Skip to main content


Through hiring and philanthropy, university strives for diversity

Zellman Warhaft

Zellman Warhaft, Cornell provost fellow working on diversity issues campuswide. See larger image

"Diversity" – it's a word spoken often in university and professional settings. It appears 54 times in Cornell's Strategic Plan. But what, exactly, is diversity?

It depends who you ask, says Zellman Warhaft, Cornell provost fellow working on diversity issues campuswide.

In academia, "Diversity" (with a capital "D") is typically specific to women, African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans. A broader definition sometimes includes Asian-Americans.

But "diversity" with a small "d" is even broader, Warhaft says; it can include those from other cultures and parts of the world, though it may not strictly meet the policies around underrepresented minorities. A wider mix of people, ethnic groups, cultures, sexual preferences and viewpoints in academia, he says, leads to more intellectual diversity.

"I don't see diversity as just another aspect of the university," Warhaft says. "It is something that has to be completely integrated, and without it, it's a much poorer institution."

All colleges at Cornell have slightly different views of diversity. The challenge ahead is to create a unified, university-level set of recommendations on how to increase faculty diversity. Warhaft, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, was asked by Provost Kent Fuchs to explore these very issues during his provost fellow appointment this year.

Renee Alexander '74

Renee Alexander '74, Cornell's new associate dean of students and director of intercultural programs. See larger image

In the context of setting priorities around diversity at all levels – faculty, all the way to undergraduates – the university is making other strides, particularly with recent high-level hires. Renee Alexander '74 is the new associate dean of students and director of intercultural programs, a role in which she will provide vision and leadership for initiatives to strengthen community among Cornell's increasingly diverse student body.

Working closely with Alexander will be Andrew Thompson Miller, recently named associate vice provost for academic diversity initiatives. He will head the new Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives and will work to promote academic achievement, with a focus on students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, as well as low-income and first-generation college students.

The Graduate School plans to hire an associate dean for inclusion and professional development to recruit and support students from historically underrepresented groups.

Investing in diversity priorities universitywide wouldn't be possible without philanthropy from people who share this vision. Alumni and friends have given $13 million to date to create the Sesquicentennial Faculty Fellowships.

Back to top