Professor Bruce Lewenstein, communications, is set to become Cornell’s 13th ombudsman, according to a Jan. 25 statement. vote by the University Assembly.
At the meeting, University Assembly President Brandon Fortenberry presented the assembly with a letter from President Martha Pollack appointing Lewenstein as Ombudsman. In the letter, the Ombudsman’s search committee — a four-person team including Student Assembly representative Duncan Cady ’23 and faculty dean Eve DeRosa — cited Lewenstein’s vision, enthusiasm for the role and his experience of mediation as decisive factors in his recommendation.
Lewenstein has been a professor at Cornell for nearly 35 years. He has worked in the departments of communication as well as science and technology studies – where he recently completed his seven-year position as department chair – in the colleges of agriculture and life sciences and arts and science, respectively.
Lewenstein received his BA from the University of Chicago, where he served as student ombudsman during his senior year. He then obtained his master’s and doctorate. from the University of Pennsylvania before becoming an assistant professor at Cornell.
Lewenstein has also been involved in faculty governance, having served two years as chair of the faculty senate and four years as a faculty member of the board of trustees. Lewenstein said he believed these experiences would help him in his role as a mediator.
The Office of the University Ombudsman supports Cornell students, faculty, and staff by directing them to campus resources and helping them resolve disputes. Lewenstein’s team at the Office consists of three staff members, including Office Director Linda Falkson ’86 and Assistant Ombudsman Tracey Brant ’84.
The office handles between 300 and 400 visitors a year, according to Falkson. Lewenstein highlighted the Bureau’s commitment to neutrality, confidentiality and informality.
“We have no authority, we have no power,” Lewenstein said in an interview with The Sun. “It’s entirely our ability to help.”
Lewenstein succeeds Professor Emeritus Charles Walcott Ph.D. ’59, Neurobiology and Behavior, who served as ombudsman for 10 years. Falkson expressed his gratitude to Walcott for his work in the position and his enthusiasm to welcome Lewenstein as his new colleague.
“I think Cornellians who encounter [Lewenstein] are going to be really impressed with its authenticity and warmth,” Falkson said.
Walcott said he was pleased to hand over his position to the new mediator.
“He’s warm and cordial and friendly, and he’s someone who can really be of great help,” Walcott said.
Professor Mark Sarvary, director of the Investigative Biology Teaching Laboratories – who collaborated with Lewenstein to lead the University’s science communication and public engagement minor – believed that Lewenstein’s thinking and communication skills would help him succeed as an ombudsman.
“I hope he uses these science communication and public engagement skills that he has been practicing and has been a specialist in for decades,” Sarvary said, “to bring people together and bring people’s opinions together.”
As ombudsman, Lewenstein has stated his goal to increase the visibility of his office, especially for students who have felt marginalized or left without adequate resources on campus. Walcott spoke in favor.
“I hope he has that magic wand that lets him spread the word and then solve all the problems,” Walcott said.
Several students said they supported increased visibility of the Office and were unaware of the resources offered by the University Ombudsman.
“The fact that none of us really know what [the Ombudsman] It’s a bit concerning,” Myra Taylor ’24 said.
To increase its visibility, Lewenstein hopes to reach out to groups of students and employees; animate conferences in the dormitories; distribute flyers, brochures and neighborhood maps throughout campus; and even potentially create a blog with more information about campus resources.
Taylor and Matthew Ricketts ’24 also said they hope Lewenstein will support students through mental health issues. Ricketts expressed his wish that Lewenstein use his position to promote inclusivity.
“I think there’s a huge socioeconomic divide between a lot of students here at Cornell,” Ricketts said. “I would like to see some help leveling the playing fields there.”
Lewenstein’s renewable two-year term as ombudsman begins February 1. In assuming the post, he joins the previous twelve ombudsmen, including the first university ombudsman Alice Cookfor whom Cook House on West Campus is named.
“They’ve really built an incredible tradition,” Lewenstein said, “and I hope to continue that strength.”