Cornell’s Madam President

30 09 2014

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As announced over at the Ithaca Voice, Cornell’s 13th president will also be its first female leader. Univ. Southern California provost Helen Elizabeth Garrett has been selected to take over the helm from David Skorton starting in July 2015.

In keeping with a Cornell trend to have presidents who’ve spent time in flyover country, 51-year old Elizabeth “Beth” Garrett started her academic career in Oklahoma. According to her curriculum vitae, she received a BA in history from the University of Oklahoma in 1985, where she was active in student government and Chi Omega sorority, and she has a JD from the University of Virginia in 1988, where she was valedictorian.  Following law school, Garrett clerked for judge Stephen Williams on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit (1988-1989), and for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (1989-1990). She also served as legislative director and tax and budget counsel in the early 1990s to retired Democratic U.S. senator David L. Boren (D-Oklahoma; back in a time when Oklahoma elected more Democrats). Since that time, she’s been firmly ensconced in academia. She has served as a visiting law professor at UVA, Harvard, Caltech, the Interdisciplinary Center Law School in Israel and Central European University in Budapest. She has served as a law professor at U. Chicago (1995-2003), where she was deputy dean for academic affairs from 1999-2001.  In 2003, she left for USC, where she would go on to serve as the vice provost for academic affairs (2005-2006) and then vice president for academic planning and budget (2006-2010). Garrett became provost, the second-in-command position for the university, in October 2010. Her tenure as USC provost has had its share of problems. It includes the failed merger of the Scripps Insitute with USC, and a series of high-profile crimes near the university where USC students were attacked.

As a lawyer, Garrett’s specialty is with government affairs and tax policy. In March 2009, she was nominated by Barack Obama to serve as assistant treasury secretary for tax policy, but withdrew that May for family reasons. It was suggested that she did not wish to put her family under the intense scrutiny that the vetting process required. She has been the target of the political right-wing’s fury in the past, for not doing enough to curtail a USC professor who used derogatory terms to describe Republicans.  Along with that nomination, her other government involvements includes serving on a number of government advisory panels and boards, include George W. Bush’s 2005 Panel on Federal Tax Reform,  and as the Commissioner of the California Fair Political Practices Commission since 2009. Like any other high-flying professional, she sits, or has sat on more advisory panels, had more professional memberships, and chaired more specialized committees and programs than you can shake a stick at. Her husband, USC law and philosophy professor Dr. Andrei Marmor, will be offered a position at Cornell.

A female lawyer with deep political and academic connections seems like a pretty safe choice for Cornell president. Although this will be her first time as a college president, she has strong enough credentials that, at a glance, her appointment appears to be a wise move.





Fast Facts: Cornell Employee Headcounts

25 03 2014

All figures come from the Cornell University Factbook.

I’ll lead off with a breakdown of overall number of employees. Faculty and academic staff have been discussed previously, but for consistency’s sake, their numbers are included here in their separate sub categories. In other words, the total number of Cornell employees is faculty + academic staff + non-academic staff. These figures don’t include Weill Cornell, but do include the Geneva research facility and the tech campus in New York City, (the tech campus had 7 employees in 2012 and 15 in 2013). Student and temp employees are not counted either. All figures were taken from November 1 of the year displayed.

cornell_headcount_total
In terms of raw numbers and in percentage, it’s pretty clear that non-academic staff were the ones that decreased the most in the midst of the Great Recession. The big plummet comes from 2008 to 2009, where the number of non-academic staff dropped from 7,707 to 7,038, an 8.7% drop. Combined with the losses in employment in faculty and academic staff, the drop in employment that year was from 10,548 to 9,786. Today, the number of total employees is even lower, at 9,731. Meanwhile, student enrollment has continued to climb.

Cornell had a few different tricks up its sleeve to decrease the numbers so sharply. The primary constituent was a retirement incentive package. If you worked at Cornell for over 10 years and were 55 or older, the university was willing to give an employee a lump sum payment (one year’s pay) and an enhanced retirement account payment (30% of what was in the account), provided that the individual retired by the end of June 2009. According to their press release, 432 people accepted the offer. As I recall from my job at the Cornell Store, at least three of the full-time store employees had accepted the package. Another 200 accepted in 2009-2010. Of the 669 positions, at least 105 were layoffs. A Sun article from 2011 details the results of these cuts, including concerns of low morale and overburdening certain departments. It also notes that cuts were expected to continue through 2015, which given the numbers out since then, looks to be pretty accurate. For the curious, the average salary of a non-academic full-time staffer at Cornell was $33,885 in 2007.

Looking at the numbers in greater detail, we can take further nuggets of information from the figures. For fall 2013, for instance, there were 7,070 non-academic staff. Of those 7,070, 4,130 (58.42%) are female, and 6,193 (87.60%) are white. There are 479 part-timers, or 6.78% of the total non-academic staff workforce.

The types of non-academic staff can be broken down into subcategories, both for occupational group and by organizational sector. For occupational groups, the subdivisions are clerical/secretary, executive/admin/managerial, other professional, service and maintenance, skilled crafts, and technical/paraprofessional. For organizational sector, the subdivisions are “Colleges, Research, Library, Other Academic Units, Student and Academic Services, Facilities Services, and Other Administrative Units”.

Job Groups

Org Sector

Speaking broadly and looking at proportions alone, if you work in research or in an administrative position, you’ve fared pretty well since the big slimdown five years ago. If you’re a skilled craftsman or fall into the vague term of “other academic unit”, the prospects haven’t been as sunny. The big employers in gross are secretaries and the grab-bag called “other professionals”, in colleges and “other administrative units”. I presume a lot of secretaries have been replaced by Ms. Google and her friends.

colleges_headcount

In this Cornell-provided chart, if you split up the colleges by headcount, the Vet School and CALS appears to have taken the biggest cutbacks, although AAP took a big hit percentage-wise. Hotel, HumEc, the Johnson and the Law Schools employ more now than they did at the 2008 peak.

cornell_employee_age

Lastly, even with the retirement incentive, the employee population continues to grey. In 2001, 12.4% of non-academic staff were 55 or older; by fall 2013 it’s doubled to over 25%. In sum, while the student population goes up, the staff population is generally decreasing and trending older.

 





Fast Facts: Academic Staff and Faculty Trends

10 11 2013

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In the entry, faculty are defined as “part-time, clinical and acting assistant, associate and full professors”, while academic staff are defined as “instructors, lecturers, senior lecturers, teaching associates, research and senior research associates, research scientists and principal research scientists, extension and senior extension associates, librarians, associate librarians, senior assistant librarians, assistant librarians and archivists”. All data is taken from the Cornell University Factbook:

Total Aca Staff

Fact number one – the number of academic staff has decreased, from 2,728 in 2001 to 2,660 in 2012. The number peaked at about 2,841 in Fall 2008, and has largely declined since then, as the Great Recession took its toll. CALS and Engineering appear to still be declining, with staff reductions near 10% in the past five years alone (704 to 654, and 306 to 280 respectively).  AAP has lost 14 positions in the same span, reducing academic staff from 69 to 55. Some schools, like the Hotel School and Law School, never really saw declines, while others such as HuMec and Arts & Sciences have started to rebound.

Faculty and Aca Staff

Let’s break down these numbers a little more, into faculty and academic professionals. Faculty numbers went from 1551 in 2001, to 1647 in Fall 2007 (its peak), to 1587 in Fall 2012. Academic staff went from 1,177 in 2001, to a peak of 1,219 in Fall 2005 (and a secondary peak of 1,208 in Fall 2008), and had decreased to 1,073 in Fall 2012. Let’s note that the student population has increased substantially since 2001, especially among the graduate student and professional student sub-groups.

Faculty Percentages

Overall, the faculty proportions haven’t changed too much. Slightly less assistant and full professors, and slightly more associate professors. It has been noted 47 percent of professors are over age 55, and 15 percent over age 65. Cornell had set a goal in Fall 2011 to bring in new blood and expand its faculty base by hiring 100 new faculty per year, but given these numbers, I’m doubtful that is occurring.

Aca Staff Percentages

With academic staff, the big decrease has been with those working in extension (Cornell Cooperative Extension). Some of these cuts were publicized, like the 17 staff that were laid off from ILR Extension in February 2009 (apparently, the Sun link no longer works since their website had to be rebuilt). Cornell Cooperative Extension comprises university outreach and research conducted as part of the university’s land-grant commitment to the state, mostly in agricultural concerns and community programs.

Aca Staff vs. Time

The drop in extension is illustrated further here. In 2001, it had 290 staff. In 2012, 0nly 213. The research staff went from 410 to 392 in the same span (note that there 454 researchers in fall 2008), and 126 to 110 librarian staff. Academic instruction staff increased from 351 to 358. Note that academic instruction staff does not include post-docs, as they are considered temporary employees of the university. Off-hand, given the salaries posted on sites like Glassdoor, I wonder if lower-cost lecturers and teaching associates are being hired in place of professors, and if the university has become more dependent on the cheap labor provided by grad students as their budget has tightened.





Cornell Graduation Rates

25 10 2013

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Graduation; perhaps the most important part of the Cornell experience. Facts are from the university factbook, as is the image below:

Freshman_grad_rate_trends

-For freshman who started in Fall 2007 (graduating 2011-2013), the overall university graduation rate (frosh who finish in six years or less) was 93.2%. Human Ecology set the standard at 95.5%, with most of the other schools clustering near the average, except for AAP, which polled at only 88%. Arguably, AAP’s number are more prone to skewing, since they’re the smallest college and it takes 5 years to complete architecture degrees; but the facts are what they are, AAP usually ranks below average, and is often the worst of the seven colleges for graduation rates.

-Over the decade, graduation rates jumped in the first half from 92 to 93.4%, but have dipped slightly since. The number still poll better than the 1990s, when graduation rates were just under 91%. The localized max is 98.7% for Fall 2004 ILR freshman, and the local min is the 69.9% for fall 2001 AAP freshmen. Compared to the 1990s, students seem to averaging a slightly quicker completion of their courses of study, with an increase in the less-than-4 year path, and a decrease in the percentage of super-seniors.

-Women consistently graduate at slightly higher rates than men. In 2007, 95% of women graduated within six years, vs. 91% of men. This is consistent across schools and in most years, though in some years the gap is as low as 1%, but the gap has trended slightly larger in the past few years.

-University-Recognized Minorities (URMs, referring to non-white and non-Asian students) graduate at slightly lower rates, 88% for those starting in fall 2007 (the value has been in the upper 80s for most of the past decade). URM males fare worse, at 85% for fall 2007’s freshman class. For African-American males, the rate has been as low as 75% in recent years.

-International student finish at rates not substantially different from the general student body, but they finish in less than 4 years at much higher rates – 20 to 30% of those freshmen will finish early. If I remember correctly (i.e. I can’t seem to find anything to back this up), certain countries, like Singapore, push their students to finish as quickly as possible.

-About 1 out of every 8 students will graduate from a college different than the one they were enrolled in as a freshman (ex. started in Arts and Sciences, finished in CALS). There’s no real trend over time, or for school transfers (evidence that AEM is trying to become more exclusive?)

-Transfer students graduate at rates virtually identical to those who started at Cornell as freshmen, with the exception of AAP, where they do not do as well. Once again, small incoming transfer numbers can skew this figure easily.

-About 3-4% drop out after freshman year. From there on, about 1-1.5% who finish their sophomore or junior year will not come back for the subsequent year of their matriculation.

 

 

 





Cornell and Carl Sagan

26 01 2013

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When I came up for the idea of this topic, I was originally a little hesitant to write an entry. Unlike A.D. White or Dear Uncle Ezra, there are probably a number of readers who can remember when Sagan was alive and active on campus (Sagan passed away in December 1996). If the number of hits I receive for his old house at 900 Stewart Avenue are any clue (~600 hits since this blog’s inception), the late astronomer and Cornell professor remains a relatively popular figure. As someone who was just a kid when Carl Sagan passed away, it’s a little harder for me to identify, and in Sagan’s place, figures such as Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse Tyson fill different niches not-too-distant from Sagan’s public role.

With all that in mind, I decided to take an approach similar to what I did with my “Founding Fathers” entries, and provide a smorgasbord of tidbits. I have no intention of delving into his interests of extraterrestrial life, agnosticism/humanism, or marijuana use, but the wikipedia entry would be a fine substitute for those interested in those topics.

-First off, the basic facts. Carl Sagan arrived at Cornell in 1968. We should only be so lucky that the high minds of Harvard decided to deny him tenure the previous year, because they were unhappy with his “pandering to the public”. Sagan became a full professor of the astronomy department in 1971, and remained so (the David C. Duncan Professor in the Physical Sciences) until his untimely death from pneumonia while recovering from cancer a quarter-century later.

-Carl Sagan might have been an excellent publicist for science, but few would call him a focused academic. The filming of his Cosmos  television series in Los Angeles in the late 1970s forced the university to cancel several of his courses, and several grad students under his advisory had to move into the research groups of other department faculty. His astronomy colleagues were unimpressed with this shirking of duties and attempted to have his lab kicked out of the Space Science building.

-Things were not a whole lot better upon return to campus, the blessing and curse of the success of his television series and associated NYT bestseller. While Sagan garnered much favorable publicity and considerable wealth, he was also subject to death threats from those in vehement disagreement to his views. Police regularly patrolled his home, and his name was removed from the Space Science directory and from his front door, out of safety concerns (this policy must have relaxed late in his career). Some of his colleagues remained unenthused about him, accusing Dr. Sagan of being an egotist, blurring the lines between fact and fiction, and failing to give other scientists due credit.

-While at Cornell, Sagan began a critical thinking course (ASTRO 490). This course was under his guidance until he was hospitalized in 1996, when other faculty filled in. The course was discontinued after his death, but was brought back under the tutelage of other faculty a few years later. Under Sagan’s time, the course could only be enrolled into after completing a rigorous interview process for one of the 20 available slots.

-On the note of Neil deGrasse Tyson, Sagan tried to recruit him to do his undergrad at Cornell. Unfortunately, the future Dr. Tyson chose to go to Harvard instead. Bill Nye had Sagan as a professor, so perhaps Sagan has had more of a hand in the science communication to Generation Y than we realize.

-One of the more whimsical tales of Sagan is that during the height of his popularity, he had a secret tunnel from his home to campus, where he could drive his Porsche away from prying eyes. In reality, he would walk some of the back-trails along the gorge.

-Another reason to seek anonymity – Sagan used a vanity plate inscribed with “PHOBOS”, a Martian moon. These vanity plates became a hot souvenir for anyone with a screwdriver and ten minutes, since 900 Stewart has no driveway or garage (rather, it has a deep curb). Sagan eventually caved and asked the DMV for a more anonymous plate.

-I’ve already covered Sagan’s home a couple of times previous, but a quick rehash – built in 1890 as the meeting place for the Sphinx Head secret society, who sold it their neighbor, Dr. Robert Wilson, in 1969. The building went relatively unused, and was once again, this time to Dr. Stephen Mensch, in 1979. Mensch renovated the property into a home, and actually allowed Sphinx Head to make occasional use of the property. Sagan acquired the property in the 1980s, and the house is still a part of his estate, though it is vacant. According to a 1993 DUE, Sagan likely did not live in the property towards the ends of his life.

Although vacant, it would be ill-advised to try to trespass – the property is covered with security cameras, one of which is right above the entrance-way (the not-visible corner in the below photo).

On a personal note, when I had taken the photos of the former Sagan residence, I had not known this was his home. I just thought it was a highly unusual building in an area of mostly early 20th-century homes. It was not until I typed the address into my search bar when I came home that I discovered the building’s significance.

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Cornell’s Geneva Campus

6 08 2011

So, when we think of Cornell’s campus, most people think of Ithaca. Occasionally, someone also might mention the medical school down in New York City. But in the ag school, asking the right person, might result in an unexpected response – Geneva, New York. Geneva is a small city of about 13,000 located about 50 NNW of Ithaca, on the northern end of Seneca Lake, and although most folks could not care less about the community, it does have some importance for the university thanks to the presence of the Geneva Lab.

The formal name of the Geneva campus is the “New York State Agricultural Experiment Station“, often referred to as the Geneva Lab for short. It also started off as a rival to Cornell, at least when it came to research grants. The Geneva Lab was started in June 1880 thanks to state funding, although Cornell had sought the funding from the state (Bishop 223). The lab started off with a staff of seven scientists. After the Hatch Act provided further funding for agricultural experiment stations in 1887, the competition created between the two created tense relations throughout the turn of the century. To is credit, Cornell had their own experiment station since 1879, but it sorely lacked funding (keep in mind this was during a time when the ag school had an almighty 50 students, give or take a few each year). Thanks to increased state and federal funding with the second Morrill Act, state appropriations, and the Smith-Hughes Bill, money became easier to obtain, and relations had improved enough by WWI that Cornell professors routinely exchanged with researchers at Geneva for various ag-related projects (Bishop 440).
By 1923, the state authorized the Geneva research station to be placed under Cornell’s control. At this point, the two were basically working together on most everything and trying to avoid redundancies in administration, so by 1920 they were already informally affiliated. The Geneva station had a staff of 55 and hundreds of acres would benefit the ag school’s research, while taking advantage of Cornell connection, including the Cooperative Extension program.

More funding started coming Cornell and Geneva’s way with the Purnell Act in 1925, which led to Cornell-owned ag research facilities in the Hudson Valley and on Long Island, near Riverhead (Bishop 477).  The Geneva facility’s research shifted from helping farmers produce good crops, to making better products, such as making pears disease-resistant, new apple varieties, and working with Birdseye Foods on better quick-freezing techniques for vegetables. By 1940, the researchers at Geneva were made faculty in the ag college.lastly, animal-related research was shifted over to the Ithaca campus at the end of WWII, leaving the Geneva lab to strictly plant-based work.

Today, the Geneva campus comprises 20 buildings (623,000 sq ft), 870 acres, and about 300 faculty, staff and grad students. Most of the work done these days is the development of improved food safety and storage techniques and genetic enhancement of crops to create more productive or tolerant varieties. The four programs shared between the two campuses (which were merged as a post-recession cost-cutting measure last year) are Entomology, Food Science, Horticulture and Plant Pathology.

In summary, Cornell has a large presence in upstate New York, and it’s not just in Ithaca. So, maybe the proposal for the new school on Roosevelt Island in NYC isn’t all that unusual for Ezra’s research university.





Munier’s Grading Guide

29 07 2011

Let’s face it – the majority of students as Cornell are driven by their GPAs. For grad school, for their first job, or whatever their immediate postgraduate endeavor. Sure, they may not mean everything, but GPAs are important enough that many people are dedicated to getting as close to a 4.3 as possible.

However, as anyone who’s been at Cornell for a while can recognize, grades are not distributed evenly, especially between majors. Sure, you could work hard and maybe pull a B+ in a course where the average is a B, but few people would turn down the opportunity to pad their transcript with an easy A. Well, Cornell recognizes this, and has begun to print the median grades for that class, as well as the grades a student has in a course, on their transcript, starting with the class of 2012.

It helps to get an idea where certain median grades lie. For a while, Cornell printed median grades and posted them online. Well, that only fueled the culture of “easy A classes”, so they stopped. Enter Munier Salem ’10’s cleverly-done guide to median grades. Using the fall 2009 median grade report, Munier put together an interactive infographic describing the distribution of grades in a given department (ASTRO, ASIAN, PHYS, and so on).

Now, I could’ve summarized it, but Ivygate already did that. So, I’m going to try a different tack.

I’m a CALS alum. So my interest is in CALS departments (regardless of whether or not they’re shared between schools – I’m looking at you BIO). Using the infographic, I pulled the percentages for different grades in a given CALS department and assigned a value to the grade itself – a 10 is an A+, a 9 is an A, 8 is an A-, and so on. The results in the graphic are actually given in a bar graph, but this method will break it down to just one mean value for simplicity. In example, say EXMPL has four courses – one with an A average, one with an A- and two B’s. (.25 * 9) + (.25 * 8 ) + (.5 * 6) = 7.25, just above a B+ average. Note that this doesn’t take the number of credits a course is worth into account, and in the infographic only a few larger majors are broken down by the course number of the class. Lastly, the quality of students can vary somewhat between majors (the dairy science concentration in Animal Science comes to mind). In conclusion, my grade exercise is more for show than for anything of real value.

AEM: 8.08

ANSC (animal science): 7.83

BEE (bio engineering): 7.57

BIO (standard biology): 7.13

BSOC (bio & society): 7.01

COMM: 8.05

CSS (crop& soil sci): 7.33

DSOC (dev. sociology): 7.66

EAS (earth&atmos sci): 7.34

EDUC (which is being phased out): 7.54

ENTOM (entomology, i.e. bugs): 8.15

FDSC (food sci): 7.70

HORT (horticulture): 8.01

INFO (info sci): 7.72

LA (landscape architecture): 7.89

NS (nutri sci): 8.06

NTRES (natural resources, a.k.a. natty res): 7.88

PLPA (plant pathology): 7.34

Now, this doesn’t take different majors into account, who may take courses from a few different departments. But if we do place any value in this, it’s that it’s good to be an AEM or entomology major, and that you might want to avoid biology & society courses (refuting my own belief that using the word “society” in any course meant it was an easy class).








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