Walking out of Cole Library one day this year, I heard
the college choir rehearsing in King Chapel. It was unseasonably
warm and the stained-glass windows had been tilted open to the fresh
air. Soprano, alto, tenor, and bass parts floated down in an angelic
blend toward where I stood. "Is this heaven?" I thought.
"No, it's Iowa."
I lingered for a moment, but there was work to do and minutes later
I was in Old Sem laughing with my coworkers over the contrast between
what I had just seen and heard and the reality of that day's workload,
deadlines, and issues.
You might expect to hear that working on this scenic campus and
promoting higher education is an ideal job. Often, it is. Yet we
all recognize that any institution, like any person, has faults.
Decisions made at this institution annually affect enough people
to populate a small town. Which students do we choose to admit,
and not admit? Which faculty are awarded, or denied, tenure? Which
job applicants are hired, and which are turned down? Which students
are expelled, and which are given another chance? How are funds
raised, earmarked, and spent? How are grades determined? Who is,
and is not, elected to Phi Beta Kappa? How do we choose to market
A great many people on the Hilltop wrestle with these decisions.
They know the results can open up a new and exciting path in a life
or cause personal pain. Day by day I share in the triumphs of this
institution and the occasional failure. What and how do we learn
from failure? Do we admit our mistakes? What does that say about
It is reassuring to know that administrators, faculty, and student
leaders are guided in their decisions by a great many volunteers.
Board members travel from around the country to serve as trustees
and on the alumni or parents' advisory boards. Alumni and their
spouses serve on committees in far-flung cities to help present
elegant alumni events. Class agents keep their classmates connected
to Cornell. From the beginning, volunteer leadership has played
a major role in determining the future of this college.
What is striking to me is how often we have chosen wisely. Since
its humble beginnings in 1853, the college has achieved national
ranking. We have made, and continue to make, choices that advance
this institution and the liberal arts education it provides. Those
advancements are visible daily: a crane soaring above the towering
addition to Armstrong Hall (a result of long-term strategic planning,
months of fund-raising, and day-to-day project management); a bright
student stopping by for information or advice; faculty and staff
members receiving grants and awards. The best measure of our choosing
wisely, perhaps, is this: the back of this magazine filled with
news of high-achieving alumni making a difference in this world.