Cornell President Is Chosen to Lead the Smithsonian

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 10, 2014 at 7:21 pm •  Published: March 10, 2014
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The Smithsonian Institution announced Monday that it had chosen David J. Skorton, a doctor and university president with a reputation as an energetic fundraiser and forceful advocate of the arts and humanities, as its new leader.

Skorton, a practicing cardiologist who heads Cornell University, said he plans to assume the job of secretary of the Smithsonian, overseeing its 19 museums and galleries, the National Zoological Park and nine research centers, on July 1, 2015. The current secretary, G. Wayne Clough, another former university president who has led the institution since 2008, plans to step down at the end of this year.

Calling the job of secretary “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Skorton, 64, said he hoped to “shine a light more clearly on people behind the scenes” at the Smithsonian.

He deferred laying out any other agenda or priorities, saying his first task is to learn about the institution.

“I still have a full-time job elsewhere,” he said.

Before becoming Cornell president in 2006, Skorton was on the faculty at the University of Iowa for 26 years and spent three years as its president. He has combined clinical work and research, treating teenagers and young adults with congenital heart disease and applying computer techniques to analyze images of the human heart. He said he hoped to build on the Smithsonian’s efforts to use technology to spread information and educational opportunities.

He nonetheless made a point at a news conference of emphasizing his devotion to the arts and humanities.

“A life in medicine has taught me that we will not solve our thorniest problems or meet our toughest challenges as a society through science alone,” he said.

Skorton also was on the Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences, which issued a report in 2011 that called for more support of the humanities.

Skorton was selected out of a starting field of 200 candidates by a unanimous vote of the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents, said John W. McCarter Jr., chairman of the board and the search committee.

In introducing Skorton at the news conference, Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and vice chairwoman of the board and the search committee, said his “track record of fundraising is phenomenal,” noting that he raised $5 billion while at Cornell.

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