by Edgar Allen Beem
Three weeks after stepping down as president of Cornell University, Hunter R. Rawlings ’66 is to be found in the rolling hills of the Virginia Piedmont where he is holed up in an old whitewashed brick cottage reading the oratory of Demosthenes and Isocrates in the original Greek. After two decades of higher education administration at the University of Colorado, University of Iowa, and Cornell, Rawlings is hitting the books in preparation for a return to the classroom and a scholarly pursuit of the classics first undertaken at Haverford 40 years ago.
“It’s hard,” says Rawlings of his studies, “but I love that it’s hard.”
Tall (6’ 7”), slender and fit at 58, Hunter Rawlings is casually dressed for July in Virginia in shorts, short-sleeved sports shirt, and sandals as he shows a visitor around the leafy grounds of Signal Hill. Towering tulip poplars shade the cottage. A few huge white blossoms still cling to the magnificent magnolia trees and chestnuts drop onto the driveway from on high. A swimming pool shimmers cool and blue at the bottom of the lawn.
The interior of the cottage is musty and cool with the air of a summer house that has not seen much use until recently. Author of The Structure of Thucydides’ History (Princeton University Press, 1981), Hunter Rawlings is known in the classical world as a Thucydides scholar, yet the antique-furnished rooms of Signal Hill might suggest that he is an American historian, containing as they do numerous images of Rawlings’ other inspiration, James Madison. The Father of the Constitution and fourth President of the United States lived just four miles from Signal Hill at Montpelier and Rawlings serves on the Montpelier board.
On April 28, when Cornell held Hats Off to Hunter Day to honor the retiring president, the administration gave him a first edition of The Papers of James Madison and a 19th century edition of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. What these men have in common is that they were both thinkers and doers, intellectuals and men of action—a path Rawlings himself has followed.
“Hunter remains a great enthusiast for liberal learning,” says Jack Rakove ’68, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Stanford historian who delivered a Madison lecture in his old friend’s honor on Hats Off to Hunter Day. “Usually, when an academic puts the classroom behind him and goes into administration, it’s a turning point in the road, taking one direction and neglecting the other. I don’t think there’s any question of that in Hunter’s case. Hunter’s enthusiasm for Madison is a demonstration that his intellectual interests have evolved and endured. It was clear to everyone at Cornell that he was anxious to come back into the classroom.”
Folding his long frame into a comfortable chair in the airy sunroom of his summer home, Hunter Rawlings takes a sip of cold water and begins a casual review of his distinguished academic career. The passing of the hours is marked by recorded birdcalls issuing from a clock in the corner.
From Norforlk to Haverford
Born Hunter Ripley Rawlings, III, in Norfolk, Virginia, on December 14, 1944, Rawlings grew up with a love of baseball, basketball, and books. He got his love of sports, he says, from his father and his love of reading from his mother. Rawlings pere was a pretty fair country ballplayer and played catcher at Virginia Military Institute until the Depression forced him to return home and go to work. He worked all his life at Watters & Martin wholesale hardware in Norfolk.
“He always felt a real respect for college education,” says Rawlings of his father. “That made a big difference to him and it made a big difference to me. He was very loyal to VMI.”
Rawlings’ mother, Tucker Trapnell Rawlings, was the daughter of an Episcopal minister and a graduate of Randolph-Macon Women’s College. She instilled in Hunter and his two sisters a lifelong love of books.
“All three of us were motivated to study and read.”
When Hunter was about to enter the seventh grade, Norfolk schools were closed in defiance of integration orders, so his parents enrolled him at private Norfolk Academy. When a freshman growth spurt shot him up to a gangly 6’ 6”, two tall teachers took young Rawlings under their wings and taught him the hook shot that would become his stock in trade on the basketball court.
Rawlings’ first athletic love, however, was baseball. A hard-throwing right-handed pitcher, Rawlings was intimidating on the mound, but his father— and first catcher — made an annual ritual of catching Hunter’s fastball barehanded— just once, but once was enough to re-establish the family pecking order. Rawlings’ height, long arms, and large hands gave him a natural sinkerball good enough to earn him a tryout with the Baltimore Orioles, but after graduating from Norfolk Academy in 1962, he turned down the offer of a minor league contract in order to go to college.
In the fall of 1962, having primed himself for college by reading Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire over the summer, Rawlings headed off to Haverford, then an all-male school with fewer than 500 students. Why Haverford?
“That was my mother’s influence,” Rawlings says. “She was from Wilmington, Delaware, and she had a very high regard for the Quakers. She got me interested in Quaker liberal arts education.”
Athletics, adds Rawlings, had little or nothing to do with his decision to attend Haverford.
“Haverford did no recruiting for athletics. Zero. The College was almost anti-athletics.”
Still, Haverford Athletic Director Greg Kannerstein ’63, remembers how the towering freshman led Haverford to a Division III Middle Atlantic Conference basketball tournament appearance and pitched the Fords to a rare winning season.
“I played first base,” says Kannerstein, “but when
Hunter pitched the coach moved me to left field. Hunter threw so hard
that no right-handed batter could hit the ball to left field. In today’s
world, he probably wouldn’t have become president of Cornell; he
would have played professional baseball.”
“He loved getting things done and doing them well,” says Felsen. “He had tremendous self-discipline and high standards. Hunter had high expectations of himself and everyone around him. He was not the kind of guy you wanted to make an error behind. He’d come to your room and say, ‘Don’t you guys think you need some more groundballs?’ He was always a leader.”
At Haverford, Rawlings distinguished himself on the mound with a sub-2.00 earned run average, as center on the hardwood by earning Most Valuable Player in the Middle Atlantic Conference, and in the classroom as a classics major. He had fallen in love with Greek history and literature at the tender age of 10, when his mother gave him a copy of The Iliad, but it was a course in Greek with Professor George Kennedy that solidified his classical bent.
“History spoke to me dramatically,” Rawlings says. “Greek history had extraordinary people in it, people of intellect and public action.”
It was Professor Wallace McCaffrey, however, who made the biggest impression on Rawlings at Haverford. Rawlings calls McCaffrey, a distinguished scholar of Elizabethan England, first at Haverford and later at Harvard, “the finest teacher I ever had in any subject.”
“I’m a huge believer in the value of a liberal arts education at the undergraduate level,” he says. “That’s largely why I want to go back to teaching. Wallace McCaffrey was a real model for me.”
At Haverford, Rawlings recalls, his study of the classics seemed totally divorced both from his athletic life and from what was going on in the larger world, namely the war in Vietnam and the mounting American opposition to it. When campus activists asked students to write protest letters to their hometown newspapers, however, “I did it— much to the embarrassment of my father.”
In 1966, after discovering much to his surprise that he was considered too tall for the draft, Rawlings headed off to Princeton on an NCAA scholarship to pursue a Ph.D. in classics.
From Princeton to Colorado
“In my third year at Princeton, I had a course in Thucydides with Bob Connor,” Rawlings says. “That course really brought things together. Thucydides wrote the history of the Peloponnesian War, which, in length and intensity, made Vietnam seem small-time. For 27 years in Athens there was tremendous bloodshed and suffering, but Thucydides treats it as a conflict with deeply moral issues. He was interested in what went wrong with people under the pressure of war.”
In 1970, having completed his Ph.D., Rawlings moved to Boulder, Colorado, where he assumed his first teaching position as an assistant professor of classics at the University of Colorado. In 1975, he took a sabbatical in order to complete his book on Thucydides and spent the academic year at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C., where center director Bernard Knox, a Sophocles scholar, became another major influence.
“I spent the morning and afternoon with the books,” Rawlings recalls, “and lunch listening to Bernard’s war stories. He was a classicist and also a man of action in two wars.”
And there’s that conjunction of scholarship and service again.
“It was a combination I was drawn to,” Rawlings admits, “serious scholarship and a life of public service. But I had no idea I would go into administration. I was so happy teaching and doing scholarship I couldn’t see straight. ”
Rawlings’ slow drift into university administration began in 1978-79 with service on a faculty committee.
“I just got familiar with a broader segment of the university— chemistry, biology, political science, history,” he explains. “The more familiar I got, the more interested I got. Then I was asked to put my name in for the position of part-time assistant vice chancellor for instruction.”
Rawlings served in that capacity on the Boulder campus from 1980 until 1984 when the position of vice president for academic affairs came open. Rawlings says he took the job primarily because he was so impressed with the new University of Colorado president Arnold Weber.
“He was a smart, tough, enormously witty man,” says Rawlings. “He was someone I could admire and respect. I was drawn to work with a guy like that. I loved working for Arnold Weber, because he was able to raise the aspirations of the university by his will.”
Rawlings had already moved into administration when his old Princeton mentor W. Robert Connor came to Colorado for a year to teach. Connor, now head of the Teagle Foundation in New York, recognized immediately that “Hunter has the ability to combine a very serious interest in teaching and scholarship with a very gracious touch as an administrator.”
By now a rising star in higher education administration, Rawlings began to get overtures from universities seeking potential presidents. One serious overture came in 1988 from the University of Iowa. Rawlings, who had recently re-married, was reluctant to ask his new bride to move to Iowa City. But Elizabeth Trapnell Rawlings, a fellow Virginian, Rawlings’ second cousin and a translator of French texts, was thrilled at the idea.
“I’ve wanted to live in a small town in Iowa all my life,” she told him.
Successful careers often have an air of intentional inevitability about them when seen in retrospect, but Hunter Rawlings insists, “I had no plan, no desire, no administrative ambition. I never saw myself as a college president, but administrative work did not turn me off and I found I was reasonably good at it.”
When he took over at the University of Iowa in 1988, Rawlings says he spent much of the first year touring the state and getting to know the people, in the process discovering that Iowa “is like one large community.” And along with farming, one of the shared experiences that knits the state together is Hawkeye football. So perhaps Rawlings should not have been surprised when his proposal to ban freshman from varsity teams ignited a firestorm of controversy in Iowa.
Rawlings had only been in Iowa City a few months when two former Hawkeye football players testified at the federal trial of two sports agents that Iowa had scheduled them fluff courses such as watercolor painting, billiards, and bowling in order to keep them eligible.
“I was furious,” says Rawlings, noting that his anger was not just at cheating football players of a real education but also that “there was no reaction to the scandal.”
Rawlings insisted that academics, not athletics, must come first at the university. In an April 1989, newspaper interview, therefore, Rawlings stated that freshmen should not be eligible to play sports at the Division I level and, furthermore, that if the Big Ten or NCAA didn’t act within the next three years, he would impose such a prohibition unilaterally at Iowa. The reaction from the governor on down to the football coach and the fans was swift and negative.
“The University of Iowa is the franchise in Iowa and I was messing with the state’s team,” Rawlings recalls. “I was persona non grata in a hurry. But I never did retract my comment. I’m sure some Iowans never forgave me.”
“That episode,” Rawlings continues, “led me to get involved with the NCAA’s presidents commission. I was one of the people who worked to reform the NCAA to put the presidents of universities in charge. Now the board of directors is all presidents. It used to be athletic directors and coaches.”
Rawlings says his own experience as a scholar-athlete at Haverford continues to inform his views on the proper relationship between studies and sports.
“I continue to see Division One athletics as deeply problematic,” he says. “It’s such a compromise to run a major collegiate athletic program at a university when your first interest should always be academic standards and scholarship. I had played sports all four years at Haverford really seriously and that convinced me that the balance between a strong academic life and athletics is achievable.”
Frank Conroy ’58, author of the hugely influential memoir Stop-Time, had taken over as director of the University of Iowa’s prestigious Writers’ Workshop the year before his fellow Haverford alum arrived on campus. He says that most people at the university believed in Rawlings and knew that “he was there to help.” The problem was that, according to one newspaper poll, only 13 percent of Iowa Hawkeye fans had ever actually attended the university.
“Sports is always a tough call for an intelligent president, but Hunter was very popular,” says Conroy. “Everyone remembers him very fondly. Maybe the ex-football coach didn’t, but everyone else did.”
Conroy says that because of their common link to Haverford, he and Rawlings became friends at Iowa, but for that very reason he never felt he could ask the president for anything. But when, in 1994, he learned that Rawlings was leaving for Cornell, he worked up the temerity to ask Rawlings to find a new home for the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Rawlings came through with the 1857 Dey House mansion that now houses the workshop.
Conroy credits Rawlings with a strong focus on undergraduate education, in particular with working to increase faculty to keep pace with enrollment so that underclassmen could get the courses they needed to graduate, a problem he says has grown worse since Rawlings left.
Asked whether he thinks Rawlings’ commitment to undergraduate education reflects his Haverford experience, Conroy says unequivocally, “The first couple of years at Haverford were the foundation for a lot of what happened to both of us later on.”
When Hunter Rawlings arrived in Ithaca, New York, in 1995 to become the 10th president of Cornell University, he was not the first Big Red president to make the move from the Big Ten to the Ivy League. “Cornell has hired many of its presidents from the Big Ten, mostly from the University of Michigan,” says Rawlings, noting that his successor, Jeffrey S. Lehman, had been dean of the University of Michigan Law School.
Cornell is an Ivy League school that looks westward. It’s the land grant university of New York. It has a big agriculture school and a big veterinary school, so it looks to Michigan and Wisconsin as colleagues.”
In his Oct. 12, 1995, inaugural address, Rawlings described Cornell as “the only university in the country to unite the mission of a highly selective, privately endowed institution with that of a state-assisted land-grant university serving all citizens.”
Rawlings’ inaugural address was titled “To Compose Cornell: Cultivating the Mind,” and in it he signaled his intention to unite and coordinate the disparate elements of the university in order to maximize its potentials. In keeping with his established academic priorities, one of Rawlings’ first initiatives addressed undergraduate life at Cornell.
“As we compose the Cornell of the future,” he said, “one of the great unresolved questions before us concerns the degree to which our undergraduates share in the intellectual life of the university.”
His major concern was that the geographic isolation created by a campus
built on hills and gorges had defined a segregated social system.
The new president decided it was time for action. What Rawlings proposed, echoing the bomb he dropped at Iowa, was that “We’re not going to have freshmen live in program houses any longer. My desire was that all first-year students ought to be together.”
The proposal drew an immediate outcry from minority students and even brought the Rev. Al Sharpton up from New York City to lead a protest. Convinced that self-segregation was creating hard feelings on campus, Rawlings proposed a compromise that seemed to disarm the opposition.
“I announced a new policy,” he says. “All freshmen at Cornell from now on would live on the North Campus. We would build additional residence halls on the North Campus so we could house all freshmen there.”
Program houses would simply have be located on North Campus if they wanted to house freshmen. The North Campus plan was implemented and its success prompted Rawlings to initiate an even bolder housing plan— creating a system of residential colleges for sophomores and juniors on the West Campus.
Steve Blake, a government major in Cornell’s Class of 2005, was president of the first freshman class to be housed entirely on North Campus.
“Living and learning together with my entire class has allowed us to develop more class spirit than I’ve felt in the classes before,” says Blake. “In a university traditionally separated by schools, the North Campus initiative has added a new element to the Cornell experience, reaching across schools to unify each class with a common experience.”
“Haverford had a fair amount to do with my thinking on the close interaction between undergraduates and faculty,” Rawlings says. “There will not only be residence halls but also dining and seminar rooms, and faculty mentors living in the residential colleges. It’s all designed to create an intellectual community with faculty leadership.”
Isaac Kramnick, Richard J. Schwartz Professor of Government and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education at Cornell, praises Rawlings for being “a professors’ president,” and willingly foregoing potentially lucrative naming opportunities in order that the five new upperclass residence halls planned for West Campus be named for distinguished Cornell professors of the past.
“Hunter engaged himself in the academic life of the campus in a way that made it quite clear he was interested in intellectual activity,” says Kramnick, pointing out that Rawlings taught three classics course himself, regularly attended lectures he would not have been expected to attend as president, and raised faculty salaries at the university.
Kramnick reports that he and a colleague were amazed when President Rawlings invited them to lunch in his office to discuss a book they had published titled The Godless Constitution (W.W. Norton & Company, 1997). It turned out that Rawlings felt the professors had given Thomas Jefferson too much credit and wanted to lobby them on behalf of James Madison as the most important proponent of freedom of conscience in American history.
Rawlings’ ambitious housing initiatives did not come cheap. The North Campus facilities cost $65 million and the price tag for the West Campus project is $200 million, $116 million of which has been raised to date.
“Cornell’s fundraising ability is phenomenal and I don’t claim responsibility for that,” Rawlings says. But Rawlings may be underselling himself as a fundraiser.
Rawlings arrived on campus at the tail end of a $1.5-billion capital campaign, but in the eight years of his presidency Cornell raised an additional $2.3 billion, in the process increasing its endowment from $1.424 billion to $2.894 billion.
“Cornell does not have an endowment equal to its Ivy League peers,” Rawlings points out, “but Cornell gets state funding to help with the contract colleges. At Cornell, you have to hustle a little more than at the other Ivy League schools.”
In recent years, Cornell has raised close to $400 million a year, or, as Rawlings puts it, “You’re raising a million dollars a day year in and year out. Of course that’s not just the president; it’s the deans, the large development staff, the provost, and the board itself is raising and giving money.”
Fundraising has become one of the chief responsibilities of university presidents and Rawlings estimates he spent 25 percent of his time in private fundraising efforts, 30 percent if you figure in lobbying Albany for state funding. Add to that external commitments such as chairing both the Ivy League Council of Presidents and the Association of American Universities and speechmaking both here and abroad, and Rawlings calculates he has spent half his time at Cornell off-campus.
“I was a president who divided his time between external activity and campus activity,” he says. “Some presidents give the provost 100-percent responsibility for academics. You can do that, but I enjoyed the business of the campus. I didn’t want to be an absentee president who was just a fundraiser.”
Fundraising is crucial to higher education, Rawlings notes, not only for major capital improvements but also in order to provide financial aid, the mechanism by which colleges and universities ensure that they can admit students regardless of financial need. A few years ago, in fact, when some elite colleges broke rank with tradition and began offering free rides to the most desirable students regardless of financial need, Rawlings was one of the prime movers behind the so-called 568 Group, a consortium of some 30 colleges and universities— including both Cornell and Haverford—that rededicated themselves to need-blind admissions and need-based financial aid.
“568 is a clause in the Higher Education Act that enables colleges and universities to compare the way they calculate family need for college,” says Rawlings. “The 30 colleges in the 568 Group developed a common method for determining how much need a student had. We’re committed to need-based aid, to committing our financial aid money to those who really need it. Tom Tritton added Haverford’s name to the list and he has been a strong spokesman for the group.”
Recognizing the value of athletics, Rawlings also helped raise a $100-million sports endowment at Cornell. One of Rawlings’ on-campus passions has been attending Big Red wrestling matches. Cornell now has what Rawlings believes is the only collegiate building devoted solely to wrestling.
“I developed at Iowa an almost obsessive interest in college wrestling,” says Rawlings. “That has carried over to Cornell.”
Another Rawlings priority that carried over from Iowa to Cornell was a strong medical school, but when he arrived in Ithaca, Cornell’s medical school was embroiled in a legal battle with the New York City hospital that housed it.
“When I came to Cornell, several trustees told me privately to get rid of the medical school,” says Rawlings. “They said it’s nothing but trouble; it’s 230 miles from Ithaca; it’s just a headache. But my experience at Iowa was very positive with the medical school. I knew the medical school at Cornell could be a great part of a research institution.”
So Rawlings spent a good part of his years in office brokering a tri-institutional collaboration among Cornell, Rockefeller University, and the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Institute to re-position Cornell’s medical school for the future. He also helped raise $650 million to improve the Weill Cornell Medical College.
“I wanted to draw Cornell-Ithaca down to New York City and get it hooked into the great biomedical community in New York,” says Rawlings of the effort he expended on behalf of the troubled medical school.
Cornell trustee Jan Rock Zubrow calls connecting the medical college in New York to the life sciences in Ithaca “Hunter’s unfinished business,” but she is still a big Hunter Rawlings fan.
“Hunter’s vision,” says Zubrow, “was considering the colleges together so Cornell was greater than the sum of its parts, creating interdepartmental programs to capture the excellence. It did transform the university, particularly in key scientific areas—the life sciences, genomics, and nanotechnology.”
Indeed, in his 1995 inaugural address, Rawlings had announced his “composing Cornell” agenda by warning against isolated academic divisions and curricular redundancy.
“Those universities that can think their way into greater curricular coherence and more collaborative research across departmental and college barriers,” Rawlings said, “will be best prepared for the 21st century.”
Trying to achieve coherence and collaboration at a university like Cornell with schools as disparate and seemingly unrelated as hotel administration, engineering, agriculture, and industrial and labor relations might seem like a compositional exercise in dissonance, but Rawlings found that the College of Arts & Science provided the tonic chord.
“These other schools and colleges at Cornell depend very heavily on the College of Arts & Sciences,” he says. “If you’re in hotel administration, engineering, agriculture, or human ecology, you spend a good part of your first two years in the arts college, so it was not as though you had to convince the hotel school to come into the composition. There was not a lot of changing curriculums in the individual colleges.”
While his greatest successes in achieving coherence and collaboration were in the sciences, Rawlings shook up the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning in 2002 by proposing to dissolve it on the grounds that the three departments did not collaborate well enough. The hue and cry from alumni may have saved the college from being dissolved and re-distributed, but there are now two committees studying ways to achieve greater curricular coherence.
“I think it got their attention,” says Rawlings of the proposal to break up Cornell’s smallest college.
One aspect of Haverford heritage that Hunter Rawlings has apparently not embraced is the Quaker consensus model of decision-making. The Cornell Alumni Magazine, in appraising the Rawlings Years in a May/June 2003 article titled “Standing Tall,” referred to “what some have described as an autocratic administrative style.” Assistant provost Isaac Kramnick, however, insists Rawlings was simply “decisive,” willing to listen to all points of view, but also willing to make hard decisions rather than study issues to death.
“I do freely admit I get impatient with the academic process some of the time,” says Rawlings on his own behalf. “Faculty members are good critics. They can find many things wrong with any idea, but it’s difficult in that event to do anything new —or even old and badly needed.”
“Hunter Rawlings is an extraordinary man,” says Cornell trustee Jan Zubrow. “He is highly regarded by the alumni, the trustees, the faculty and the students. One of his key strengths is that he resonated with all the different constituencies at Cornell. He took bold steps that transformed the university. Cornell is a much better institution as a result of his leadership.”
In fact, jokes Zubrow, “The only person not saddened by his leaving is my husband, because now Hunter will have more time for Haverford.”
Jan Rock Zubrow’s husband, Barry Zubrow ’75, chairs the
Haverford Board of Managers.
Back to Class
Haverford President Tom Tritton recalls that the first time he met Rawlings the two men had a long discussion about the future of scholarship and the humanities. Tritton came away from that first meeting eager to have Rawlings join the Haverford Board of Managers but convinced that, as a sitting university president, he would be much too busy. To Tritton’s surprise, Rawlings was eager to join the board of his alma mater.
“Hunter understands Haverford because he went here,” says Tritton. “He knows the place it was and the place it is. More importantly, he understands higher education as a whole. For me, as President, it’s enormously comforting to have someone on the board who knows what it’s like to sit in my chair.”
One of the clearest demonstrations of the high value that Rawlings places on liberal arts education is the fact that he sent both of his own children—daughter Liz and son Rip—to Hobart and William Smith. Elizabeth Trapnell Rawlings’ son Hill Pierce graduated from the University of Colorado and her daughter Ashley Pierce Slade is a 1993 alum of Haverford.
“You can take any major and have a career, but to pursue a serious life, you really do need to be well-read and thoughtful,” says Rawlings of the value of a liberal arts education. “You have to be able to apply some kind of ethical standard to each issue. That’s where Haverford’s motto—Non doctior, sed meliore doctrina imbutus— comes in. We’re not turning out students who are necessarily more learned; we are interested in turning out students imbued with ethical learning. Haverford has always cared about the ethical dimension of education. It’s part of its Quaker heritage. A Haverfordian will always ask, ‘What’s the ethical thing to do?’”
In a key 1999 address at Cornell titled “The Role of the Humanities in a Research University,” Rawlings argued persuasively for the importance of “moral knowledge,” quoting his Princeton mentor Bob Connor, then director of the National Humanities Center, who defined moral knowledge “as a way of finding out, rather than a content or a set of rigid moral laws.”
“In the final analysis,” said Rawlings, “the development of moral knowledge demands that each of us answer the ultimate Socratic question: ‘Who am I, and what should I do with my life?’ In universities, we must remember, a major part of our obligation is to help 18-year-olds answer that question.”
Though at home and at ease in the rolling hills of Virginia, Rawlings jokes that his decision to step down from the presidency of Cornell and back into the classroom was prompted by jealously watching his wife use his library while translating French books on Greek culture (“I’m running around raising money and she’s in my library!”), the real reason clearly has more to do with how Hunter R. Rawlings, III, answers that ultimate Socratic question.
“For me personally,” Rawlings concludes, “I began to feel that if I didn’t soon go back to full-time faculty life I never would. I like intellectual life best of all and being a university president is not really intellectual life. I didn’t want to forget why I was drawn to intellectual life in the first place—and that was because of the example of Wallace McCaffrey at Haverford. I wanted to get back to the books."
And so Hunter Rawlings prepares to return to the classroom. After taking the fall semester off in order to travel to France and Greece (and to allow his successor to get his feet under him without tripping over the ex-president), he plans to teach a spring semester course in Advanced Greek Oratory, and one on Periclean Athens. Some of his new colleagues in the Cornell classic department, he admits, question whether he will actually do it—drop the reigns of power in order to teach undergrads—but Rawlings insists he is prefectly serious.
"When I talked to him about it," attests Tritton, "he sounded like a kid, he was so eager to get back to what he started out to do. It's a big loss to higher education administration, but it's a big gain for students at Cornell and for the humanities in general."
Cornell junior Steve Blake testifies from experience that Hunter Rawlings is "a dynamic and passionate teacher" and offers a possible glimpse of the Professor Hunter Rawlings to come.
"I was fortunate to take Periclean Athens, Classics 258, from the President the past spring," says Blake. "His enthusiasm for teaching the classics was clearly evident, and I never felt a lecture unimpressed. He has a fabulous way of brining past events to life in a lecture. His commanding presence on campus translated easily to the classroom; how can you not pay attention with the President's long arms gesticulating enthusiastically?"
Edgar Allen Beem is a freelance writer and art critic in Yarmouth, Maine. He is author of Maine Art Now and a contributor to Photo District News, ARTnews, Boston Globe Magazine, Down East, and Yankee.
How the Class of '63 Got (and Received) the Best of Hunter Rawlings
It wasn’t easy to ignore a guy who’s 6' 8", spoke with a strange drawl, and did most things better than the rest of us. But we tried. How we tried in 1962-63.
The senior-dominated basketball team didn’t need help from rhinie Hunt Rawlings. We knew we would have a great season. Unfortunately, our scrimmage opponents and our coach, Ernie Prudente, disagreed. The perceptive Prudente gave us enough time to figure it out ourselves and then put Rawlings in the lineup in the second half of the last scrimmage.
The offense instantly acquired its missing zing. Rawlings and 6’9” Pete Dorwart became the premier rebounding duo in the NCAA College Division, and the rest, a 12-3 record and a berth in the Middle Atlantic Conference playoffs (along with colleges now in NCAA Division I), is history.
Then there was Philosophy 101. We were amused to see the aspiring classics scholar in the course. Didn’t Hunter know the rest of us were there to ease our way to a credit without too much work while we focused on our majors and prepared for dreaded “Comps”? Didn’t a frosh have better things to do?
A few days before the first-semester final, the seniors formed a study group to insure we understood the major principles of the course so we could use our expository talents to get decent grades. The only problem, as became apparent in five minutes of the study session, was that none of us knew what ANY of the major principles of the course were.
“Hunt, if you need some help in preparing for Phil 101, a bunch of us are getting together tonight.” Rawlings was duly grateful, and remained so (whether in reality or just through proper respect for his elders we never learned) as we picked his brain unmercifully in the guise of helping him. Let’s just hope his grade was more representative of his knowledge of the subject than ours were. We cheerfully accepted his thanks for allowing him to sit in on our elevated intellectual discourse.
By spring, the situation was intolerable. We were happy to have Hunter around, helping us win on the court and throwing seeds from the mound. He was fun to be with, and we could find no signs of arrogance or “attitude,” as they say today. And he was SO damned modest. He and some of his rhinie pals from third-floor Barclay, including three-sport star Dave Felsen ’66 and a humorous preppie called, incredibly, Chevy Chase, were getting far too much attention. Something had to be done.
This was an era of pranks and practical jokes. The secrets of successful pranks are timing and knowing your victim. Hunt’s smooth surface gave us little room to exploit possible weaknesses. But one night at dinner, he interrupted our boasting of all the brilliant pranks we’d pulled lately to declare that we’d NEVER be able to fool him. Eyebrows lifted and gazes met. A cabal was soon formed.
We still needed a lever to pull. Miraculously, it appeared in a day or so. Hunt mowed down one of the rival baseball teams, and accepted our congratulations with customary humility. However, an intelligence source under deep cover revealed that in a phone call home Hunter had boasted of his pitching prowess that day.
The plotters swung into action. Student reporter on the campus paper met with the printers. Perhaps a few dollars changed hands. The details don’t matter any more; suffice it to say that a letter of interest on the authentic stationery of the New York Mets plus an information form to return to the Mets’ regional office soon landed in Hunter’s mailbox.
With great tact, we pried this secret out from the reluctant Rawlings. “It’s only the Mets (then an expansion laughingstock),” Hunter said diffidently. “After all, I had a tryout with the Orioles in high school.” Not very satisfactory, but then our mole reported that he was singing a different tune in phone calls to family and perhaps even to feminine admirers. He was pretty pleased with himself after all.
The coup de grace was applied when we retrieved the information form (the “Mets’ regional office” coincidentally had the same address as one of the plotters’ nearby relatives). While most of Hunter’s responses harmonized with the “facts,” as we understood them, there were a few exaggerations. He didn’t really have “better-than-average” speed on the basepaths, for example. And it WAS interesting to learn that despite his public protestations to the contrary, Hunter would think seriously of abandoning his superior liberal arts education if the bonus money was good enough. A few deeply personal revelations admirably rounded out the picture.
We weren’t disappointed in Hunt’s reactions when confronted with the evidence that he, too, could be fooled, even if only by such subtle and ingenious minds as were possessed by a certain coterie of Haverford seniors. He was clearly shocked and surprised and even—did it ever happen before or since?—embarrassed. Yet as we refreshed ourselves at a local hangout and smiled benevolently up at the talented young man who yet had not quite acquired the savoir-faire that some elders, us for example, possessed, did a stray thought that just maybe he knew it all the time but didn’t want to disappoint us nag at our consciousness? No, couldn’t be, let’s have another…
The Haverford seniors of 1963 graduated in full awareness of how we had educated the raw frosh from Virginia about the ways of the world. Probably he never would have gotten the NCAA Scholarship, made MVP of the conference, caused the Princeton faculty to gasp in admiration of his Ph.D. thesis, or ascended to the prediencies of Iowa and Cornell and national leadership in higher education without us. Well done, Hunter. You've made us proud!
—Greg Kannerstein '63