Getting to Know Janet Reno ‘60

Feb. 13, 2003
By Marc Zawel
Sun News Editor

Janet Reno ’60 knows how to relate to Cornell students.

“I struggled to get through chemistry,” said Reno with laughter in a sit-down interview with The Sun yesterday morning.

Reno, who arrived in Ithaca last Monday, is currently on campus as a Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of ’56 University Professor. During her time here, Reno will give two public lectures and will also participate in several policy analysis and management courses.

“It has been so exciting to be back,” Reno said. “One of the joys has been listening to students. It is wonderful to see the gorges and speak with faculty members.”

And, according to Reno, while new buildings have been constructed since she has left, not a great deal else has changed.

“Cornell was exciting in 1956 and it’s exciting now,” she said. “Just coming up the hill, talking to so many different people from so many different backgrounds has been incredibly exciting.”

Some changes have been more subtle than others.

“When I walk into RPCC [Robert Purcell Community Center], more attention is paid to the needs of students,” Reno said. “More sensitivity is provided to supporting the needs of students [in creating] a more complete campus.”

“The [Herbert F. Johnson] Art Museum is a marvelous facility,” Reno added.

Reno then reflected on the encounters she has had with students since her arrival.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of students,” Reno said. “They want to be involved, to contribute, to make a difference.”

“It’s an extraordinarily exciting time to be at Cornell,” Reno added.

The University should have two main missions, according to Reno.

First, the University should “take a leading role to teach students ‘the truth’,” Reno said. Citing the diversity of fields at Cornell, from psychologists to experts in media, law and communication, Cornell offers students a “remarkable opportunity to inform [themselves],” she added.

Secondly, Reno said that Cornell could “make a splendid contribution by using all the research and information available to … understand how we develop strong communities.”

“How can we give opportunities and deliver services to children who can’t help themselves?” Reno asked.

Reno also emphasized the importance and value of strong family ties. “In all that I’ve done, the important thing … is taken care of a family when I needed to.”

When asked how college students could insure ties after leaving home, Reno said, “it’s great with modern communication. Letters are different than e-mail though, you have to think of the words … e-mail is more chatty than philosophical.”

Reno then addressed the war in Iraq, terror alerts and the PATRIOT Act.

“Terrorist who inflict harm on Americans must be brought to justice,” Reno said. “We must also take measures to prevent attack.”

“I have not been privy to classified information,” Reno said. “But the idea that anyone who questions the PATRIOT Act is un-American concerns me,” she added. “We should be able to discuss issues constructively, that’s at the heart of America.”

“All time requires that people be on alert,” Reno said. “You have to be able to live your life freely. It is the possibility of terror; you can prevent so much, but things do happen.”

“These students have seen war on television but have never experienced a prolonged war,” Reno said. “We all have a responsibility to cherish and protect our place in the world.”

Reno then gave her stance on the government’s actions. “They have to be prepared … when they can’t identify where the threat is coming from,” she said.

“It’s important to bridge the gap where we can so all of America is operating at its optimal being and we can work together to resolve these issues,” Reno added.

In addressing the role of women in today’s world, Reno cited how only 60 of her 544 classmates at Harvard Law School were female. “Women now occupy political positions at local levels,” Reno said.

Reno, however, remains optimistic.

“I think we will see a woman as president in my lifetime. I don’t know if we know that person yet, but I think it’s coming,” she said.

Finally, Reno offering some parting advice to students.

In coping with criticism, Reno has learned to “take a deep breath, relax and just wiggle.”

“I’ve tried to learn from my mistakes,” Reno said. “If you do that, you can go to sleep comfortably at night.”

“Speak out and discuss, but do so in a constructive way,” Reno added. “And, do not take the vote for granted.”

Future plans for Reno involve taking a step back from the public spotlight. “I want to perfect my kayak role, read and write,” Reno said. “I am going to continue to enjoy myself, taking time to stop and smell the roses, walk along the bridges over the gorges.”

And, if an active woman like Reno were to get bored? “It’s wonderful to travel across this country and see the communities from 150-200 years ago,” Reno said. “I want to get a red truck and travel around this great country.”

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