Hunter R. Rawlings III became interim president of Cornell University on April 25, 2016, following the untimely death of President Elizabeth Garrett.
Rawlings, a president emeritus of Cornell, had been the university’s tenth president (1995–2003), a professor of classics and history, and interim president for one year in 2005–2006. Immediately prior to his second interim term, he served for five years as president of the Association of American Universities.
As president of the AAU—an association of 62 leading research universities in the United States and Canada—Rawlings was a national spokesperson for higher education, leading the AAU’s advocacy on priorities such as funding for research, research policy issues, and graduate and undergraduate education. In 2013, he led a task force that made recommendations to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on balancing athletics and academics.
Rawlings came to Ithaca as Cornell’s tenth president with a vision for, in his words, “composing Cornell”: organizing the remarkably diverse parts of Cornell in such a way that they would work more effectively together. During his presidency, the university took great strides toward making that vision a reality.
As part of his commitment to academic excellence, he provided strong support for continuing to increase student diversity and for Cornell’s need-blind admission policy, which was made permanent during his tenure.
Rawlings renewed Cornell’s emphasis on the importance of undergraduate teaching, setting an example by teaching an undergraduate course in the Department of Classics during the last two years of his presidency. He established the new position of vice provost for undergraduate education and the Cornell Presidential Research Scholars Program, which is now named in his honor. He also envisioned and launched the Residential Initiative, a new approach to residential life that developed North Campus as an all-freshman area and West Campus as a collection of residential colleges for sophomores and juniors.
Rawlings set strategic scientific priorities for Cornell, resulting in, among other things, the Cornell Genomics Initiative and New Life Sciences Initiative. Rawlings also reorganized the biological sciences on the Ithaca campus and set in motion the plans for constructing a pioneering facility for life science technologies, later realized as Weill Hall. At the same time, he provided additional support for programs in the humanities and social sciences, recognizing their critical significance for the future of human societies in a rapidly changing scientific and technological environment.
Rawlings also strengthened Cornell’s Medical College, guiding the implementation of its strategic plan through a successful major gifts campaign. The college was renamed Weill Cornell Medical College after a transformative gift from Sanford and Joan Weill. In 2001 Rawlings signed an agreement to establish a new branch of the Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar.
At the conclusion of his presidency in 2003, Rawlings was elected president emeritus and became a full-time professor in Cornell’s Departments of Classics and History. From 2005 to 2006, he served as interim president following the resignation of President Jeffrey Lehman. During this period he advanced Cornell’s partnerships with universities in China, and he drew national attention with his 2005 State of the University address, in which he focused on what he termed the serious threats to science, to rational thought, and to a fundamental principle of democracy posed by efforts to require the teaching of “intelligent design” in science courses in U.S. public schools.
Before coming to Cornell, Rawlings was president of the University of Iowa from 1988 to 1995. There he chaired the Governor’s Commission on Foreign Language Studies and International Education from 1988 to 1991 and oversaw major research enhancements, particularly in the life sciences and the College of Medicine.
Previously, Rawlings was a faculty member and administrator for 18 years at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
In addition to his national service at the AAU, Rawlings has served as chair of the Ivy Council of Presidents and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He serves on the boards of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens and the Washington Latin Public Charter School.
Born in Norfolk, Virginia, Rawlings graduated from Haverford College with honors in classics and received his Ph.D., also in classics, from Princeton University. His scholarly publications include a book, The Structure of Thucydides’ History (Princeton University Press, 1981).
His wife, Elizabeth Trapnell Rawlings, is a professional translator with a master’s degree in French from the University of North Carolina and a Master of Fine Arts in Literary Translation from the University of Iowa. She has translated or collaborated in translating many books from French to English, particularly in the fields of Greek and Latin Literature and Ancient History.
The Rawlingses have four children and six grandchildren.