David Skorton will depart in 2015.

Ithaca, N.Y. — The next president of Cornell University is expected to be announced by the university Tuesday, according to two sources who spoke with The Voice on the condition of anonymity.

Cornell’s 13th president will replace David Skorton, who steered the university through the financial crisis after taking the post in 2006. Skorton will be departing on June 30, 2015, to head the Smithsonian Institution.

One of the sources said he or she did not know who the replacement was. The other declined to disclose the next president’s identity.

David Skorton will depart in 2015.
David Skorton will depart in 2015.

Whoever it is, Cornell’s president will take the helm of a university about to undergo a massive expansion in NYC while facing new challenges to its core business model and pressure from student activists.

He or she will also have to follow in the footsteps of Skorton, who was called “highly regarded” in a glowing Washington Post profile in March and is generally regarded as popular among the university’s faculty.

Some speculation among faculty members has been that Provost Kent Fuchs could be a candidate for the job. Fuchs was instrumental in pushing forward the university’s successful bid to build a $2 billion tech campus on Roosevelt Island in NYC.

Another consideration is that — unlike many other Ivy League schools — Cornell has never had a female or minority president.

Brown appointed the first African-American Ivy League president in 2001. Jim Y. Kim, who was president of Dartmouth, is Asian. Princeton, Harvard, Brown and the University of Pennsylvania have also all had female presidents.

Cornell’s presidents have to be voted on through the university’s Board of Trustees. A 19-member Presidential Search Committee was tasked with meeting with different groups to help guide the process, according to a university press release.

The university press release quoted trustee Jan Rock Zubrow, a member of the search committee, as saying:

“Some of the questions we will be asking are, ‘What are the current initiatives that have been critical to Cornell’s success, and what are some of the opportunities and challenges going forward?’” Zubrow said.

“And therefore, based on those assessments, what do we think are the key criteria for the person who would assume the presidency?”

The university’s next president will also have a major role in the future of the city of Ithaca. Town-gown issues that Skorton has dealt with have ranged from the size of the university’s voluntary payment to the city to whether Cornell could keep suicide barriers on city bridges.

In a column published in US News & World Report last week, Skorton himself hinted at the scale of the task facing his replacement.

Skorton wrote:

“For the first time in my 36 years in academia, the value of America’s colleges and universities is being questioned – and seriously. Is what we offer worth the money and time invested? Will a college degree really translate into a better job down the road or improve our quality of life? Couldn’t we rely more on technology and less on highly paid faculty members and expensive campuses and student amenities to deliver our “product” at lower cost?

There is no “one size fits all” solution to these questions. Colleges are delicate organisms that require careful handling when they must be handled at all. 

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Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.