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Prof. Rabkin's Departure: In His Own Words

Attempting to get the full story on Professor Jeremy Rabkin's departure from Cornell's government department to the George Mason School of Law, I sought answers from Rabkin himself, as well as the chair of the department, Prof. Valerie Bunce, and other colleagues. Only Rabkin responded. His answers are excerpted and annotated with links below.

The easiest question to answer is the last -- yes, I have been nominated to the board of the Institute of Peace. The nomination requires Senate confirmation to take effect, so it may be a while before I am actually sworn in there. On the other hand, the Institute is required by law to have a balance of Republican and Democratic members, so even the current Senate will have to swallow some nominees they might not like and I hope they will be indulgent toward a professor. One point of relevance is that the Institute makes grants. It might, for that reason, have been helpful to Cornell to have one its own on the Board. But no one here seems to have paid any attention to that. People here certainly knew it was in the offing, because the FBI spent a week interviewing all my colleagues about my potential infirmities and I then had to explain (at least to a few of them) what that background check was for.


There are two things worth saying about this. First,the move was attractive in itself, for all sorts of reasons. GMU really tried hard to recruit me. They offered not only a very substantial raise (I mean, in salary) and other nice things to attract me but people there also called me regularly to coax me into coming. I was attracted to working with some very fine colleagues at GMU.

For someone with my research interests, Washington offers unique opportunities, anyway. (GMU's Law School is two Metro stops from DC.) And I have been at Cornell a long time. My kids were students at Cornell but the older one is moving on this year (with an MA in CS) and his brother will finish next year. So it was much easier to think about moving now then it might have been a few years ago.

On the other side is this: Cornell made no effort of any kind to keep me here. I told my department chair that I had this offer. She told me I could have an "exit interview" to discuss my feelings about Cornell before I left. She did not offer to ask the administration for a counter-offer -- which is the usual thing to do in these circumstances. She did not ask me to wait until I saw what Cornell would offer. She did nothing at all. I waited some five weeks, in the course of which I was never contacted by the chair (Val Bunce) or by anyone else. In the circumstances, I did not feel I had any choice. If an institution wants to keep a senior person, it does what it can to match an outside offer. Cornell didn't even bother to inquire what the details of GMU's offer actually were.

More after the jump....

To be honest with you, I feel rather disappointed about this. A few junior colleagues have sent me e-mail messages expressing regret at my leaving. Hardly any senior colleagues have done so. People who have good opportunities elsewhere don't stay where they are not appreciated. So I'm leaving.

You might want to ask my department chair (Val B) why she didn't bother to organize a counter-offer from Cornell or ask me to wait for her to do so. She has said to me in e-mail messages that she didn't realize I was leaving and that she just assumed I would leave anyway -- that is, she has burbled contradictory things to show that she's not to blame because as a mere chair it was somehow not her job to try to keep me here. I really have trouble understanding what she was thinking...

I do not know which colleagues, if any, she discussed this with. You might ask her that directly. It is hard to believe that she allowed me to walk off without even asking senior colleagues for advice on how to respond to my offer. But I don't know what conversations she may have had and what results they may have generated. Again, you might ask my senior colleagues (Peter K, Ted Lowi, Issac K, Sid T) what they think about my departure. I really don't know because they haven't bothered to communicate with me about it. I suppose that says something
in itself.


I don't think there's much more I can add here that wouldn't sound like whining. I will just say again that people with good prospects elsewhere don't stay at institutions which make no effort to hold on to them. That was my case so I'm moving on. I'll miss a lot of things about Cornell, but this experience does leave me soured on the place.


Actually, I can think of one other thing worth mentioning. If you do a bit of searching, you'll find that my move to GMU was noticed in several of the most widely-read legal blogs.

Scholars out in the world were quite interested in my move even if my colleagues here were not. I think that says something.


To go a step beyond the facts to speculation about motives: I do not think I was the victim of some partisan conspiracy against me at Cornell. From talking to other people (in other departments) I get the impression that Cornell is not well-organized to respond to outside offers. Lots of things fall between bureaucratic cracks. But I do think Cornell is capable of responding when it thinks a matter is very important. I don't think my case got very high on the chair's agenda. I wouldn't attribute that to personal malice but it sure hasn't left me with the idea that I was very highly valued here. They really did want me at GMU.

Andy Guess | Posted on March 19, 2007 (#)

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