Law School Dean Jeffrey Lehman was named the 11th president of Cornell University in December. With former University President Lee Bollinger’s assumption of the presidency of Columbia University, two prominent members of the University community will man the helm of Ivy League institutions. As top administrators from the University depart, it may seem some are using the University as a stepping stone onto the elite national stage. Though the University faces a difficult period with the losses of both Bollinger and Lehman, there is still a chance for the University to use its growing diaspora as a beneficial resource to advance both the quality of education offered at the University and its national standing.
While the silver lining does exist, the possible problems related to this brain drain are cause for concern. Both Bollinger and Lehman were innovative leaders, supporting the humanities through the Royal Shakespeare Company’s residency and the advancement of the study of international law, respectively. Now, the University must cope with new leadership, and it is uncertain how those replacements will compare to former University officials .
Their successors, while working to fill two impressive pairs of shoes, should also recognize that the University is a permanent home. Although two former leaders have risen to Ivy League presidencies, neither Bollinger, Lehman nor the current University administration should conceive of the University as a temporary stop on the path to traditionally more prestigious institutions.
Since Bollinger and Lehman maintain that they will always be connected with the University, the University should take this devotion and use it to make connections between Cornell, Columbia and the educational establishment.
The ties to Ann Arbor established between these individuals and the University are not broken by a simple job transfer. The University can harness this institutional affection to establish collaborative academic initiative and research programs with other nationally prominent universities. Possibilities exist to connect programs between these universities which could amount to a greater educational experience and a more universal – rather than independent – approach to seeking knowledge.
Furthermore, protests, awareness campaigns, teach-ins and other activities can have greater power when carried out on multiple campuses. Administrators coming from the University already know the power of student groups and could be more amenable to proactively working with student activists.
The University should reach out to its former leaders and forge networks of support for its development.