Syracuse University Magazine

The Cantor Years
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Chancellor Nancy Cantor shares a laugh with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (left) and Say Yes to Education founder George Weiss H’10 during a meeting of the White House Task Force on Middle Class Families, held on campus in September 2009.



The Cantor Years

During her decade-long tenure, Chancellor Nancy Cantor pursued a vision that took Syracuse University to new heights, leading a transformation that expanded opportunities and forged collaborative partnerships on campus, in the community, and around the world

By Carol L. Boll

In early spring of 2005, Chancellor Nancy Cantor convened a meeting with key University staff to give due diligence to a rather bold proposition: that SU purchase and convert an abandoned and sprawling seven-story former furniture warehouse on the city’s Near West Side—more than a mile-and-a-half from campus—into a dynamic academic and community space. It was an idea borne out of months of campus-community dialogue—an exploration of the “Soul of Syracuse”—during which Cantor repeatedly heard community members, faculty, and students voice their desire for greater levels of local engagement and a physical SU presence downtown.

Now Cantor listened intently to numerous reasons why such a proposition might not work—challenges relating to cost, distance of the structure from the main campus, student transportation needs, and inflated community expectations, among others. “These were thorough concerns,” recalls Thomas Walsh G’84, executive vice president for advancement and external affairs. “And the Chancellor took them seriously. We couldn’t guarantee that such an undertaking would work, but based on what she had been hearing from the campus and community, the Chancellor knew it needed to work.”

After the staff members finished presenting their concerns, Cantor simply said, “Okay, good. Now we know what all the concerns are. Let’s figure out how we’re going to do it.”

WarehouseThe stunningly renovated Warehouse—designed by architect Richard Gluckman ’70, G’71— opened nine months later. Today, it stands as a hotbed of multidisciplinary scholarship and learning, an architectural centerpiece and anchor for the aspirations of a struggling city neighborhood on the cusp of revival, and as a towering visual testimony to a leadership legacy built on collaboration, innovation, and the tenacity to take bold actions in service to a powerful vision.

Chancellor Nancy Cantor has never been one to shrink from a challenge. And as she prepares to depart Syracuse University in January to serve as Chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark, she leaves behind a nearly 10-year record of achievement that has dramatically increased investment in traditional and emerging academic strengths, expanded conventional notions of scholarship, extended “classroom” boundaries to encompass community spaces like The Warehouse and new learning centers from Los Angeles to Dubai, diversified the “face” of the campus, driven fund raising to unprecedented heights, and enhanced the landscape and economic prospects of the city and region. It’s a legacy rooted in her fundamental view that the work of the campus is the work of the world. Cantor has called it the “two-way street of Scholarship in Action,” with students and faculty engaging in collaborative public and interdisciplinary scholarship that simultaneously meets real-world needs and advances knowledge.   

Those who have worked closely with Cantor say the impact of that vision has advanced SU’s brand nationally and enhanced its prospects at a time when colleges and universities nationwide grapple increasingly with shifting demographic trends, concerns about rising tuition costs and unpredictable returns on investment, and growing demands for experiential scholarship grounded in real-world needs. “The most important thing Nancy Cantor has done for Syracuse University is help us become an institution that truly knows itself,” says Richard L. Thompson G’67, chairman of the Board of Trustees. “She has not only helped us understand the distinctive greatness of our university, but to see the trajectory that we must continue to set for ourselves. I can’t think of a greater gift or a more powerful tool for assuring our continued success well into the future.”  Walsh agrees with that sentiment. “She has helped us understand our basic character and got us to focus, really for the first time, as a national and international university. She has emboldened us in working to create intersections with issues that universities can and must address—and she’s doing that with a student body that reflects the diversity of the country.”

INVESTING IN ACADEMIC STRENGTHS
Interim Chancellor Eric Spina was dean of the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science when Cantor tapped him in 2007 to serve as vice chancellor and provost—the University’s chief academic officer. Cantor’s impact within that realm, he says, “has been, in a word, profound. She came in here on day one saying that great faculties make great institutions,” Spina says. “And she really has had faculty front and center.” In its most easily measurable sense, that support is reflected in the growth of SU’s faculty ranks. “About one-quarter of the full-time faculty here have been hired in the last four to five years,” Spina says. “And they’ve been across the full spectrum of scholarly modalities.” Overall, SU’s full-time faculty numbers have grown from just more than 900 to a total of 1,100 during her tenure. In recent years, the number of endowed professorships has more than doubled—from 48 to 100, including creation of the Marjorie Cantor Endowed Professorship in Aging, established by Cantor and her brother, Richard Cantor, in memory of their mother, who passed away in 2009.

Spina says Cantor also has provided strategic support to advance interdisciplinary programs and  research clusters—from biomaterials and gerontology to entrepreneurship and environmental systems—that are increasingly essential to attracting stellar faculty and preparing students for the challenges of today’s workplace. Charles Driscoll, University Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, says the kind of student-centered interdisciplinary scholarship encouraged by Cantor as part of Scholarship in Action “is right in our wheelhouse.” Driscoll’s students have probed the depths of pollution in Onondaga Lake and partnered with local engineers to explore storm-water management. “From the very beginning of her tenure, she encouraged and promoted our local outreach, scholarship, and engagement initiatives and activities,” he says. “Her interest in this aspect of our work has prompted students to realize the importance of direct engagement with stakeholders on environmental issues.”  

Professor Ramesh Raina, chair of the biology department, applauds Cantor’s support for interdisciplinary research and scholarship and credits her with adding several new faculty positions to his department. “In the last three years, we’ve hired 12 new faculty—many of them ‘opportunistic,’ or unplanned, hires,” he says. “That is just not typical. And the Chancellor’s office was instrumental in getting those positions and those people.” She also has helped to spur creative research partnerships through the Hill Collaboration, a cross-institutional initiative among SU, SUNY Upstate Medical University, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and the Syracuse VA Medical Center.

At the same time, Cantor has advanced a more expansive view of what constitutes scholarship, putting engaged scholarship on equal footing with more “fundamental,” data-driven scholarship and upending entrenched notions of the term itself to encompass the full range of disciplines, from hard sciences to the humanities. “She has made scholarship more inclusive and legitimized the work that a lot of faculty had already been doing,” Spina says. “That’s helped significantly in terms of valuing high-quality and high-impact interdisciplinary and publicly engaged work.” In 2009, upon recommendation of the University Senate, SU revised its tenure and promotion guidelines to explicitly provide opportunities to faculty who engage in public scholarship and to attract like-minded public scholars to SU.

Micere Mugo, Meredith Professor for Teaching Excellence in the Department of African American Studies, says those efforts have acknowledged and addressed the tensions that often exist between disciplines that base their research on hard data and those that don’t—in the process, validating the type of scholarship she and others in the arts and humanities frequently engage in. “Chancellor Cantor has literally transformed a lot of notions about what is scholarship, who are intellectuals, what can they do in order to benefit the community, and what is the role of the ‘Ivory Tower’ within the community,” Mugo says. “I think scholars in some of the marginalized disciplines have felt recognized and embraced as contributors to the academy as much as anyone else. And I think this has enriched scholarship.”

PUBLIC SCHOLARSHIP
Cross-sector partnerships in which students and faculty collaborate with what Cantor terms “communities of experts” to address local concerns undoubtedly are among the most publicly visible emblems of her leadership footprint. Among the key public initiatives defining her tenure and driving opportunities for innovative teaching, learning, and both engaged and “traditional” scholarship: development of the Connective Corridor, a physical and metaphorical two-way street linking University Hill with key downtown venues; the South Side Initiative and South Side Innovation Center, multifaceted efforts to develop a sustainable business and cultural district on the city’s South Side; a precedent-setting partnership with the Syracuse City School District and national Say Yes to Education Foundation to promote academic success and opportunity for all city school­children; the Syracuse Center of Excellence, a federation of scientists, engineers, and industry professionals collaborating on environmental and energy research and development; and the Near West Side Initiative (NWSI), a nonprofit-led effort to revitalize a long neglected inner-city neighborhood.

Marilyn Higgins was vice president for economic development with energy company National Grid when she first met Cantor shortly after the new Chancellor’s arrival. “She immediately struck me as someone who was going to make decisions and move this community forward,” Higgins says. “She was exactly what this community needed at that time. We were stuck, and she has an energy that pulls things forward and moves them.” A year after that meeting, Higgins came on board as SU’s vice president for community engagement, and today she works from a fourth-floor office suite in The Warehouse. From that vantage point, she sees vividly the impact of The Warehouse renovation on the surrounding neighborhood, including more than $70 million in new capital investments and new office headquarters for such heavyweight neighbors as King & King Architects, O’Brien and Gere engineering firm, and WCNY, Central New York’s regional public broadcasting service. The Warehouse also serves as home to the College of Visual and Performing Arts design programs.

Higgins says her mandate was clear from the start: “To involve the residents on the Near West Side in all decision-making, to establish projects that act as a true platform for scholarship—she always, always said that—and to make sure we create relationships that are two-way. Nancy did not believe in the largesse of the University aiding the community. She believed we both had something significant to gain.”

Since 2008, the NWSI alone has engaged more than 800 students and 40 faculty in projects ranging from the development of “green” homes and energy-saving technologies to public art installations to the renovation of a former crack house into a community center. Stephen Klimek ’11, G’13, says the opportunity to participate in such public initiatives not only deepened his scholarship, but also informed his career aspirations. “Her vision of Scholarship in Action defined my undergraduate and graduate career at Syracuse University,” says Klimek, a member of the first School of Architecture class to study at The Warehouse and a former Engagement Scholar with the NWSI and Connective Corridor. “My experiences there reinforced the deep personal and professional commitment I have for using architecture and design to build a more just, equitable, and beautifully designed world for people from all walks of life. And the lessons I learned and people I have met along the way have continually inspired me to forge my own career path in public interest design.”

Beyond the Near West Side, students and faculty have worked with residents and children to promote computer skills and access; helped develop a community oral history project and virtual museum; created the Urban Video Project to showcase original art and literary works along downtown streetscapes; advanced research into the remediation of Onondaga Lake; and launched a neighborhood newspaper, among many other activities.

Linda Littlejohn ’80, G’82, who has led the South Side Initiative since its inception in 2006, says these and other such projects span the disciplines and reaffirm the historic mission of higher education. “Historically, colleges and universities were always about social good,” Littlejohn says. “What Nancy has done, in a sense, is honor that tradition of scholarship.”

Cantor’s emphasis on innovative, interdisciplinary, and applied scholarship tackling contemporary needs of the community and world has spawned a more diverse research portfolio, with SU researchers attracting support from a range of private entities, foundations, and other nontraditional sources. “Nancy has been very clever at leveraging grant money from both private and government sources to great effect,” says University Trustee Judith Mower ’66, G’73, G’80, G’84. Walsh agrees, noting that Cantor strengthened and expanded SU’s corporate and foundation connections as never before. “She knows how people think in the halls of corporate America,” he says, “and she forged relationships that would become big engines for collaboration.” For instance, the University’s multifaceted partnership with JPMorgan Chase spurred the creation of a global enterprise technology program and the SU-based Institute for Veterans and Military Families.

Billion dollar Campaign In addition, The Campaign for Syracuse University, which successfully concluded last year after raising $1.044 billion, designated nearly three-quarters of funds raised to go toward academic goals, including expanding deanships and endowed professorships and enhancing interdisciplinary teaching, research, facilities, and technologies. That the campaign surpassed its historic $1 billion goal is another clear testament to Cantor’s resolve in the face of challenges, Mower says. “People’s eyes rolled when she proposed that goal. Nobody thought it was possible. She lifted our fund raising up to an echelon that a lot of people thought we’d never get to. That is a remarkable achievement.” In 2007, Cantor and her husband, sociology professor Steven Brechin, contributed a $1 million gift of their own to the campaign. Their gift supported a wide range of academic and campus programs with which they have been involved or have a connection.  

ACCESS AND OPPORTUNITY
Throughout her tenure, Cantor pressed to diversify not only notions of what constitutes scholarship, but also the ranks of students engaging in that scholarship. In striving to close what she has termed not an “achievement gap,” but an “opportunity gap,” she repeatedly has asserted that promoting access and opportunity for traditionally underrepresented groups meets an increasingly critical societal need and also deeply enhances the educational experience of all students, who benefit from a diversity of perspectives.

Institutional efforts to reach more diverse pools of students have paid off. A 10-year comparison of enrollment data shows that since 2004, the percentage of students of color rose from 18 percent to 30 percent and the percentage of students eligible for Pell Grants—a key indicator of socioeconomic need—climbed from 18 percent to 27 percent. Scholarship opportunities also have expanded, including the addition of a Haudenosaunee Promise scholarship for Native American students, and tuition for eligible Syracuse high school graduates through Say Yes and students from Atlanta, Miami, and Los Angeles through the Posse Foundation, a national nonprofit promoting college access for public high school students with high academic and leadership potential.

Mower also credits Cantor with recognizing the need to expand SU’s reach and visibility beyond the traditional, but increasingly shrinking, Northeastern markets to regions of growth, including Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and the Southwest. “She has pushed the boundaries of SU out across the country,” Mower says. “She knew we had to position our brand in parts of the country where the students are increasingly going to be, and that was very savvy and ahead of its time.”

Maliz Mahop ’15 of Arlington, Texas, says while she never had the opportunity to visit Syracuse before enrolling here, the Scholarship in Action message she encountered on the SU web site resonated so strongly with her that she immediately decided to apply. What she had not anticipated, she says, was the degree to which Cantor made herself accessible to students. “After arriving here, I heard millions of stories from my peers about how she had listened to them and helped them,” Mahop says. As a sophomore, Mahop approached Cantor with a request to represent SU at a national collegiate leadership conference that fall. Cantor signed off on the request and provided support, and the two have remained close since. “She is way more than just the holder of the title ‘Chancellor,’ ” Mahop says. “She’s really inspiring. I have never seen a leader who cared so much about the students.”

SU’s strategic push into key regions of growth—termed “geographies of opportunity”— has expanded its enrollment reach into new markets and demographics, generated multifaceted engagement opportunities for students and faculty, and tapped the expertise of alumni in key industries that dovetail with SU’s own academic strengths. For instance, a new SU campus in Los Angeles serves as an engagement hub for prospective students and alumni and an academic hub for immersing students aspiring to careers in the entertainment industry in unique academic, internship, and networking experiences with industry professionals, many of them SU graduates. Closer to home, SU is expanding its presence in New York City with the opening of the Fisher Center, a new academic hub in the heart of midtown Manhattan. In addition, and in conjunction with its most recent fund-raising campaign, SU has established regional councils of alumni and friends to facilitate engagement opportunities and strengthen alumni connections in such strategically important metropolitan centers as Atlanta, Boston, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and the San Francisco Bay Area.

NATIONAL RECOGNITION
Cantor has written prolifically and presented nationally and internationally on the role of universities as “anchor institutions” in their communities, and on the importance of public scholarship, access, and opportunity. Her vigorous advocacy of innovative scholarship and expanded opportunity has generated national honors and awards, including the Carnegie Corporation Academic Leadership Award and American Council on Education’s Reginald Wilson Diversity Leadership Award. And it has advanced SU’s national profile as a university embracing its role as an “anchor institution” in the City of Syracuse and a public good. This fall, the Washington Center recognized SU’s extensive public scholarship initiatives with a 2013 Higher Education Civic Engagement Award.

Martha Kanter, undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Education who first met Cantor in 2009, calls her “an extraordinary higher education pioneer” and cites SU as a model for universities nationwide seeking to make a difference in their communities and world. “Nancy Cantor’s legacy is marked by a tireless commitment to the public good, changing the lives of thousands upon thousands of students for the better,” Kanter says. “…What [she] accomplished as Chancellor of Syracuse University will serve as a model for higher education in the 21st century as our colleges and universities strive to educate Americans to their fullest potential.” (Read more from Kanter and others in sidebar below.)

As other universities look to SU’s example, they would do well to give their due to Cantor’s resolve and capacity to act decisively—whether the objective was an abandoned inner-city warehouse or a boldly ambitious fund-raising goal—in service to her vision of what universities can, and must, be for the 21st century. “She is hell-bent on making a difference in the world,” Walsh says. “And that has been key in both her leadership and in her scholarship.”  

Spina, who as SU’s chief academic officer and a former dean collaborated closely with Cantor for the better part of eight years, says her passion for that work has been profound. “I can tell you that she is someone who would wake up in the morning and go to bed at night having given everything she possibly could to improve Syracuse University, to improve her community, and to improve the world,” he says. “She has given us all she has, and I certainly expect that this generation of faculty, staff, and students appreciates that now and will continue to appreciate it long into the future.”  



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The Syracuse Center of Excellence in Environmental and Energy Systems, located in downtown Syracuse, opened in 2009. It has many “green” features, including a geothermal heating and cooling system.



Building Up

In the past decade under Chancellor Nancy Cantor, the University undertook nearly 40 building projects, which included acquisitions, constructions, renovations, and upgrades. Here is a listing of the buildings added to SU’s portfolio:

Carmelo K. Anthony Center

Center of Excellence

Ernie Davis Hall

Dineen Hall

Fisher Center, New York City

Green Data Center

Life Sciences Complex

Newhouse 3

South Campus Library Facility

The Warehouse

Whitman School of Management



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Chancellor Nancy Cantor stands with Trustee Eric Mower ’66, G’68 (left) and Board of Trustees Chairman Richard L. Thompson G’67 on stage in Goldstein Auditorium at her celebration dinner.



Farewell Tributes

The Syracuse University community this fall organized several special tributes and recognitions to honor Chancellor Nancy Cantor’s leadership and perpetuate her legacy of access, opportunity, and engaged scholarship. Among the highlights:

Nancy Cantor Scholarship Fund—The SU Board of Trustees established the Nancy Cantor Scholarship Fund to build on and sustain SU’s institutional commitment to afford all students with access to SU’s many engagement and immersion experiences. To make a gift to the Cantor Scholarship Fund, go to https://secure.syr.edu/giving/default.aspx.

Celebration Dinner—The Board of Trustees hosted a celebration program and dinner in the Schine Center’s Goldstein Auditorium on November 7 to honor the Chancellor’s vision and impact during her nearly 10 years of leadership. At the dinner, Board Chairman Richard L. Thompson G’67 announced The Warehouse—now a multidisciplinary learning and community space—will be renamed the Nancy Cantor Warehouse in honor of her legacy at SU.

Community Thank You—Syracuse and Central New York community leaders hosted a thank-you event at The Warehouse on November 11.



Chancellor Cantor Tribute



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As Chancellor Nancy Cantor speaks to the audience at her celebration dinner, an image of The Warehouse, which will be renamed in her honor, appears behind her.



Thoughts on Chancellor Cantor

We asked members of the SU and Syracuse communities, as well as national leaders in higher education, to share their thoughts on Chancellor Cantor’s time at Syracuse. Following are their responses.

“In Chancellor Cantor’s first year, she invited the campus and the broader community to join her in exploring the ‘Soul of Syracuse.’ She guided a journey from the region’s deepest roots to the present day and beyond, to visions of the future. The experience transformed my scholarship. Chancellor Cantor’s articulation of the power of active scholarship engaging collaborators from multiple sectors was especially powerful. As a direct result of her ambitious vision, I engaged new collaborators in my work, including our region’s indigenous peoples and a broadened range of community partners. These new collaborations developed to earn national and international recognition.

“SyracuseCoE was established as New York State’s Center of Excellence in environmental and energy systems in 2002. Two years later, when Nancy Cantor became Chancellor, we wondered if she would support our plans. Quickly, she encouraged us to expand our vision to include putting scholarship into action. Our subsequent engagement in the Near West Side Initiative provided scores of faculty and students from multiple schools and colleges to get hands-on experience with challenges in retrofitting buildings in distressed urban areas. Our successes in Syracuse are replicable to thousands of other similar communities nationally and globally.

“In pursuit of Chancellor Cantor’s vision of Scholarship in Action, SyracuseCoE significantly strengthened its collaborative networks. Today, we engage partners throughout the state, across the country, and around the world. Our expanded networks enabled us to be successful in winning highly competitive awards for projects that address state and national priorities. Chancellor Cantor’s vision is sure to benefit the region for generations to come.” —Ed Bogucz, Executive Director, Syracuse Center of Excellence in Environmental and Energy Systems (SyracuseCOE)

“When Jon Carson, director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, asked if I would put together a coalition of higher education institutions and associations for 2012, the 150th anniversary year of the Morrill Act, which established land grant colleges and dedicated to the land grant mission of strengthening higher education as a public good, Nancy Cantor was the first person I called for help.  I have known Cantor since the late 1990s, when substantial efforts to renew the public mission and purposes of higher education broadly, and research universities in particular, first became the focus of sustained work. I knew her counsel, her vision, and her organizing ability would be indispensable.

“Nancy Cantor is the personification of “higher education as a public good,” an extraordinary leader in the movement for public engagement, who has again and again taken bold, courageous, and pioneering action to redeem the democratic soul of American colleges and universities. She combines a broad vision with unique capacities to operationalize ideas. Her achievements include her role as a key architect of the Bollinger brief before the Supreme Court when she was provost at Michigan, winning a Supreme Court majority to sustain affirmative action as a factor in student admissions in the face of fierce opposition; her work with the White House Millennial Council to midwife Imagining America, the consortium of more than 80 colleges and universities that is the most important force in strengthening the public missions of humanities disciplines; and her pioneering concept of “Scholarship in Action,” which has taken publicly engaged scholarship to new levels of recognition and programmatic expression, embodied in many pioneering efforts at Syracuse University.

“In our coalition invited by the White House, the American Commonwealth Partnership, organized in partnership with the White House and the Department of Education, she helped put together the presidential advisory board, hosted the major organizing meetings in 2011 and 2012, helped develop the partnership’s vision, met regularly with higher education and government leaders, helped to launch a nationwide discussion of the public purposes of higher education at a National Press Conference event on September 4, 2012, and in general served as an eloquent spokesperson and champion of the concept that higher education must reclaim its democratic purposes in a time of enormous change—for its own sake and for the sake of American democracy.” —Harry Boyte, Director, the Center for Democracy and Citizenship (Augsburg College), and former national coordinator of the American Commonwealth Partnership, a coalition of colleges and universities promoting the idea of higher education as a public good

“Nancy had incredible ability to energize intellectually and give people agency in what they did—nothing was impossible. Need to bring mayor, county executive… together? Made it happen. Incredible enthusiasm about all our efforts.

“I had always been an academic who was very happy to stay in my campus office. I liked knowledge for knowledge’s sake. So I was a little skeptical initially of Scholarship in Action. But I found it made my work more interesting. It made me ask different questions. And it required me to be more creative than I would have been by my own agency. I still value knowledge as ‘knowledge.’ But found Scholarship in Action didn’t challenge that. It didn’t make me choose one type of scholarship over the other. I’m certainly transformed by that experience, and my work won’t be the same. It just won’t. I look at things differently now.” —Julia Czerniak, Professor, School of Architecture, and inaugural director of UPSTATE: A Center for Design, Research, and Real Estate

“My wife is from Syracuse, so we visited here often after we met in the late ’70s in Rochester, New York. We moved a number of other places after we married, and came here in 1999 to make Syracuse home. Over those three-plus decades since Rochester, I’ve heard a lot of community chatter about SU. The ‘buzz’ changed a lot after Nancy came, from perceptions of the school as quite literally being up on the Hill and looking down on the community to a much kinder notion of us. Whether you believe in ‘community engagement,’ Scholarship in Action, or any of the other buzzwords, you can’t deny that the community perception of the University is much different—and much “nicer”—than it used to be. That perception is not just ‘feel good’ stuff, but a hard-earned and well-deserved reputation for being involved, for caring, and for being good citizens at the grassroots level. Not everything we teach our students is rooted in the classroom. We have shown them how to be good citizens by taking the lead ourselves.

“Sometimes it’s distressing to live in a ‘zero sum’ world, where it seems everything is assessed by that metric. Is it really such an absolute truth that if we add something, we must necessarily subtract something else? I am not suggesting we are so crass as to value everything as ‘your gain is my loss,’ yet I do think there is a good bit of worry that ‘outward thinking’ implies ‘inward loss.’ I’d argue that for the most part, the ‘outwardness’ has strengthened the ‘in,’ and that this may become more apparent later than it is now.

“Journalism, my discipline, is all about a focus on community. So to that extent, much of what Nancy has championed is what we do, anyway. We have done that—and will do that—before, during, and after each and every administration. A key difference during Nancy’s time is how much that ethos has been recognized and rewarded and how it’s been seen as an institutional value and as something that ‘counts,’ not just an ‘extra.’ My work on community journalism projects always found not just moral support, but real resources.

“On a personal note, during the last year I’ve had some pretty vexing health issues, and I found myself feeling fortunate to be in a people-first place (starting at Newhouse, right through the Chancellor’s chair) that I had taken just a little bit for granted (but don’t anymore). That, too, is a ‘before, during, and after’ value that Nancy continued and surely will not change going forward.

“I don’t agree with the Chancellor on everything she did, though maybe some people think so. I don’t think that would be much of a standard for judging the big picture, though. I believe she did a lot for Syracuse and the University, and I’ve been happy to enjoy the ride. I wish her the best.” —Steve Davis, Professor and Chair, Newspaper and Online Journalism Department, Newhouse School

“Chancellor Cantor has raised the profile of scholarship and outreach of the University, locally and nationally. Through her leadership, our students and faculty have directly engaged the local community and people on a host of activities and pressing problems. Our students are directly engaged in real problems. This provides a great learning laboratory. The Chancellor has also given the University a voice on national issues. She presses and encourages the faculty to become involved in the dialog on national issues, through scholarship, committees, and other vehicles.” —Charles Driscoll Jr., University Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science

“As Chancellor and President, Nancy Cantor not only elevated the national reputation of Syracuse University through her ambitious ‘Scholarship in Action’ campaign, but she also played a key role in improving town-gown relations and spearheading badly needed economic development in Central New York. A recognized scholar in social psychology and an advocate for racial justice and diversity in higher education, her rich list of accomplishments includes helping to found Imagining America, an initiative now hosted by Syracuse University that involves a consortium of 80 colleges and universities whose mission is to strengthen the public role and democratic purposes of the humanities, arts, and design. She has also been a key force in the Partnership for Better Education, an alliance between Syracuse University and the Syracuse City School District to assist area high school students in pursuing higher education by providing new opportunities for quality instruction in the arts, literacy, science and technology, engineering, and math.  She is tenacious and dedicated, and anyone who has ever worked with Nancy values her as a colleague.” —Vartan Gregorian, President, Carnegie Corporation of New York

“When I think about the changing landscape of American higher education, Nancy Cantor immediately comes to mind as a brilliant and fearless leader. These two qualities mark her character at a time when colleges and universities are under more scrutiny than ever before, at a time when the roles of presidents, faculty, and staff are undergoing transformation, and at a time when higher education is ever more important to the future of Americans and the nation as a whole. Brilliant and fearless are characteristics that Dr. Cantor exemplifies. But how a person makes a difference to his or her community and the greater society is underscored by the values the individual holds and the results she achieves.

“Nancy Cantor’s legacy is marked by a tireless commitment to the public good, changing the lives of thousands upon thousands of students for the better. That’s what she’s done as Chancellor of Syracuse and that’s what she’ll continue to do. I first met Dr. Cantor after I took office in 2009. We met at a meeting about the contributions of ‘anchor institutions’ where she was hailed as an innovator for dramatically increasing the relationships with the people of Syracuse and the impact of the University on the city and the region. At that meeting, she emphasized the ‘how’ of making a difference: That it takes trust, expertise, and collaboration to solve the pressing public problems facing communities as they undertake changes to their social and/or physical infrastructures to better serve their citizens in the 21st century. Throughout her tenure at Syracuse University, Scholarship in Action has been an essential driver of community building between Syracuse and its education, business, government, and philanthropic partners throughout the city and its environs. This work has become a national model for hundreds of institutions of higher education and the regions they serve across our nation.

“In 2011, Dr. Cantor was appointed to the National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement for the U.S. Department of Education. That work resulted in a publication called ‘The Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future— A National Call to Action.’ Dr. Cantor collaborated with more than 100 distinguished scholars from the U.S. to identify strategies to reclaim higher education’s civic purpose and to do that inclusively with many partners inside and outside of America’s colleges and universities.

“As a result of these efforts, on January 10, 2012, the White House convened ‘For Democracy’s Future—Education Reclaims Our Civic Mission,’ launching the 150th anniversary year of the Morrill Act, a time when the public purpose of American higher education was front and center. At that meeting, Dr. Cantor was announced as co-chair of the American Commonwealth Project, to take this work forward to a deeper level of engagement, enabling community colleges and universities—working together—to re-infuse civic learning as a core purpose of America’s education system. Toward these ends, Dr. Cantor’s leadership has been invaluable at the national, state, and local level. She is an extraordinary higher education pioneer and what I’ve shared herein is just a taste of the many significant contributions she will continue to make on behalf of America’s students and our nation’s future as a vibrant democracy in the heart of our global society.

“Since the passage of The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, known as the GI Bill, followed by the work of the Truman Commission two years later, and the passage of the Higher Education Act of 1965, which authorized the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant program, later signed into law as the Pell Grant program in 1972, the significant role of institutions of higher education to educate the full range of students regardless of background or income as a public good has taken a back seat to their role in preparing students for the workforce or to drive the economic engine of the nation. Today, most unfortunately, universities get little credit for their social impact. Higher education must deepen and broaden its role to ensure that the central purpose of American higher education is to benefit society as a public good through its public and private works. Our founders knew this. Americans must relearn this in the years ahead. On March 28, 2013, Nancy Cantor discussed higher education’s public mission in three frames: prosperity, democracy, and justice. Looking back on her legacy, what Dr. Cantor accomplished as Chancellor of Syracuse University will serve as a model for higher education in the 21st century as our colleges and universities strive to educate Americans to their fullest potential. Thank you, Chancellor Cantor!” —Martha Kanter, Under Secretary, U.S. Department of Education

“Nancy Cantor’s impact was extraordinarily critical. I believe very strongly that she singlehandedly brought Syracuse—the City of Syracuse—into the 21st century. I think her vision of what Syracuse could be, and Syracuse University could be, was such that it provided a clear image to those persons who could make change. She provided an image of what is possible in Syracuse. Her courageousness in face of detractors, both off and on campus, who really were invested in maintaining the status quo, is something I find incredible. There is such a thing as perseverance and persistence. But I have never seen someone so dogged about doing what is right for everyone—not just for this group or that group.

“I am so very proud to say I’m a Syracuse University alum. I’ve never been more proud than I am now, because of Nancy Cantor.” —Linda Littlejohn ’80, G’82, Associate Vice President, South Side Initiatives

“Under Chancellor Nancy Cantor’s leadership Syracuse University has moved to the top ranks of American universities. Chancellor Cantor’s creativity, imagination, unusually high standards, and boundless energy have left an enduring legacy.” —Robert Menschel ’51, H’91, SU Honorary Trustee

“Chancellor Cantor, with tremendous vision, leaves a legacy of a more diverse student body, an administration and faculty attuned to the need for change, and wonderful new facilities. She understood that a necessary role of the University is to work for the betterment of the community in which it lives—a truly remarkable legacy to the administration, faculty, students, and Syracuse community. We who have ties to and love Syracuse University owe her a deep debt of gratitude.” —Donald Newhouse ’51, SU Honorary Trustee

“Nancy Cantor’s impact was enormous—Syracuse would not have considered something as bold as [the Say Yes partnership] if it didn’t have confidence in Nancy Cantor. She so forcefully believed that this was possible—and that the city had capabilities to organize successfully to do it—she gave other people the confidence and willingness to put forth resources. She almost singlehandedly recruited the first 25 private colleges that joined with us.

“I think Nancy is one of the very first pioneers in challenging universities to completely rethink their role and recognize how they can interact as partners with the community to drive significant societal and community change. The conversation has been forever changed, and she is one of an elite group of leaders in the country who have helped spearhead this change.” —Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey, President, Say Yes to Education Inc.

“As Chancellor of Syracuse University, Nancy Cantor has been at the forefront of a national movement to embrace and activate the diverse roles of higher education institutions, including both rigorous education and serving the greater public good. Under her leadership, Syracuse University has embarked on a vision of Scholarship in Action, pursuing “outward-looking engagements that optimize education and yield new forms of scholarship and new scholarly arrangements…testing notions of who is a scholar and what scholarship is.

“Chancellor Cantor recognizes that [universities] do not exist simply as isolated halls of learning. She also understands our world’s increasing diversity and interconnectedness. At SU, the academic environment prepares students for a world where a premium is placed on collaboration, ability to adapt, and understanding how to solve real-world problems.

“The Chancellor also sees the evolving and integrated dynamic between an anchor institution and its surrounding community. Under her tenure, students and professors have become more involved in cooperative initiatives, such as the Syracuse Center of Excellence, linking academic research with emerging industries, and the Syracuse Student Sandbox at The Tech Garden, where students and professors work in tandem with business professionals exchanging intellectual capital. In turn, the community benefits from a vibrant university population as students and faculty engage in social, business, and academic pursuits.

“Initiatives like the Connective Corridor, Near West Side Initiative, and Say Yes to Education—all tirelessly championed by the Chancellor—capture the University’s global intellect and put it to use for the good of the community. Through Chancellor Cantor’s leadership, SU has leveraged its philanthropic engagement, faculty expertise, and student research to secure nearly $300 million in external funding for these and other initiatives, which, in turn, generate ripples of economic activity throughout the area. In her role as co-chair of the Central New York Regional Economic Development Council, she has helped to build collaborations and bring those values beyond the borders of Syracuse in pursuit of total regional prosperity for all.

“Chancellor Cantor’s commitment to academic excellence, focus on diversity, and engagement with the community have positioned Syracuse University to become even stronger than it has been in its 143-year history.” —Robert M. Simpson, President, CenterState CEO

“Think about the faculty who have been recruited here over the last decade, especially the last five, six years. They came to Syracuse for what we are and what we’re becoming. Those folks are going to be here, some of them, for 30 or 40 years, so that by definition is a legacy.

“Think about the student body—they are much, much more diverse than they ever have been before—and across multiple dimensions—race, socioeconomic, geographical, pathways (i.e., transfer students).

“Think about the relationships the University has with people and organizations in the region and beyond. And we’re engaged with them in different ways than we ever have been before. Some of the relationships were there, but they’re stronger now, and deeper. We are an anchor institution, and now we say it clearly and proudly and in a way that doesn’t mean we are going to solve all your problems. But we want to be partners with you. That’s a huge legacy.” —Eric Spina, Vice Chancellor and Provost





  • Inkululeko
  • IVMF
  • The Cantor Years
  • Pan Am Flight 103