As announced over at the Ithaca Voice, Cornell’s 13th president will also be its first female leader. Univ. Southern California provost Helen Elizabeth Garrett has been selected to take over the helm from David Skorton starting in July 2015.
In keeping with a Cornell trend to have presidents who’ve spent time in flyover country, 51-year old Elizabeth “Beth” Garrett started her academic career in Oklahoma. According to her curriculum vitae, she received a BA in history from the University of Oklahoma in 1985, where she was active in student government and Chi Omega sorority, and she has a JD from the University of Virginia in 1988, where she was valedictorian. Following law school, Garrett clerked for judge Stephen Williams on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit (1988-1989), and for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (1989-1990). She also served as legislative director and tax and budget counsel in the early 1990s to retired Democratic U.S. senator David L. Boren (D-Oklahoma; back in a time when Oklahoma elected more Democrats). Since that time, she’s been firmly ensconced in academia. She has served as a visiting law professor at UVA, Harvard, Caltech, the Interdisciplinary Center Law School in Israel and Central European University in Budapest. She has served as a law professor at U. Chicago (1995-2003), where she was deputy dean for academic affairs from 1999-2001. In 2003, she left for USC, where she would go on to serve as the vice provost for academic affairs (2005-2006) and then vice president for academic planning and budget (2006-2010). Garrett became provost, the second-in-command position for the university, in October 2010. Her tenure as USC provost has had its share of problems. It includes the failed merger of the Scripps Insitute with USC, and a series of high-profile crimes near the university where USC students were attacked.
As a lawyer, Garrett’s specialty is with government affairs and tax policy. In March 2009, she was nominated by Barack Obama to serve as assistant treasury secretary for tax policy, but withdrew that May for family reasons. It was suggested that she did not wish to put her family under the intense scrutiny that the vetting process required. She has been the target of the political right-wing’s fury in the past, for not doing enough to curtail a USC professor who used derogatory terms to describe Republicans. Along with that nomination, her other government involvements includes serving on a number of government advisory panels and boards, include George W. Bush’s 2005 Panel on Federal Tax Reform, and as the Commissioner of the California Fair Political Practices Commission since 2009. Like any other high-flying professional, she sits, or has sat on more advisory panels, had more professional memberships, and chaired more specialized committees and programs than you can shake a stick at. Her husband, USC law and philosophy professor Dr. Andrei Marmor, will be offered a position at Cornell.
A female lawyer with deep political and academic connections seems like a pretty safe choice for Cornell president. Although this will be her first time as a college president, she has strong enough credentials that, at a glance, her appointment appears to be a wise move.