A Note from the Dean
Dear alumni and friends:
Over the past few months, our alumni have been making headlines for remarkable, yet vastly different, achievements that demonstrate both the versatility of a Cornell Law School degree and the dynamism of our graduates.
The year began with news that Tsai Ing-wen, LL.M. ’80, had been elected president of Taiwan in a landslide victory, becoming the first woman to lead that nation. Then, in February, the movie The Revenant, based on the book by Michael Punke ’89, won three Oscars at the Academy Awards. Also in February, Anna Dolidze, J.S.D. ‘13, was nominated to the Supreme Court of the Republic of Georgia. These news stories followed the release last year of a documentary film about trailblazing lawyer and lawmaker Connie Cook ’43.
This issue of Forum chronicles each of these compelling stories, which are affirmation of the varied paths to success and service taken by our graduates. Certainly, the vast majority of our alumni start their careers in the law, and recent graduates have been remarkably successful in the job market. For example, last year we ranked third in job placement among all law schools. And for the Class of 2015, we ranked first in employment outcomes among all New York State law schools. In spite of our small size we rank fifth in corporate leadership among all law schools. As the alumni stories in this issue demonstrate, a Cornell Law School degree helps open doors to opportunities in business, government, and beyond.
So, what is the Law School’s role in preparing its graduates for the broadest range of career and leadership possibilities? Part of the answer is that we do what all top law schools do. We teach students how to think rigorously and dispassionately, how to look at contentious issues from all sides. These skills have great value both inside and outside of the legal world. Graduates of a school like Cornell—that is dedicated to teaching broad analytical thinking—are going to discover that their education allows them to excel across a wide range of fields.
In addition, there is one area in which Cornell particularly excels that magnifies this effect: the interdisciplinary study of the law. This deep commitment reflects the founding vision of A. D. White whose goal was to educate lawyers who are “broad minded.” On a relatively small faculty, we have scholars with advanced degrees in over a dozen different disciplines, from the social sciences to the hard sciences to the humanities. Cornell Law School is a place where there is no orthodoxy.
The dynamism of our graduates is not all about how we are educating them. It’s also about the strengths and breadth of our student body, about the types of students who come study law at Cornell. The kinds of students who choose to study at a small law school nestled in the middle of the Finger Lakes are the kinds of people comfortable forging their own paths.
In fact, I think this may be the most important reason we have so many alumni in leadership positions. The size and location of the Law School have engendered a distinctive academic culture. The collegial, collaborative environment of the Law School encourages students to be effective communicators and team players—qualities that are conducive to success in business, government, or international affairs.
As the newly minted graduates of the Class of 2016 prepare to embark on their own distinctive journeys, I wish them all the best—whichever career path they ultimately choose.
I thank each of you for your contributions to the Law School and look forward to our continuing dialogue.
Eduardo M. Peñalver
Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law
“The most powerful woman in the Chinese-speaking world.”
That’s what Time called Cornell Law School alumna Tsai Ing-wen, LL.M. ’80, when the news magazine featured her on its cover soon after she was elected president of Taiwan in a landslide victory on January 16.
With her studious-looking glasses and thoughtful, approachable manner, “powerful” might not be the first word that comes to mind to describe Tsai.
But when she took office this May, fifty-nine-year-old Tsai—a professor of law, policy wonk, and trade negotiator before she mastered politics—became the first woman ever to lead the sovereign island state. She is one of Asia’s few female leaders as well and the only one not following in the footsteps of a male family member.
The leader of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which also won a legislative victory in January, Tsai is Taiwan’s first president of Hakka and Paiwan (aboriginal Taiwanese) descent, first unmarried president, and first president to support the right of same-sex couples to marry.
And she is surely the first president with a Facebook page featuring her two adorable tabby cats, Think Think and Ah Tsai, who captivated the media and public during her campaign and are credited with helping her win the support of Taiwan’s younger voters.
“The Law School congratulates Tsai Ing-wen on her election as president of Taiwan,” said Eduardo M. Peñalver, the school’s Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law. “The fact that her impressive career in law, politics, and government began when she was a student at our school says a great deal about the breadth, influence, and reach of our international programs as well as the achievements of our graduates.”
“I believe that her training at Cornell had a great impact on her subsequent career,” said Kuo-chang Huang, J.S.D. ’02, a friend of Tsai’s since 2008, when she became chair of the DPP. Huang, who is a founding member and chair of the rival New Power Party (NPP) and a representative in the Huan, Taiwan’s parliament, discovered in talking with Tsai that both had taken a course on international business transactions with John Barceló, the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of International and Comparative Law and then director of the Law School’s international programs.
“That was her focus at the Law School, and that background must have been useful to her when she led the negotiation team of Taiwan’s government application for membership in the World Trade Organization in the 1990s,” said Huang, who praised Tsai’s pragmatism and expertise in international trade.
“I had negotiated with her both when I participated in civil movements and when I led the New Power Party in 2015,” said Huang, whose own party grew out of Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement, which protested an unpopular trade pact with China in 2014 promoted by the then Kuomintang-led government of Taiwan’s dominant party. “I was amazed at her patience to work out our differences and her creativity to propose possible solutions,” Huang commented.
Professor Barceló, who had also been Tsai’s adviser when she was a law student, said: “We are always pleased when someone who studied in the international program goes on, as she has, to be so successful and to play such an important role in governmental and international affairs.”
So how did Cornell help Tsai succeed?
“It must have been a growth experience for her as an LL.M. student to gain complete control over spoken and written English as well as legal English in a different culture, completely on her own,” said Barceló.
“She also would have seen how the law functions in the U.S. and been exposed to commercial law as well,” he said. “The Socratic teaching method at Cornell would have encouraged her to think critically and analytically about challenging legal and policy issues. And she would have learned not only how to get along with LL.M. students from around the world but also older U.S. J.D. program students. Those experiences must have matured her tremendously.”
When she came back to campus in 2008 to deliver the annual lecture of the Clarke Program in East Asian Law and Culture, Tsai agreed that her two years at Cornell Law School and her subsequent time at the London School of Economics, where she earned a Ph.D., had been life-changing, giving her a much broader understanding of the world. “If you like my speech today, you can credit Cornell,” she said.
When they met again at her Clarke Lecture, Barceló said, “not surprisingly, she was more mature, had gained in gravitas, seemed both open-minded and reflective, and also had acquired a kind of firmness.”
Annelise Riles, Jack G. Clarke Professor of Far East Legal Studies, who, as executive director of the Clarke Program in East Asian Law and Culture, had invited Tsai to deliver the 2008 Clarke Lecture, remarked: “Her talk about Taiwan revealed her to be a first-rate legal scholar, interested in the complexities of issues and able to use legal tools to craft diplomatic solutions. When a handful of audience members questioned her aggressively on her views on cross-strait relations, I was impressed with how calmly she responded, meeting their concerns without reciprocating in tone.”
Tsai’s early life and eventual path to politics have been described in the media as follows.
Born in 1956, the youngest daughter of nine children, Tsai initially chose to study law so that she could help with her father’s successful commercial business. But after her studies at National Taiwan University, Cornell, and the London School of Economics she returned to Taiwan and became a professor at several universities there.
Along the way she gained sufficient expertise in law, international economics, and trade to be invited in 1993 to join the International Trade Commission of Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs. “Over time, her successful handling of trade negotiations led to her becoming one of then-Taiwan president [and Cornellian] Lee Teng-hui’s most valued counselors on relations with mainland China, serving as senior advisor to Taiwan’s National Security Council in 1999–2000,” noted a July 1, 2012, story about Tsai in Taiwan Today.
Then in 2000 she was named chair of the Mainland Affairs Council, the critical unit that handles Taiwan’s relations with mainland China. Her appointment followed the historic win of Taiwan’s presidency by her party’s candidate, who defeated the long-ruling Kuomintang party’s candidate (the KMT, or nationalist party, ruled Taiwan as an authoritarian state until democratic reforms began in the late 1980s and dominated politics subsequently, until the DPP’s win in 2000).
In her four years on the council Tsai not only withstood “a great deal of scrutiny of both her ability and her political orientation,” but she also “successfully promoted a more-equal model of cross-strait development,” the Taiwan Today story commented.
But in 2008 the Democratic Progressive Party lost Taiwan’s presidency to another KMT candidate, throwing Tsai’s party into crisis. Named chair of the DPP that same year, she threw herself so intensely into the task of getting her party’s candidates into office that she resembled “a field marshal preparing her troops for battle,” reported Taiwan Today.
“Most people believe that without Ms. Tsai’s leadership, the DPP could not have recovered from its catastrophic defeat in the 2008 election,” said Huang.
In addition to promoting others, Tsai herself became the DPP candidate for mayor of New Taipei City in 2010, a race she narrowly lost to a KMT candidate. The experience was a turning point, however, stated the Taiwan Today story. “The campaign marked her transition from, in her words, ‘a university professor and member of the social elite’ into ‘a political figure able to interact naturally with the general public and relate to problems of ordinary people.’”
Tsai then boldly aimed for Taiwan’s presidency in 2012, losing that contest by a narrow margin.
“Many politicians would give up after one such high-profile defeat, let alone two,” recounted Ben Bland in a December 11, 2015, Financial Times story. “But supporters say that Tsai’s failure at [that first] presidential election served to stiffen her resolve.”
Huang concurs: “Although her first bid for the presidency in 2012 hadn’t been successful, she was not discouraged. Her persistence and continuous hard work led to her victory in 2016. Now, although we belong to different political parties, I am confident that we could work together to make Taiwan a greater country,” said Huang.
Tsai “is not seen as charismatic or a great speaker, but has won over people with her sincerity, intelligence and tenacity,” wrote the Straits Times on January 16, 2016. She is also “a respected thinker and negotiator [and] . . . represents a sharp contrast to traditional DPP politicians who have a reputation for aggression and street smarts.”
Tsai has her own role models, wrote Bland in his Financial Times story about her. One is German chancellor Angela Merkel. “[Like Merkel, Tsai’s] strength isn’t in her charisma among the crowd, but her thinking and determination are what we need in governing a modern country,’” he wrote.
As president, Tsai faces many challenges, noted Chen Jian, Cornell’s Huh-Shih Professor of History for U.S.-China Relations, among them a faltering economy, not enough jobs or affordable housing, especially for young people, and what he says is Tsai’s biggest challenge, cross-strait relations. Professor Chen, who also was a commentator at Tsai’s Clarke Lecture, noted recently that while her party’s platform still calls for an independent Taiwan, she seems to be taking a more pragmatic, moderate, and nuanced approach. “She is emphasizing peaceful and cooperative cross-strait relations through constructive dialogs, as in the best interests of both Taiwan and mainland China,” he said.
Professor Riles expressed confidence that Tsai has what it takes to be a first-rate president of Taiwan. “She is entirely unflappable: calm, cool, and steady in situations of confrontation,” Riles noted. “She has a deep, inner self-confidence and also the experience in the rough-and-tumble world of politics to handle anything that may come her way. I would bet that she will not be provoked by confrontations with China into a making a political mistake.
“Since 2008, the perception of Tsai Ing-wen has changed dramatically,” Riles asserted. “Part of it is that the world has changed, and analysts are less skeptical of female heads of state than they once were,” she said. “Tsai and her supporters have also worked hard to introduce her positions to policy makers around the world and let them get to know her up close,” said Riles. “Today most people view the prospect of her presidency with hope and anticipation.”
Michael Punke ’89 hammers out byzantine multilateral trade deals at the World Trade Organization. He can give you the ins and outs of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. And he’s got a bit of a sideline going as an author.
Well, to be more precise, the author of a death-defying, best-selling Old West epic of betrayal and survival. Written in Punke’s off-hours while working at a law firm, The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge has inspired an Oscar-winning film adaptation that’s grossed more than $440 million worldwide at last count.
You’d expect that Punke would be gracing red carpets and making the talk-show rounds to promote his novel, which shot to prominence last year with the release of the acclaimed movie version. However, most press coverage of Punke has focused on what he can’t say: as deputy U.S. trade representative and U.S. ambassador to the WTO, he is prohibited by federal ethics guidelines from making any public comments that touch on his outside work, which would count as improper self-enrichment.
As long as he’s working for the feds, Punke is outsourcing the PR for his book to his family. “I think he’s superexcited,” says Tim Punke ‘96, who, when not serving as senior vice president for corporate affairs at the Seattle-based timber company Weyerhaeuser, acts as something of an unofficial spokesperson for his older brother. “When he wrote this book fourteen years or so ago, at the time he sold the option to the movie rights and the book at the same time. I think at that time just having a movie made would have been really fantastic. But to have a movie made with Leonardo DiCaprio and Alejandro Iñárritu, the director, and Tom Hardy, it’s really a pretty incredible experience to go through.”
Punke based The Revenant on the real-life stories of mountain man Hugh Glass, played by DiCaprio in the movie. While on a trapping expedition in the 1820s in what is now South Dakota, Glass was left for dead by his comrades after a near-fatal mauling by a grizzly bear; he survived, though, and embarked on an epic journey through the wilderness in an attempt to track down the men who had abandoned him. Punke has a deep affinity for the terrain his characters traverse—he grew up in Wyoming, with parents who were constantly taking the family fly-fishing or camping up in the mountains. “We had this exposure to the outdoors in a way that not many people have. And Michael was always into it,” Tim Punke says. “But beyond the outdoors, he was also really interested in Western history. He spent three summers working as a living-history interpreter at Fort Laramie National Historic Site,” decked out in a nineteenth-century U.S. Cavalry uniform, while other teenagers were earning money flipping burgers.
The film version of The Revenant has been a major commercial and critical success—it was up for twelve Academy Awards in February, and won three, including Directing for Iñárritu and Actor in a Leading Role for DiCaprio. “Obviously for Michael, the better the movie does, the better the book does,” says Tim Punke.
The Revenant didn’t make much of an impact when it first came out in 2002, and eventually fell out of print. But as anticipation for the movie built, Picador, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers, picked up reprint rights and brought out a new hardcover edition in January 2015. Since then, Picador says, it’s gone through twenty additional print runs, with more than half a million copies in print. Following the movie’s release in late December, The Revenant has spent ten weeks and counting on the New York Times Best Sellers list, including four weeks at the top.
While his book has been flying off shelves, Michael Punke finds other ways to keep busy. As deputy USTR, much of his focus is currently taken up by leading negotiations on a huge and controversial deal with the European Union known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or T-TIP. Punke also represents U.S. interests at WTO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, where he lives with his family, keeping an eye on court battles between the United States and its trading partners.
Punke’s WTO and deputy USTR posts are the culmination of a long career working on international trade issues. After graduating from Cornell Law School in 1989, Punke soon was appointed international trade counsel to Montana senator Max Baucus, who chaired the Senate Finance Committee’s subcommittee on international trade. He subsequently served in the Clinton administration as director for international economic affairs and on the National Security Council and the National Economic Council.
In 1998, Punke left government service, following former commerce secretary Mickey Kantor, a mentor of his, to Mayer Brown. It was there that his second career, as an author, began to germinate. After The Revenant came out, Punke and his wife, Traci, a Montana native, moved out to Missoula, Montana, in 2003 with their two kids. “They were getting to that age where we really had to decide whether we were going to raise them in Washington or if we were going to raise them in the West, and we very much wanted to raise them in more of the environment we’d been raised in,” he says. Punke set up a policy consulting business in Missoula, and went on to publish two more books, both nonfiction accounts of the West: Fire and Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917, which came out in 2006, and Last Stand: George Bird Grinnell, the Battle to Save the Buffalo, and the Birth of the New West, published the following year. And he might still be living in Montana if the Obama administration hadn’t come calling in 2009.
Punke has had some notable successes since he took office in 2010, in a recess appointment by President Obama. (He was confirmed by the Senate in 2011.) In December, as The Revenant was in the thick of the Hollywood awards season, Punke concluded a round of talks in Nairobi, Kenya, in which more than fifty WTO members agreed to lower tariffs on a collection of information technology products with an annual trade value estimated at $1.3 trillion. Punke also cites his participation in 2013 trade facilitation talks in Bali, which produced the first agreement approved by every single WTO member, as another high point. “Getting a deal in trade negotiations takes a long time,” Punke says. “So the junctions where we’ve actually concluded a deal have been very meaningful.”
Coming to Cornell in 1986, Punke always knew that he wanted to go into public service. “When I went to law school, I knew I didn’t want to be a traditional lawyer,” Punke says. “First year for me was something I just had to endure, knowing that, well, when you go to law school you’ve got to take all these classes. I knew they were not going to be at the core of the work that I hoped to do as a professional. But I’d always been interested in international affairs, and so I was very drawn in second- and third-year courses to Cornell’s international offerings.”
Punke found a mentor at Cornell in John J. Barceló, the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of International and Comparative Law, who until recently was the director of the Law School’s Berger International Legal Studies Program. Punke calls Professor Barceló’s international business transactions course “one of the most significant introductions to trade that I had,” and remembers ducking into his office for advice on summer jobs. For his part, Barceló remembers Punke as an “open-minded, curious” personality. “Students who are active in the classroom and who demonstrate a real fine understanding in the subject area and an inquiring mind stand out to you when you teach, and that’s a memory I have of Mike,” Barceló says. “He demonstrated a very sharp and analytical mind in those discussions.”
The two developed their closest bonds in the Cornell International Law Journal office, where Punke rose to editor in chief, while Barceló was the longtime faculty adviser. In Punke’s third year, and with Barceló’s guidance, the journal held a symposium on U.S.-Japanese trade relations, a hot topic at the time, and one that showed Punke’s developing interest in international trade. “This was in the late ‘80s, when U.S.-Japan trade was extremely politically sensitive and there was a very high profile on U.S.-Japan trade—the equivalent of U.S.-China trade today,” Punke says. “In fact, we were a little bit ahead of the curve in terms of being focused on that issue.” The symposium ended up being a great success, bringing prominent figures from Washington and Tokyo to Cornell to discuss their experience, and the ILJ subsequently published an accompanying article by Punke titled “Structural Impediments to United States–Japan Trade: The Collision of Culture and Law.”
Cornell didn’t just prepare Punke for a life in trade policy, though. “Professionally, the very most significant thing I learned from Cornell was writing,” he says. “Kind of stupidly, I viewed writing courses in college as something to avoid and test out of.” But law school, and especially his work on the ILJ, forced him to focus on expressing ideas clearly, and that experience bore some unexpected dividends a few decades later.
“I’ve never regretted going to law school, as opposed to going to grad school, even though I knew I didn’t want to be a traditional lawyer,” Punke says. “I know a lot of people in Washington who have a master’s and go back to get a J.D. I’ve never met anybody who has a J.D. and went back to get a master’s.”
In 2009, documentary filmmaker Sue Perlgut attended the memorial service for Constance Eberhardt Cook ’43. “Speaker after speaker after speaker talked about this phenomenal woman,” she recalls. Standing with fellow attendees afterward, Perlgut remarked that someone should make a documentary about the trailblazing lawyer and lawmaker. In 2015 that idea came to fruition with the release of Connie Cook: A Documentary.
With the help of New York state assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, Perlgut and collaborator Nils Hoover created the film through Perlgut’s Ithaca-based company CloseToHome Productions. “In the ’60s and ’70s, I was very involved in the women’s movement. [In 2013] Nils was a twenty-seven-year-old man who wanted to know more,” says Perlgut. “The film is a totally intergenerational project.”
The two filmmakers conducted interviews with a diverse array of Cook’s family, friends, colleagues, and fellow politicians. They also gathered archival footage and information, sifting through ninety boxes of documents related to Cook. “It felt like I spent the entire summer of 2014 in the Cornell University archives,” Perlgut recalls. She and Hoover were also pleasantly surprised by the outpouring of helpful footage from near and far that met their research inquiries.
Celebrating Cook as “a woman ahead of her time,” the finished documentary focuses principally on Cook’s fight to decriminalize abortion. The film was screened several times last year, including at Cinemapolis in Ithaca, at the Tompkins County Public Library, at the High Falls Film Festival in Rochester, and at the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival in Ithaca. Perlgut says some film festivals declined to include the documentary, in one case citing its “controversial” subject matter. “‘Abortion’ is a scary word to a lot of people,” she observes.
There was also a campus-wide screening at Myron Taylor Hall, cosponsored by the Women’s Law Coalition (WLC). “The Women’s Law Coalition was excited to host a documentary about an incredible alumna who achieved great things both as an attorney and a legislator,” says WLC president Amelia Hritz. “I loved learning about all of the things [Cook] accomplished at a time when only a few women graduated from law school. The Connie Cook documentary highlighted the importance of having women in leadership roles, regardless of their political party. Overall, her diverse legal career is incredibly inspiring, and the Women’s Law Coalition was honored to screen this documentary about her.”
Stewart J. Schwab, the Jonathan and Ruby Zhu Professor of Law, was among the attendees of the screening. “Connie Cook was a remarkable lawyer, legislator, and human being,” he says. “My wife was Connie’s professional colleague for several years and got to see up close what a special and warm person Connie was. Cornell Law School is proud to claim Connie as an alumna. The film did an excellent job of showing the amazing range of her activities, and in revealing her optimistic spirit as she faced many challenges as a woman lawyer and legislator breaking many barriers.”
Perlgut is now working with women in Ithaca to create a major outreach program that will bring screenings of the documentary to high schools, colleges, and Planned Parenthood facilities throughout the country. “The young women who’ve seen the film think it’s fantastic,” she says. “They understand what’s at stake.”
Pushing for Change
What’s at stake, Perlgut says, are women’s reproductive rights. In the late 1960s, Perlgut was fighting for those rights on the streets of New York City. At the same time, Cook was fighting for them in the New York State Assembly as she championed a landmark piece of legislation.
From 1962 to 1974, Cook served as one of only three women in the state legislature. She authored and promoted a bill decriminalizing abortion in 1970, three years before Roe v. Wade. Her efforts met with staunch resistance.
In a later interview, excerpted in Connie Cook: A Documentary, Cook observed, “It’s the pushing that hurts, not the introduction. You can get away with [introducing] anything, but to push it, to put your colleagues to the test, to make them say yes or no—this is not a popular thing to do, if it’s a difficult issue like this. . . . The worst part for some of the legislators, particularly the Catholic legislators, is that they would be condemned for their vote right from the pulpit, in their church, with their families sitting next to them.”
Cook faced opposition even from many who would have liked to support the bill. “Some of the most dramatic speeches [against the bill],” she noted, “were made by men who told me privately that of course I was right, that they were very glad when they could get their daughters or their lovers an abortion . . . but no way would they ever vote with me.”
On the floor of the assembly, Cook answered the bill’s critics, telling her fellow representatives, “There are many who say that this bill is abortion on demand. I submit that it is not. I submit that we have abortion on demand in the state of New York right now. Any woman that wants an abortion can get one, and the real difference is how much money she has to spend. If she has twenty-five dollars, she has it done here under the most abominable circumstances. If she has more money, she can go abroad. But the fact remains that she can get it. We have abortion on demand. And if she doesn’t have the twenty-five dollars, please don’t forget that she can abort herself, and regretfully this is happening more often that you or I like to admit.” By a margin of one vote, the bill passed—a victory that paved the way for the decriminalization of abortion nationwide.
Cook’s groundbreaking tenure in the state legislature wasn’t the first time she was in the vanguard, and it wouldn’t be the last. She was one of only three women in the Cornell Law School Class of 1943. After graduating, she worked as one of the first female lawyers in a New York City corporate firm, at a time when such firms did not even have women’s bathrooms.
She went on to serve as confidential legal aide to New York governor Thomas Dewey and as legislative and administrative aide to R. Ashbury, state representative from New York’s 125th legislative district. When Ashbury retired, Cook ran for his seat, taking on a four-way Republican primary before facing and defeating her Democratic opponent.
This was the first of multiple trailblazing campaigns for public office that Cook undertook over the course of her career. In 1974 she became the first woman in her district to run for U.S. Congress. Though she lost then, and in a second campaign in 1980, her efforts set a precedent.
Sally True ’78 worked on Cook’s 1974 campaign the year after she graduated from Smith College. Cook and her opponent “agreed to run a campaign ‘on the issues’ and with no personal ‘attacks,’ and they stuck to that approach. That was quite an accomplishment even then,” says True. “Aside from Connie’s high ethical standards and intellect and her undaunted stamina and good disposition during many long days, what impressed me the most was her inclusion of her staff at all and any level of activity. Staff were always included in meetings and calls with officeholders and others, and our opinions and comments were sought and welcomed.” True adds, “It was also remarkable to me that Connie was the same person in public and in private in terms of her demeanor and stances, and that example was difficult to duplicate.”
Cook challenged the status quo not only as a political representative and candidate but also as a litigator. In 1976 she represented Rev. Betty Bone Schiess, one of the first female Episcopal priests in the United States. When the Central New York diocese refused Schiess a license, Cook brought suit to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC ruled in Schiess’s favor, compelling the Episcopal Church of the United States to allow the ordination of female priests nationwide.
This was the same year that Cook became the first female vice president of Cornell University; she presided over land grant affairs from 1976 to 1980. In 1987, she joined the Ithaca firm of True, Walsh and Miller, where she worked tirelessly until her retirement in 1992. Joining the firm reunited her with Sally True, who had also assisted at Cook’s private law practice during law school.
Reflecting on her acquaintance with Cook, True recalls, “As historical and significant a figure as Connie Cook was, she was an even better person. I was with her during several personal disappointments, and her demeanor and approach never varied. Everyone was always treated with respect. She carried herself with humility and actively included everyone in a meeting, conversation, or encounter. She was open to different ideas and continued to learn new things until the end. She modeled effective leadership for both men and women. . . . Given today’s array of political leaders, it is important to remember there is another way to do things, and it has proven results in making necessary change.”
A Vital Legacy
Seven years after Cook’s death, her story is more timely and important than ever, according to Perlgut, who cites the current embattlement of Planned Parenthood and of women’s rights across the board.
“I had an illegal abortion in 1965,” she says. “I was lucky. I went to a doctor. It cost a third of my salary. . . . I never want any woman to go through an illegal abortion.” She says that recent attempts by mostly male politicians to dismantle women’s reproductive rights have enraged her. “As a filmmaker, I like to move on to the next project, but thanks to those politicians that would like to curb women’s reproductive rights, I’m still focused on making sure this film is seen nationwide and that Connie’s work is known and appreciated.”
“You Have to Give Up Skydiving”: David Litman ’82 Explains Conservative Entrepreneurship
“So you’re one of three people in a plane going down,” began David Litman ’82. “An optimist is on the plane, a pessimist is on the plane, and a bureaucrat is on the plane. The optimist says, ‘Well, you know, I saw the movie “Airplane.” If I sit in the pilot seat and get messages from the tower, sure, I can land this plane.’ The pessimist says, ‘We’re all gonna die.’ The bureaucrat says, ‘Why don’t we form a committee and study this and really understand what’s going on?’ And the conservative entrepreneur? Well, he wasn’t even on the plane, ‘cause he was using frequent-flyer miles and got bumped.”
Litman was addressing students and faculty gathered for “Conservative Entrepreneurship: A Business Philosophy,” a lecture presented by the Dean’s Office on November 23.
Litman is the cofounder and CEO of Getaroom.com, as well as the former CEO of hotels.com, which he founded in 1991 with fellow Cornell Law School alumnus Robert Diener ’82. In 1984 he and Diener founded a discount airline business that became a multimillion-dollar wholesale airfare consolidation operation. In 1991, the partners saw the untapped potential in the hotel industry, and with an investment of only $1,200, they founded what became hotels.com. They sold their interest and left the company in 2004. In 2008, they started Getaroom, a new hotel-booking website focusing on hand picked hotel deals in major cities.
So what is conservative entrepreneurship? “Most people think, in order to found and grow a company, you have to mortgage the house, you have to borrow from an angel investor, you have to give away your equity, you have to max out your credit cards . . . but we saw it differently,” said Litman. He expounded on the four key principles of his business philosophy: be careful, be frugal, be quick, and be innovative.
How does a conservative entrepreneur conduct business? Treat the company’s money like your own, said Litman. “How cheap can you be? Print on both sides of the paper . . . Value an opportunity and devote resources accordingly . . . Make your mistakes faster.”
What sort of business does a conservative entrepreneur favor? Litman identified such elements as market potential (“You want a big pond”), high margins, good cash flow, and opportunities for innovation.
In discussing his current business, Getaroom, Litman had this advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: “This is a technology business. You all need to know how to program.” Also, “Don’t skydive.” Conservative entrepreneurs, Litman told the audience, like to avoid risk and prefer making money to spending it. They understand customers, because they are customers. They drive older cars and brown-bag their lunches. They stay humble. “There are a lot of people in business that have success, and they get full of themselves, and they keep thinking that they can’t make a mistake,” he observed. “You need to have that fear, you need to have that desire, and you need to have that humility. And something to fall back upon, like a law degree.”
—by Owen Lubozynski
Anna Dolidze, J.S.D. ‘13, Nominated to Supreme Court of the Republic of Georgia
When Anna Dolidze, J.S.D. ’13, was named deputy minister of defense for the Republic of Georgia on May 15, 2015, she had already enjoyed an impressive career as an attorney, a professor of international law, and a speaker and writer on international law and human rights. Now, less than a year into that position, the thirty-seven-year-old Dolidze has been nominated by Georgia’s president Giorgi Margvelashvili to serve on Georgia’s Supreme Court.
In announcing his pick, the president praised Dolidze for her “high professionalism and non-stop fight against injustice.”
Before her arrival at Cornell Law School, Dolidze had graduated from Tbilisi State University Law School in 2002, received a master’s in international law from Leiden University in 2004, and served in the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, the National Constitutional Commission, and the Commission for Georgia’s European Integration.
At the time of her appointment as deputy defense minister, Dolidze said it was “a great opportunity to give back to my country through policymaking, to contribute my knowledge and experience to help Georgia become a prosperous, peaceful, democratic state based on human rights and the rule of law,” adding, that as a legal academic, she was “thrilled to have the chance to impact public policy.”
Ever since the country’s 2003 Rose Revolution, Georgia has been pursuing admission into NATO, with Minister of Defense Tina Khidasheli calling for a membership action plan at the alliance’s 2016 summit in Warsaw. As one of three new deputy ministers appointed by Khidasheli, Dolidze is tasked with continuing to make demonstrable progress on political and military reforms to support Georgia’s candidacy.
In one current project, Dolidze is working to establish a more objective system for granting scholarships to study abroad; in another, she’s creating an increasingly transparent program for distributing benefits to military personnel. As Dolidze describes it, the post is enormously dynamic, challenging her to translate ideas into policies and legislation, and demanding she apply her legal skills on a daily basis.
“During the past seven years, I have been immersed in the academic life,” says Dolidze, who credits her professors at Cornell—Gregory Alexander, Valerie Hans, Mitchel Lasser, Muna Ndulo, Steve Shiffrin, and Sidney Tarrow—with preparing her for the demands of government service. “Although this position involves a very different degree of responsibility, power, resources, and pace, the underlying idea is the same. I remain committed to serving the public good, which provides the inspiration and driving force for me and the people with whom I work.”
—by Kenny Berkowitz