Cornell President Elizabeth Garrett dies at 52

Elizabeth Garrett officially assumed duties as Cornell President on July 1, 2015, becoming the first woman to hold the office in university history. (Cornell Chronicle)
Elizabeth Garrett officially assumed duties as Cornell President on July 1, 2015, becoming the first woman to hold the office in university history. (Cornell Chronicle)

While most of the Ivy League news this week has centered on the triumph and controversy associated with the Yale basketball team, Cornell University has unexpectedly entered the front pages due to the death of its President, Elizabeth Garrett, according to multiple sources.  Ms. Garrett, 52, died on Sunday night at her home in New York City due to colon cancer.

Ms. Garrett was the thirteenth President in Cornell’s history, and its first female leader.  She was elected President in September 2014 and was inaugurated on Sept. 18, 2015.  Prior to her time at Cornell, she was the Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Southern California.

President Garrett did her undergraduate studies at the University of Oklahoma, and earned her law degree from the University of Virginia. Afterwards, she clerked for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.  She was a legislative director for Sen. David Boren (D-OK), a member of President George W. Bush’s Advisory Panel for Federal Tax Reform, and a professor of law at the University of Chicago.


On Feb. 8, President Garrett notified the Cornell community that she had recently been diagnosed with Colon Cancer and was undergoing an “aggressive treatment plan” at Cornell Weill Medical Center in New York City.  On Feb. 19, she underwent surgery and transferred the duties and the powers of the presidency to Provost Michael Kotlikoff.  According to Robert Harrison, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, the Provost will remain as the Active President.  There is no information regarding the timing of the search for a new President.

Tuesday afternoon, more than a thousand students, faculty and employees gathered on the school’s Arts Quad to honor President Garrett with a moment of silence and a chimes concert.

Just days before this sad news, the Cornell men’s basketball team ended its nine-game losing streak with a 75-71 Senior Night victory over the visiting Brown Bears. Matt Morgan led all scorers with 25 points, while Darryl Smith put in 13 points.  The night before, Yale beat the Big Red by 24 to earn at least a share of the Ivy League title that it would win outright the next evening at Columbia.

Matt Morgan, who earned his sixth Ivy League Rookie of the Week award, leaves this season as the all-time freshman scorer in Ivy League history.  Not only did he become the first freshman to score more than points in a season (516 total), but he led the Ivy League with a season average of 18.9 a game and a conference average of 22.6 a contest.

Smith ended up with the leading field goal percentage in the league with 64.9 percent overall and 68 percent in conference. Junior Robert Hatter ended up as the third-leading overall scorer in the league with 17.1 points per game.  Junior David Onuorah finished the season third in overall blocks (45) and ninth in total rebounds (189).

The Big Red ended the 2015-16 campaign 10-18 with a 7-7 nonconference record and a 3-11 mark in the Ivy League.  After the victory over Brown, Cornell ended up tied for seventh with the Bears. Coach Bill Courtney ends his sixth season with an overall record of 60-113 (.531) and a league result of 27-57 (.474). Since the Sweet 16 season of 2009-2010, the Big Red have stayed in the lower division of the league and been the one Ivy not to make any postseason appearances.

Many Cornell fans and followers of Ivy League basketball have felt that Bill Courtney’s contract will not be renewed.  While there has been a great deal of talent brought to Ithaca by the coach over the last several years, the uptempo style of play has not been enough to translate into wins.

Will the tragic and sudden passing of President Garrett have any influence on the upcoming decision by Athletic Director Andy Noel and Acting President Kotlikoff?  With the Board of Trustees searching for a new President, there may not be an interest in having a simultaneous search for a new basketball coach, even if it is not done by the same group.  No matter the decision, Cornell basketball fans at least know that they will have a lot of returning players that have talent and heart. If they are put into the right system, this team has the potential to flourish.

For now, the Big Red community will just have to wait to see what direction Cornell basketball and, more importantly, Cornell University take.

1 thought on “Cornell President Elizabeth Garrett dies at 52

  1. Very nice tribute to President Garrett.
    I am writing this deliberately before the Princeton, Penn game, about another Cornell conference leading statistic.- because at present Jojo Fallas of Cornell and Cedric Kuakumensah of Brown are tied for the conference league in 3 point field goal percentage at 50%. Depending on how Spencer Weisz of Princeton at 49.2% and Devin Cannady of Princeton at 48.2% do in the game tonight, Fallas and Kuakumensah may only have the league lead for two days. Here’s to hoping that neither Weisz or Cannady have a 3 point night like Maodo Lo had against Princeton in Columbia’s last game against Princeton last year. and that Fallas and Kuakumensah stay tied for the lead.

Leave a Comment