Lehman Ushers in New Era

Oct. 17, 2003
By Marc Zawel
Sun Managing Editor

President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 arrived at Day Hall yesterday morning dressed for work like any other day. But this day was different — it was his inauguration day.

A small group of University officials and administrators huddled outside of Day Hall in the early dawn, including life trustee Ezra Cornell ’70, Peter Meinig ’62, chair of the Board of Trustees and Inge T. Reichenbach, vice president for alumni affairs and development and inauguration organizer. At exactly 7:45 a.m., Lehman arrived with his wife, Kathy Okun, and their family.

“Is it time? It is time,” Lehman said excitedly as chimes began waking up the Cornell campus.

“Tired, yes. It’s going to be an exciting day though,” Lehman added before embracing his son, Jacob Lehman ’06, and boarding a TCAT “trolley” headed toward the Tompkins County Public Library.

Excited and anxious banter filled most of the ride down, although Lehman diligently reviewed his notes and itinerary for the day.

“It was a great, wonderful experience,” Meinig recalled of his recent trip to Doha, Qatar, the first leg of Lehman’s weeklong whirlwind global inaugural tour.

Right on schedule, the group was met by Susan H. Murphy ’73, vice president for student and academic services, at the library’s Green Street entrance.

“Good morning! How are you all,” she exclaimed to those exiting the bus.

While Lehman and his family took an “Inside Story” library tour led by Janet Steiner, director of the library, local residents and officials gathered in the Borg Warner Room.

Suzanne Smith Jablonski, executive director of the TCPL Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to raise funds for the library, explained what she saw as the importance of Lehman beginning his inaugural day downtown.

“In many ways, the library and Cornell represent the same thing: opportunity,” Jablonski said. “Cornell has been an excellent supporter of the library in the past, having supported us in the campaign to build this new building, and I foresee a close working relationship.”

John C. Gutenberger, director of Cornell’s office of community relations, echoed this sentiment.

“The president is very dedicated to the … relationship between the University and the community,” Gutenberger said. “So I think that’s a real strong signal to the community that [Lehman] is starting his Ithaca day here.”

Cornell’s relationship with the library dates back to 1864, when University founder Ezra Cornell incorporated Ithaca’s first free public library, originally called the Cornell Library. The library served as the site of the University’s first inauguration day, for President Andrew Dickson White, in an Oct. 7, 1868, ceremony.

“Jeff is very sincere about wanting to be a bigger part of the community,” said Cornell, a direct lineal descendant of the founder. “Hopefully [the relationship] will get better.”

Steiner introduced Lehman to the group, her remarks focusing on “the similarities between the library and Cornell [in that both] engage and challenge us.”

“It is a special privilege to begin the inauguration here,” Lehman said. “I intend to make strong relations between town and gown a priority.” He continued, “We need to recognize the importance of our town-gown partnership. We need to celebrate it. And we need to strengthen it.”

Some Ithaca residents felt that town-gown relations are an area that Lehman must address. Outside on Green Street, a lone protester, Faye Gougakis, a 41-year-old resident, held a placard that read, “Show me your money, CU!”

“I’m absolutely outraged at the small financial contribution that Cornell makes,” Gougakis said. “Cornell is giving peanuts. Yale and Harvard are giving two to three times that. What it shows to me is that this community is scared to confront Cornell.”

“That too is an interesting aspect of the community,” Jablonski said, referring to the protest. “I celebrate her ability to speak her mind.”

And — perhaps answering her wishes — moments later, Lehman proposed a new agreement for contributions to the City of Ithaca. The agreement, still pending approval by the Board of Trustees and the Ithaca Common Council, would up Cornell’s contribution to the city by $250,000 to $1 million for next year.

Cornell and Ithaca “must continue to build on our shared roots and aspirations,” Lehman said.

“I want this to begin a series of conversations that will continue throughout my presidency,” Lehman said after pledging to make a strong relationship “a hallmark of my presidency.”

Lehman then proceeded to field questions from the 30-plus community leaders present. Mike Lane, a 22-year Tompkins County legislative veteran, thanked Lehman for helping him better understand the University’s governing body.

“You’re very accomplished and thoughtful,” Lehman responded. “I’m glad you’ve had a chance to meet [with administrators].”

John Bailey, of the Ithaca Youth Bureau, commented on Cornell’s involvement in community public service. Lehman explained how upon arriving back in Ithaca, he was “thrilled to see the Public Service Center” that now places 3,000 students in 300,000 hours of community volunteerism per year.

Nancy Rosen, director of the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service, asked, “Cornell, like other universities, is providing a home for thousands of kids. [My organization] is still serving thousands of your students. What are your thoughts on providing a safe nest?”

Lehman responded, “I’m very impressed with the seriousness in [which] the manner is being discussed. [This is] a situation where you can’t do enough. I think that it’s incredibly important, the work that you’re doing, and we can hope things improve in the future.”

Other issues addressed by Lehman included the arts, public education and the West Campus Residential Initiative.

“Everyone who is involved doesn’t want to upset the community,” Lehman explained in discussing the recent rift between the University and the city over the placement of the WCRI parking lot. “It’s important that people speak candidly and directly.”

Back on campus, construction and design teams worked at a frenetic pace to prepare Barton Hall for the 2 p.m. installation ceremony. Crews synched the public address system while other employees affixed nametags to the 4,800 folding chairs and band musicians brought in instruments and music stands.

“I’m waiting to see if they need me to place these anywhere,” said William M. Babcock, a mechanical maintenance employee, referring to a dolly of tables and chairs. “I’ve already got 18 hours in already. It’s a never-ending story.”

“Are we doing okay?” Lehman joked to the cameras and flashbulbs as he posed with N. R. Narayana Murthy at his next stop, a brief ceremony at the Andrew Dickson White House. The four inaugural guest lecturers — Prof. Alice Fulton, English; Kenneth A. McClane, the W. E. B. Du Bois Professor of Literature; architect Richard Meier ’56 and Murthy, chair of Infosys Technologies Ltd. — received commemorative medallions for their participation.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’54, meanwhile, arrived by chartered flight from Washington, D.C., at approximately 11 a.m. Under the tight security of federal marshals at the A. D. White House, Ginsburg attended a private luncheon with Lehman, his wife, Meinig, his wife and other guests.

Following her meal, Ginsburg spoke exclusively with The Sun on returning to Ithaca.

“This place is so incredibly beautiful, and my favorite time is the fall when all the leaves are turning, and the spring, after a long winter and the glorious sun is out. Thank goodness for the winter months or people would never be able to get through their courses,” Ginsburg said before adorning her regalia.

Ginsburg then spoke about the barriers she faced as a Jewish mother following her graduation from Columbia Law School.

“Well, I’ve seen the barriers. But when I graduated from law school, the major law firms were just beginning to accept Jews; they were not yet ready to accept women and they certainly weren’t ready to accept mothers,” Ginsburg explained. “It’s part of the genius of this country that our ideas of ‘We the People,’ who we include among the doers and makers of society, evolved and is ever-expanding. And I think with Jews accepted everywhere, now women, certainly the racial strife that we have had is the most stirring example of that [change]. People who were not slaved now recognize that people are [of] equal citizenship stature.”

Several photos were taken by Robert Barker, University photographer, including one featuring the entire Lehman family and another with Lehman and Presidents Emeriti Frank H. T. Rhodes (1977-95) and Dale R. Corson (1969-77).

It was during this time that Jesse Lehman, President Lehman’s four-year-old nephew, stole the show. Taking several pictures with the help of Barker, Lehman snapped away and was then warned to “hold onto that camera.”

With the weather swinging before clouds and sun, students, faculty, administrators, trustees and University delegates began to arrive on the Arts Quad. Ushers helped form the procession lines while onlookers enjoyed complimentary apples, water and ice cream.

And it was ice cream that was on the guests’ minds. Ezra and Andrew’s World View, the flavor of ice cream created by Cornell Dairy exclusively for the inauguration, was meant to be a transnational culinary experience following along the lines of the international inauguration theme. The frozen dessert offered an espresso base made from South American coffee beans with a fudge swirl representing cocoa products from Africa, as well as hints of Asian cinnamon, vanilla of Oceania, crushed European hazelnuts and North American praline pecans.

“I’m kind of digging it; it’s got complexities deep down inside,” said Adam Katz ’05, although he and others were confused by the creation of a flavor.

“Why does he need a flavor?” Katz asked.

Kaitlin Mallouk ’05 wondered at the cultural implications of a new flavor. “I don’t know why they like ice cream so much around here,” she said.

Several Sun reporters roamed among the estimated 1,000 students, faculty, administrators and University delegates participating in the procession.

Student Assembly vice president of finance Erica Kagan ’05 said, “I think it’s important that the leaders of our University assemblies have a presence at the inaugural proceedings,” while

Dena Ruebusch ’04 expressed similar excitement: “Quite frankly, this is probably the only time I will be at Cornell for a presidential inauguration. … I’m honored to be a part of this procession.”

Daria Homenko ’04 marched as part of the College of Human Ecology.

“It’s such a rare event that there is a new president. It’s exciting that it did happen when I was here. Cornell has meant so much to me. I’m honored that I was chosen to march.”

Cornell administrators and faculty expressed similar excitement over the inauguration.

Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin told The Sun, “I expect a festive and beautiful ceremony, a set of rituals and music which will be one of those rare moments when we are able to see ourselves as a community.”

“The ceremony is beautiful, but words are very meaningful and I think we’re all looking forward to the words and inspiration that the president will give us,” said Isaac Kramnick, vice provost for undergraduate education.

Robert L. Harris, vice president for diversity and faculty development, said, “It was quite uplifting and informative. … I appreciate poetry a little bit more after attending that session,” in reference to Fulton and McClane’s inaugural lecture.

In comparing this year’s inauguration to those in the past, Trustee Emeritus Howard Milstein ’73 explained, “I don’t recall it being as elaborate as this. This is a wonderful organized celebration.” Robert Paul, another trustee emeritus, agreed: “There seems to be more spirit this time. It’s hard to describe why, but I think the people are very upbeat and it might be a combination of the fact that they are opening the medical school in Qatar and this is the first Cornellian president.”

According to the Cornell News Service, 16 college and University presidents participated in the event, as did delegates from at least 17 others, although no other Ivy League presidents were in attendance.

Arthur Boland ’57, a delegate from Harvard and an orthopedic surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital, was the former captain of the Cornell football and track teams.

“I think they’re doing a superb job,” he said. “I admire what [former athletic director] Charlie Moore and [athletic director] Andy Noel are doing.”

Don M. Randel, president of the University of Chicago and former provost of Cornell, said, “I was here for the inauguration of Dale Corson, Frank Rhodes and Hunter Rawlings. [Lehman should] take pleasure in the magnificent intellectual diversity at Cornell.”

From across the Hill, Peggy R. Williams, president of Ithaca College, was also in attendance.

“I love to see these things come together. I love the regalia, the pomp and the circumstance,” she said.

“This is as big as any inauguration I’ve ever been to. … There’s an enormous reservoir of respect for this University,” said Robert King, chancellor of the State University of New York, comparing this inauguration to those he has also attended.

The day was not without its mishaps, though. A water pipe burst behind the Cornell Store at approximately 11:30 a.m., sending a tide of water onto Ho Plaza and leading to some minor leaking in the store, according to passersby. Pete Salindo, operations manager for the grounds department, told The Sun that he did not know how big the pipe was, nor what may have caused the burst. The water had stopped flowing by 1:40 p.m., leaving little more than an inconvenience to procession guests who were forced to forge the makeshift river while wearing their gowns.

Following a special chimes concert from McGraw Tower at 1:05 p.m., Lehman took his position on a special viewing platform with the Cornell trustees by the statue of Andrew Dickson White on the Arts Quad. Seated next to him were Ginsburg and her husband, Martin Ginsburg ’53, Meinig and his wife and members of Lehman’s family.

As the procession began at 1:15 p.m., winds on East Hill picked up, forcing those in the procession to hang onto their hats as they waved and passed by a visibly proud Lehman.

“I’m excited as a Cornellian,” Murphy said. “I’m excited about what I’ve heard so far about his interest in engaging Cornellians everywhere.”

The procession made its way around the Arts Quad, down East Avenue and up Tower Road toward Barton Hall. Guests flowed quickly into seats; approximately 5,500 were in attendance, according to Linda Grace-Kobas, interim vice president for communications and media relations. The popularity of the event left many standing at the back of Barton and several hundred more disappointed attendees turned away at the door.

“I feel no one is looking out for the little guy. They should’ve had the inauguration at Schoellkopf,” said Bryan McBrady grad.

The ceremony began promptly at 2 p.m. with Meinig offering remarks first to Lehman and then to Ginsburg.

“What a proud day this must be for all of you,” Meinig said to Lehman’s family.

Ginsburg then spoke for approximately 20 minutes, stating, “The invitation to return was irresistible. … In Jeff’s capable hands, I’m confident Cornell will continue to thrive.”

Lehman was then presented with the charter, seal and mace while Meinig described the importance of all three.

“Cornell was a truly revolutionary achievement,” Lehman later said during his inaugural address. “Cornell is the embodiment of dreams, a source of hope for the future of our species. … The Cornell that we love today reflects the accumulation of 138 years of carefully considered answers,” Lehman said.

“We look forward to your leadership, President Lehman,” Meinig said in closing. “We pledge to support you throughout your tenure.”

With closing remarks completed, the procession filed out of Barton. Lehman attended several dinners last night hosted around campus and then was honored during student performances at “Andy and Ezra’s Big Red Adventure.”

“It’s just been spectacular. It’s been a wonderful way to signal Cornell’s presence and commitment to the world. It’s been a great joy to me,” Lehman reflected at the end of the day.

With additional reporting by Andy Guess, Peter Norlander, Freda Ready, Yuval Shavit and Brian Tsao.

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