Dr. David Skorton, a cardiologist who’s been president of Cornell University since 2006, is the next secretary of the Smithsonian, the institution announced today. He takes over from G. Wayne Clough, who announced his retirement last year.
Like Clough, who was president of Georgia Tech from 1994 to 2008, Skorton hails from an academic background. He spent three years as president of the University of Iowa before taking the top post at Cornell in 2006. During his eight years at the Ivy League school, Skorton raised more than $5 billion for Cornell while also serving as a professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medical College and a professor in biomedical engineering at Cornell’s College of Engineering.
Skorton is the first doctor to lead the Smithsonian, but he also has a background in the arts—he’s a former professional jazz musician who plays the saxophone and the flute, and who used to host a weekly radio program on Latin jazz in Iowa. In 2011 he accompanied Billy Joel when the musician paid a visit to Cornell, and he’s also performed with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. He’s also an advocate for gun control and for immigration reform who spoke out during his time at Cornell against hazing within Greek life.
Skorton will take over at the Smithsonian in July 2015. (Clough retires in October, and an acting chairman will be announced for the six-month interim period.) John McCarter, chairman of the Smithsonian’s search committee, called Skorton “an extraordinary fit.”