Elizabeth Garrett, First Female President of Cornell, Dies at 52

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Only eight months into her post, Elizabeth Garrett, a lawyer and scholar who became the first female president of Cornell University, died on Sunday. The university said that the cause was colon cancer.

Ms. Garrett announced on February 8th that she had been diagnosed with colon cancer and was going under aggressive treatment at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City. She was released from the intensive care unit at Weill following surgery in February.

Ms. Garrett had previously served as provost at the University of Southern California from 2010 until 2014.

Kelsey O’Connor, writing for the Ithaca Journal, noted that a university-wide moment of silence was held, which was followed by the playing of the Cornell Chimes. Scores of people gathered at the Cornell Arts Quad to commemorate Ms. Garrett’s passing.

Condolences were sent across the nation from faculties, administrators, and public officials, including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. The governor called her a visionary leader “committed to further the education and growth of those around her.”

“Being the first woman president of Cornell, just as I was the first woman provost at USC, puts me in the position of being a role model – not just for young women, but also for men,” Garrett told the magazine Times Higher Education in 2014. “It’s important for women and men to see strong and capable women in positions of leadership, so we understand that certain characteristics such as gender and race do not determine how well people do in these offices.”

Daniel Slotnik of The New York Times reports that Garrett’s boldest effort as president was her plan to coalesce Cornell’s three business programs into a College of Business.

Garret was born in Oklahoma City in 1963 and earned a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Oklahoma, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1985. She then earned her law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1988, and, after graduating, she clerked for Justice Thurgood Marshall of the Supreme Court. She also taught as a visiting professor at Harvard Law School, the University of Virginia, and in Budapest and Israel. Additionally, she served on a tax reform panel appointed by George W. Bush in 2005.

Cornell’s provost, Michael Kotlikoff, was named acting president. Kotlikoff released a statement on Monday saying that Ms. Garrett was an inspiring visionary who “continually raised the bar for all of us at Cornell as we charted the university’s future together … Her greatest legacy will be for this generation of Cornellians – faculty, students, and staff – to build on Beth’s fearless dedication to discovery and learning, and her incredible energy to make her vision for Cornell University’s future a reality.”

Ms. Garrett is survived by her husband, Andrei Marmor, a professor of law and philosophy at Cornell; her parents, Robert and Jane Garrett, and a sister, Laura Gruntmeir. Cornell, an Ivy League institution, was founded in 1865 in Ithaca, New York and has an enrollment of almost 22,000 students.