Alumni Short

After Twenty-Eight Years of Admissions Alchemy, A Virtuosic Farewell for Rick Geiger

Ithaca, NEW YORK, May 6, 2015

There was metaphorical music in the air as the Law School gathered on April 21 to celebrate Rick Geiger, associate dean for communications and enrollment, who is retiring at the end of the semester to focus on playing and building violins, along with golfing, fishing, and backpacking. (He's already an accomplished pianist.) There was an allusion to Whitesnake, whose "Here I Go Again" topped the charts in 1987, the year Geiger arrived at Cornell, and another to Lady Gaga, who was compared to a "white hot" Cornell Law in a 2010 Wall Street Journal column that featured Geiger explaining the leap in applications.

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Beginning on a high note, Eduardo Peñalver, the Allan R. Tessler Dean of Cornell Law School and Professor of Law, summarized Geiger's greatest accomplishments in 28 years: He was the Law School's longest-serving dean of admissions, working as a central figure in selecting two-thirds of the Law School's living alumni. He created the Communications Department. He reorganized the IT Department. He chaired the Law School Admission Council's Board of Trustees, the first nonfaculty administrator to hold the position. He chaired the AALS Section on Legal Education and Admission to Law School. He served on numerous committees for the ABA, the AALS, and the LSAC; and somehow, did all that with a mastery that could only be described as virtuosic.

"Working with Rick this year has been an extended tutorial in the alchemy of law school admissions," said Peñalver, speaking from a podium in the Berger Atrium. "It's a remarkably tricky thing to make 1,100 admissions offers, and to say this is a nerve-wracking process would be to understate it by a wide margin. Rick's instincts have been honed by decades on the job, and in my year as dean, I have seen those instincts borne out time and again."

Professor Stewart J. Schwab, the Law School's former dean and Geiger's former tennis partner, likened Geiger to "a rock star, and I mean that literally. His interests are as wide-ranging as his administrative talents are strong, and not only has he been appreciated here at Cornell, he has achieved national recognition for his work."

A chorus of praise followed: Dan Bernstine, president of the LSAC called Geiger "one of the most well-respected admission professionals in the country." Anne Lukingbeal, who retired last month as associate dean and dean of students, described him as a Renaissance man whose "unique combination of inspirational intelligence, creativity, collegiality, willingness to work exceptionally hard, and rare ability to see things through other's eyes meant that within ten years of becoming involved in the LSAC admissions world, Rick had accomplished more than any administrator before him."

"Our lives are radically better because of the care Rick and his staff have taken," said Sheri Lynn Johnson, associate dean for public engagement and the James and Mark Flanagan Professor of Law. "Some of our applicants are shoo-ins, and any competent dean would have admitted them. But the most interesting, inspiring students tend to be those who have something more than numerical credentials. The decision to admit them is as much art as science, and Rick has mastered both."

Returning to the podium, Peñalver presented some parting gifts: a mockup of the Law Forum with Geiger's photo on the cover; a Cornell golf bag, shirt, and shoes; and a memory book signed by Law School friends. Then, after a rousing, one-day-premature rendition of "Happy Birthday to You," Geiger took centerstage, thanking family and colleagues, and sharing stories from the past twent-eight years at Cornell.

"Success doesn't necessarily follow a linear path," said Geiger, trying to explain that decision-making alchemy, though he could just as easily been talking about his own career as a law clerk, a lawyer, and law school administrator. "It's been said that 'Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the things you did do.'"

"Let's put it this way," he added as a coda. "I'm planning on substantially shortening the list of things I didn't do."