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Cornell University HR is Everywhere

January 1, 1997
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Related Topics: The HR Profession, Featured Article
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Ezra Cornell, an adventurous businessman, and Andrew Dickson White, a respected scholar, shared the bold dream of founding a "truly great university." Together they created a nonsectarian university that was the first in the eastern United States to admit women.

Cornell's dream to establish "an institution where any person can find instruction in any study" is still honored. The university's 13,300 undergraduates and 6,200 graduate and professional students come from all fifty states and more than 100 countries.

How did you end up with this particular job in this industry?
My first job out of college was in social services, working in an office for senior citizens. I left there and started working at a small personnel consulting firm while my husband was in graduate school. His first job was in Boston. Harvard had an opening in the HR office managing the unemployment compensation program. I was at Harvard for 13 years before moving back to New York. I've been at Cornell for six months.

What is your background?
I got my undergraduate degree in political science.

What are the biggest challenges of your industry?BR>Understanding the role that faculty play in the organization. They are not employees in the same way administrators and staff are. As we look to change and streamline, we must be aware of the special role of faculty.

What challenges do you feel are universal for HR?
HR in all industries must transform itself from a transactional, processing function to a more strategic, planful one. We must be the link between organizational and individual effectiveness. Cost containment and on-going business-process reengineering have found their way into all organizations and it's up to HR to lead the human side of these changes.

How is HR viewed at your organization?
The view within universities overall is changing. In my six months here, I have felt very much treated as a business partner by the president, the deans and the vice presidents. I've been made a partner in where we're going and how we're going to get there.

What about your job and/or your organization makes you most proud?
Being in a role in which you can help an organization and the people who work in the organization to mutually thrive, that's an incredible opportunity and challenge. I'm proud of that. I feel good also about the opportunity to provide leadership during this time of change.

What is "special" about HR at Cornell?
That we do operate very much like HR at a business. As industry looks around for HR people, I encourage the executives there not to overlook the people in universities. There are some fine, talented people in HR positions here who can transition between a university and a business setting very well. My experience in the business world has helped me in the university. Likewise, people from a university can positively encourage business.

Workforce, January 1997, Vol. 76, No. 1, p. 89.

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