Cornell President, UVa Alumna, Dies at 52

On Sunday night, Cornell University President Elizabeth Garrett died after a short battle with colon cancer. Garrett was a UVa alumna who graduated from the School of Law in 1988.

In a February 8th public statement, Garrett revealed that she was recently diagnosed with colon cancer. After naming university provost Michael Kotlikoff as acting president, Garrett underwent aggressive treatment for the cancer. On Monday, Cornell announced that the 52-year-old had succumbed to her illness.

Courtesy: Cornell Daily Sun
Courtesy: Cornell Daily Sun

Robert Harrison, the chairman of Cornell’s board of trustees, informed the student body of her passing via email.

“From the moment I met [Elizabeth] during the presidential search, it was clear to me that she had the intellect, energy and vision not only to lead Cornell, but to be one of the greatest presidents in our 150-year history,” Harrison wrote. “While Beth’s tenure as president has tragically been cut short, her efforts over the last eight months have set the university on a path toward continued excellence. She will leave a lasting legacy on our beloved institution and will be terribly missed.”

Garrett became Cornell’s first female president in July 2015 after her predecessor, David Skorton, stepped down to head the Smithsonian Institution.  In February, she was named the 2016 recipient of the UVa Distinguished Alumna Award by the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center for her work in academia. UVa Law now grieves the loss of a remarkable colleague and friend.

“The entire Law School community mourns the loss of a brilliant and prominent alumna,” Law School Dean Paul G. Mahoney said. “Beth Garrett was also a dear friend to many members of our faculty. We will miss her energy, intelligence and good humor.”

Garrett held a number of groundbreaking positions in her career as a lawyer and educator. One of her first jobs was clerking for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.  She went on to teach law as a visiting professor at Virginia, Harvard, and the University of Chicago, as well as in Budapest and Israel. In 2005, President George W. Bush appointed her to serve on a nine-member advisory panel on federal tax reform. Garrett was also the first female provost at the University of Southern California, a position she held for five years before moving to Cornell.

In her short time as president, Garrett led an effort to group Cornell’s three accredited business programs into a College of Business.

“Cornell’s undergraduate business school is concentrated in a major called Applied Economics and Management,” Cornell senior and AME concentrator Allison Lombardi said. “While it is distinguished as the Dyson School of Business, it really is part of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. President Garrett wanted to separate Dyson and the Johnson Graduate School of Business into one distinct college to improve upon Cornell’s business offerings and reputation.”

While only in office for eight months, Garrett had an immediate impact on students and colleagues alike as a vibrant and passionate leader.

“I feel very fortunate to have been a member of President Garrett’s only graduating class,” Lombardi said. “Only about 300 students graduated in December and her speech is one I’ll always remember. It was all about hope for the future and making a difference in the world, which now carries much more weight given her abrupt passing.”


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