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The Campaign for Cornell: ‘To Do the Greatest Good’

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By Martha E. Pollack

One hundred and fifty-six years ago, Ezra Cornell was looking for a way to build a better future for his country and the world. He was looking, as he put it, for a way to “do the greatest good” with the resources he had—and to do that for posterity.

He had plenty of options. In those final months of the Civil War, there was no shortage of people needing help, or of ways to help them. But ultimately, he decided that the way to have the greatest, most lasting impact was by founding a university. Not just any university—this university, with its rallying cry of “… any person … any study.”

Ezra Cornell understood something that was as true then as it is now: that educating one student reaches generations of others. He understood that the impact of an institution seeking knowledge for a public purpose, and truth for its own sake, would reverberate across nations and centuries. And he knew that the best way to build a better future was to invest in the people with the potential to build it.

Described as the first truly American university, Cornell soon became the model for the great research university as we know it today. It demonstrated, beyond any doubt, how essential education and research—particularly the world-class education and research we strive for at Cornell—are to society. And it showed that an investment in that kind of education and research really is, as Ezra Cornell believed, an investment in the greatest good, for posterity.

Ezra Cornell understood something that was as true then as it is now: that educating one student reaches generations of others.

Today’s complex global challenges are very different from the ones that Ezra Cornell knew in 1865. They demand a drive for innovation, an embrace of both technology and humanity, and an ability to communicate across differences. They demand world-class expertise, and a readiness to collaborate across boundaries.

One could almost say that today’s challenges demand a particular kind of ethos and a particular kind of education—one that, while contemporary, is still for any person, and in any study.

Today I see Cornell as standing at a pivotal point in its history, poised to be the model of a great research university for the next 150 years—doing the greatest good in our changing world. This is why we have launched our campaign “To Do the Greatest Good,” with its three overarching priorities:

Educating students to be leaders who carry the Cornell ethos forward. This means committing to and supporting student access—so that we are always a place for “any person.” It means ensuring student wellness, of body and of mind. And it means building on a culture of educational verve—pursuing new ways to teach and to learn that are creative, evidence-based, and always looking forward.

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Tackling some of the world’s most challenging problems, from theory to practice and back again. Cornell is a place with a remarkable openness to innovation and an unparalleled breadth and depth of expertise across critical areas such as global sustainability, human and animal health, human creativity, social and economic equity, technology and society, and entrepreneurship. Our goal is to maximize our expertise—and the impact of that expertise—by recruiting faculty at the very top of their fields and giving them the resources to do, and to share, their best work.

Connecting Cornell with the world through public engagement, through our international programs and global reach, and of course, through our expanding presence in New York City, which complements our core programs in Ithaca.

Our goals for this campaign are ambitious, in line with our ambitions as a university. We’ve set a target of $5 billion—which includes $3 billion for our Ithaca campus, $1.5 billion for Weill Cornell Medicine, and $500 million for Cornell Tech—to support critical needs across our campuses, such as academic programs, endowed professorships, research, and clinical care.

Our goals for this campaign are ambitious, in line with our ambitions as a university.

As part of our overall goal, we’re aiming to raise $500 million for undergraduate financial aid, with a specific goal of increasing the number of undergraduates receiving aid by 1,000—ensuring we remain true to our “any person” ethos, and competitive with our peers.

For generations, Cornell has prepared students not only for their own lives and careers, but also to lead and to thrive in a changing world. It’s taught them to value the sciences and the humanities, to understand and work with data, to listen to other opinions, and to communicate across difference. It’s sent them into the world with the knowledge, the understanding, and the skills to take on the challenges of their times.

And generation after generation, our “institution where any person can find instruction in any study” has paid dividends on the investments of Ezra Cornell, and of generations of Cornell alumni: to do the greatest good.

Top image: Photo by Jason Koski/Cornell University

Published January 24, 2022


Comments

  1. Adnan Tuncel, Class of 1978

    My High School, the “Istanbul German Lyceum” was founded in 1868 and “Cornell University” was founded in 1865. This tells me something, that Education and Research started to become an important factor for the future of our countries and the world. That means of course “… any person … any study.”
    When I visited Germany, and saw the Heidelberg University Campus, which was founded in the year 1386 and it is one of the oldest Universities in all of Europe. It reminded me my high school days, when we watched a video about Heidelberg, Germany.
    I send my best wishes and warm greetings from Seattle, WA. Thanks.

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