope for humankind,” and he called on Cornellians to embrace “the power and priority of reason,” and hopefulness in “the uncertain years that lie ahead.”
During his tenure as president from 1977 to 1995, Cornell saw significant growth in research and academic programs that continue to shape the university today. Research funding more than tripled, from $88 million to more than $300 million, initiatives in astronomy, supercomputing, biotechnology, nanofabrication and Asian studies were established, a successful $1.5 billion capital campaign was launched and completed, diversity at the university among students and faculty significantly increased and the university’s international presence was strengthened.
According to “Cornell: A History, 1940-2015” by Cornell professors and historians Glenn Altschuler, Ph.D. ’76, and Isaac Kramnick, Rhodes played “an indispensable role in rekindling pride in Cornell among faculty, students and especially alumni,” serving as the university’s ultimate ambassador.
“Frank Rhodes was a brilliant scholar and a gracious leader who was not only deeply respected, but truly loved by generations of Cornellians,” said Cornell President Martha E. Pollack. “His boundless curiosity, his kindness and humor, and his sage leadership shaped Cornell as we know it today, as his wise and generous mentorship shaped the lives of the countless students, faculty and staff who passed through Cornell during his tenure. I am deeply grateful to have had the opportunity to benefit from his friendship and guidance in my early days at Cornell, and will always remember the warmth with which he welcomed my family into the extended family of Cornellians.”
The Frank H.T. Rhodes Exemplary Alumni Service Award was established in 1994 in his honor. It is presented annually to honor alumni who have demonstrated extraordinary, long-term volunteer service to the university, continuing their lives after Cornell as truly dedicated Cornellians.
Rhodes was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member and past president (1999-2005) of the American Philosophical Society. He held 35 honorary degrees and was the recipient of numerous awards, including the Bigsby Medal from the Geological Society and the Ian Campbell Medal of the American Geosciences Institute in recognition of singular performance in and contribution to the geoscience profession.
Rhodes is survived by his wife, Rosa, four daughters, 11 grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.
Plans for a memorial service on campus this spring will be announced at a later date.
Image courtesy of Cornell University.