David Skorton's Year End Statement
July 1, 2009
Following an eventful year at Cornell and in anticipation of another that looks to be equally challenging and promising, I want to thank you for the work we have done together and to share with you my pride in the accomplishments of our entire community, in Ithaca, New York City, and throughout the world.
I also want to acknowledge the way in which our community has confronted an unprecedented budget situation, and commend you for actively taking part in the strategic thinking and fiscal discipline that is required across all sectors of the university in order to strengthen the foundation for our future. The active engagement of Cornellians is the hallmark of our great university.
Among many notable events and activities from the past year are: a substantial augmentation, on two occasions, of our need-based undergraduate financial aid to keep Cornell accessible to all students; the awarding of prestigious Goldwater scholarships to four of our undergraduate students; the election of five faculty to prestigious national academies and societies; the completion and naming of the final undergraduate house (Flora Rose) in our West Campus system and the new neurobiology laboratories at the Medical College (Rolls Royce building); the dedication of Weill Hall and a 7 percent increase to the Cornell Annual Fund, a striking tribute to our devoted alumni and friends during this economic crisis; the phenomenal national success of many of our student athletic teams and athletes; the approval by the Qatar Foundation of our $180 million research program for our branch medical school campus in Doha; and just this past week, the official opening for a major new Biofuels Research Laboratory.
All of this has taken place in the face of challenging economic times for our institution and for the members of our community. As I reported to you earlier this spring, the university has taken several steps to address a looming budget shortfall in Ithaca, a smaller deficit at Weill Cornell Medical College and a significant reduction in the endowment (which fell by approximately 27 percent in FY09) including: reducing base budgets across the university; drawing down uncommitted fund balances; reducing endowment spending by 15 percent; implementing a construction pause, during which we reconsidered a number of proposed new projects, and decided not to pursue over $662 million in incremental capital expenditures; implementing an external hiring pause, which preserved opportunities for current Cornell employees who lost their jobs; selling $500 million in taxable bonds to provide for liquidity and the time necessary to plan a strategic response to the new fiscal realities; and, responsibly reducing our workforce through strategies that included the staff retirement incentive program (SRI). I especially want to acknowledge the 432 staff members who elected to participate in the SRI on the Ithaca campus; their dedication to Cornell has been remarkable, and all of us appreciate their contributions to our university over the past decade or more.
I would like to thank Steve Golding, who is stepping down today as executive vice president, for his many contributions on behalf of the university. I look forward to working with him on the task force that Governor Paterson recently asked me to chair to identify ways to diversify the state's economy through partnerships between industry and higher education. Steve's direct reports in the Division of Finance and Administration will report directly to me on an interim basis, as I consult broadly with my colleagues on how best to organize the administration for the work ahead.
Moving forward into FY10, we will continue to require colleges and units to carefully review and consider any external hiring. In addition, I have decided to incorporate into the university's standard operating procedures the new practices and decision-making criteria established during the construction pause, that expired on June 30, 2009, in order to ensure careful attention to expenditures, until we have a balanced budget. The thoughtful stewardship of the university's resources during the current economic times requires sustained prudence and restraint moving forward. In this way, the university will continue to benefit from these constraints.
We will also continue to build on the reduction already achieved in the university's operating budget on the Ithaca campus. As part of our planning initiative, we have engaged a consulting firm, in addition to using the expert advice of our own faculty and staff, to help us achieve significant cost savings across the university. Cost savings ideas put forth by the campus community are being implemented. Separate task forces for each undergraduate, graduate, and professional college and school (including selected activities of the Medical College); the Library; student enrollment; and the Division of Student and Academic Services are exploring reorganization and budget reduction strategies. Suggestions that emerge from these planning efforts will help us move forward cost effectively and efficiently to continue in the Cornell tradition of excellence.
Ultimately, we are seeking to reduce the cost of university administration in order to focus precious resources on our core activities of teaching, learning, discovery, scholarship and outreach. For more information about these issues, please go to CUinfo where additional resources will be made available.
Again, I want to thank all of you for your engagement, your support and your caring for our university. I wish you a pleasant summer, and I look forward to working with you to ensure Cornell's excellence for the future.
David J. Skorton