Gifts create new Arts & Sciences professorships

Four new alumni gifts to the Winokur Future Faculty Initiative have helped the College of Arts & Sciences to create three new professorships and fund a new graduate student position.

The $40 million initiative, launched in May with a $10 million challenge gift from Barton and Susan Winokur, both Class of ’61, will support the creation of 15-25 new endowed positions within the college.

Gifts will enable the college to replace retiring faculty, retain stellar junior faculty, and recruit midcareer and senior faculty to provide leadership in areas of strategic importance. It will also provide funding to recruit top postdoctoral and graduate students.

One of the new alumni gifts comes from Mary Meduski ’80, whose support created the Mary Armstrong Meduski '80 Assistant Professor position for a female faculty member. The position is now held by Samantha Sheppard in the Department of Performing and Media Arts.

“Cornell was a positive momentum-builder for me — for my career and for me as a person,” said Meduski, who majored in biological sciences and is president and chief financial officer of TierPoint.

“The beauty of a liberal arts education is that you are learning for the sake of learning,” she said.

The Winokurs’ challenge gift provides matching funds for donors who want to support the Winokur Future Faculty Initiative, which aims to move more of the college’s departments into top-ranked positions in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and mathematics, according to Gretchen Ritter ’83, the Harold Tanner Dean of Arts & Sciences.

Some of the multidisciplinary areas where faculty growth will be particularly essential in the coming years include nanoscale science, behavioral economics, sustainability and media studies, as well as other emerging research areas in the social sciences, sciences, arts and humanities, Ritter said.

John Josephson ’83 provided a gift to support a new graduate or postdoctoral position in the field of computational social sciences.

“Great teachers have the ability to alter student experiences for the good more than any other single factor and great researchers are essential to the reputation and academic standing of a world-class university,” said Josephson, chairman and CEO of SESAC Inc. “The opportunity to leverage my own financial commitment to faculty enhancement with a matching grant was too good to pass up. It’s one of the most exciting opportunities to make a difference for Cornell that I’ve been involved with.”

Another assistant professor gift came from Richard A. Johnson ’57 and Dale Reis Johnson ’58.

“We think Gretchen Ritter has done a terrific job, and we knew there was this need because so many professors have retired from the College of Arts & Sciences,” said the Johnsons, who have been active Cornell volunteers for many years and served in leadership roles with a variety of alumni, class and Cornell organizations. They were named foremost benefactors of Cornell in 2011.

The fourth gift, from Eric Roth ’74 and Laurie Roth ’75, provides funding for a new professorship that will focus on modern Jewish history. Eric Roth is of counsel at the law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz.

Eric Roth said that, as undergraduates, both he and his wife took memorable classes in Jewish history taught by Benzion Netanyahu, father of the current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Benzion Netanyahu taught Judaic studies and chaired the Department of Semitics at Cornell from 1971 to 1975.

“I hope the gift and our participation in the Future Faculty challenge will inspire others to do the same,” said Roth, who was a history major, while Laurie Roth pursued an independent major in social psychology and Spanish literature. “It would be wonderful if Cornell could have a greater number of endowed professorships in other subjects that fall under the rubric of Jewish studies.”

For more information on the Winokur Future Faculty Initiative, see this story or contact Interim Associate Dean for Alumni Affairs and Development Katherine Anderson at

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