Jun. 9, 2007
Sustainability to be 'major thrust' for Cornell, Skorton tells alumni in State of the University address
Cornell's alumni are one of the university's "greatest natural resources," said President David J. Skorton, speaking to more than 1,000 alumni and friends in Bailey Hall, June 9, during his Reunion Weekend State of the University address. And keeping to the theme of natural resources, Skorton asserted that sustainability -- already a significant universitywide effort -- would be "a major thrust for Cornell in the 2007-08 academic year and beyond."
While the president hardly recommended banning SUVs from campus, he made it clear that, as "the land-grant university to the world," Cornell must play a leadership role in "putting the full force of our teaching, research and outreach to solve the greatest challenge of our century."
Skorton quoted Norwegian politician Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, who defined sustainability as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Brundtland discussed sustainable development as the 2005 Cornell Iscol lecturer.
The president then presented alumni with a primer on the wide range of sustainable works Cornell has been engaged in for more than three decades.
To name just a few examples, the president cited the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences' work on using plant biomass for energy and chemical production as well as fuel cell development; the Cornell Engineers for a Sustainable World; Cornell's humanitarian aid in Zambia involving 15 professors from a variety of disciplines; and Lake Source Cooling. Skorton also pointed out that Cornell now has a full-time sustainability coordinator who reports directly to Executive Vice President Stephen Golding.
Additionally, he said, Cornell is one of only two universities in the nation -- the other is Oregon State University -- to be designated by the federal government as a land-grant, sea-grant, space-grant and sun-grant institution -- "giving us a strong mandate to use our expertise and our commitment to discovery for the public good.
"Our positive track record, combined with the recommendations that will come from our forward-thinking faculty, students and staff, will put Cornell in a position to organize a world-class sustainability effort that combines teaching, research, outreach and stewardship here on our own campus," said Skorton.
He added that, building on Cornell's efforts and encouraged by the faculty, staff and especially by students of Kyoto Now!, he signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment to "strive for climate neutrality in terms of greenhouse gas emissions."
In fact, Cornell will soon exceed its own Kyoto Protocol commitment to reduce greenhouse gases to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. "We're getting there," Skorton said, drawing a gust of applause.
Academic leaders and faculty have been developing plans for a sustainability initiative with a task force convened by Provost Biddy Martin two years ago, he said.
"Their recommendations are in the process of being refined and turned into a concrete proposal that we will use to decide on the contours of a universitywide academic initiative later this summer."
The effort, he said, "will likely involve advances in curriculum, intensification of research activities and even more innovative stewardship of our campus.
"In my State of the University address during Trustee-Council Weekend in October, I will present our plans for this critically important effort."
Speaking to the audience directly, Skorton said, "We will count on your counsel; we will count on your support for this effort, which will require a very substantial investment if we are to realize our potential to mount a truly world-class sustainability initiative.
"As you enjoy the campus this weekend -- renewing ties to your classmates and each other … you can be sure that your alma mater -- our Cornell -- will be where it has always been -- leading the charge to create a saner, safer, more sustainable, prosperous and equal world," Skorton concluded.
Peppered throughout President David J. Skorton's Reunion Weekend State of the University address, June 9, were a number of facts that drew oohs and ahhs and applause from alumni in Bailey Hall.
Here's a sampling:
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