Tuesday, June 14, 2005

What is the "larger strategic question"?

Very little of substance has been reported regarding Jeff Lehman's sudden resignation from Cornell's presidency. Lehman's "airplane flying to Bali" metaphor doesn't cut it.

Yesterday, in an interview with the Sun, Lehman elaborated, but only slightly:
I understand why people are hungry for more detail, but the way I've come to think of it is this: There's no small, no single incident or decision or disagreement that was pivotal or decisive. There is a larger strategic question that is still open, and I don't want to put that out in public, because I think that could distort the way that is discussed by the board. I think that it's become clear to me that I'm not the right person to lead that internal conversation in a way that is effective.
So there is, in fact, a major policy debate taking place at the highest levels. It's a shame that the major players in this -- Lehman and Peter Meinig -- aren't talking. A university ought to be run in the spirit of open debate. In the academic context, legitimacy is created by the inclusion of stakeholders, if not in decision-making then at least in decision-spectating. In other words, the Board of Trustees is not the only group with a right to discuss Cornell's future.

Openness, so strikingly absent from this weekend's news, once seemed characteristic of Lehman's presidency. It was the spirit behind his impressive Call to Engagement.

So, President Lehman and Chairman Meinig, we deserve to know: What is Cornell's "larger strategic question"?


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