A Building Cornell Regrets, and That Time I Was Duped

16 09 2014


Cornell’s a large campus with many buildings to its name. With some, form comes before function (Balch isn’t the most practical layout for a dorm, as eye-catching as it is), and others it’s function before form (Olin Lab, for instance). The goal is to have both a pleasing form and functionally efficient, which many of the more beloved buildings, like Willard Straight Hall, have been able to accomplish.

Some building accomplish neither. Some buildings do such a bad job at accomplishing form or function that they force the university to do an overhaul of its planning process.

There’s a few that could earn such a dubious distinction (old MVR north and Bradfield come to mind), but one resulted in a special amount of acrimony – Uris Hall.


Let me do a quick summary. Uris Hall was completed in 1972 thanks to a generous donation from real estate developer Harold Uris ’25 and his brother Percy (who graduated from Columbia, which has a less offensive Uris Hall). According to the now-offline Dear Uncle Ezra’s 12/27/2005 edition, Cornell gave the donors the ability to dictate design preferences, and while they were in Pittsburgh, the Urises noticed how amazing the (then new) U.S. Steel tower’s facade looked (which uses cor-ten steel). They wanted to see that on the new building, so that’s why it was used on Uris Hall. Corten steel turns a rusty-gold with blue overtones when it reacts with common air pollutants, but because of Ithaca’s lack of air pollution to oxidize the steel’s surface, it’s a decades-long process.

Okay, so it’s ugly. But it gets so much worse than that.

For one thing, the upkeep of the facade gave the building an incredibly high maintenance cost, something that Cornell was not happy about. An October 2, 1973 Sun article notes that Uris cost about 81 cents per square foot to maintain in 1972-1973, compared to the campus average of 15 cents per square foot. When a building is 174,000 square feet, that cost really adds up (if you’re keeping score at home, that’s about $115,000 in 1973 dollars, or about $616,000 today). There were a couple primary reasons for this: large glass expanses of single-pane bronze-tinted glass resulted in huge utility bills and were too big for facilities equipment to clean, and the slowly rusting steel. Technically, if all had gone to plan, the rust would have formed quickly, and the oxidized surface of the steel would have created a protective coating and kept future maintenance costs low. In reality, the slow rusting resulted in a runoff of steel oxide film being deposited onto the glass, which had to be quickly cleaned off before it could etch into the windows. So every rainstorm was a race against time with inadequate equipment. These were things that the architect, Roy O. Allen Jr. of SOM, admitted had not crossed his mind when designing the building.

For what it was worth, Harold Uris donated another $1 million for the building’s maintenance, and the university reconsidered the balance of building design vs. maintenance costs. Corson himself declared that the university would not borrow money to construct buildings that would be a long-term burden on university finances.


Well, I’ll admit I’ve been tricked. I ran a couple keyword checks to see if the article cited below checked out and nothing came up to suggest it was false. Apparently I used the wrong keywords. My mistake! I commend the 1970s Daily Sun for making it so believable. -BC

Ah, but when it rains, it pours! And when it pours, it corrodes the exterior steel, to the point where the entirety of Uris Hall had its structure compromised. So the university found itself in May 1974, two years after the building opened. The university was a little nervous about issues with Uris Hall and commissioned a team of civil engineers to examine the building. They found that only was the steel weak from corrosion, the building was liable to collapse in a matter of weeks. Harold Uris freaked out. Unable to bear further embarrassment from his namesake building, he threatened to take back a $1 million donation unless students were away from campus while emergency repairs were taking place at the end of May. This meant rescheduling student exams and reducing the exam study period from five days to two in order to accommodate. The university claimed that it was a chilled water/air conditioning issue that caused the abbreviated study schedule. In sum – a rich donor held the university by its financial balls and forced 15,000 students to undergo undue extra stress in order to hide an embarrassing mistake that was in some degree the result of his architectural tastes. The only reason all this news became public is because the outgoing arts dean refused to go along with the charade. Thomas Mackesey, the VP of planning who had signed off on Uris Hall, resigned as a result of the fiasco.

There’s probably more to the aftermath, but the Sun archives lack information for fall 1974 through early 1978. But at the very least, when it came to being a disaster of a project, Uris Hall wins the gold medal.




Redefining Collegetown

2 09 2014

Article number four in the Collegetown history series.

I think one of the more enduring themes of Collegetown has been the desire to redevelop it. It’s a theme that comes up pretty consistently, starting in the post-war period, when urban renewal had become the planning concept du jour. Thankfully, we can find some of these plans in online archives.

And they are terrifying.

Here we have one from the Cornell Daily Sun archives, published April 22, 1959.


Someone’s channeling a little Le Corbusier here. This was one of seven designs conjured by about 40 junior architecture students in spring 1959, under the direction of Professor Thomas Canfield. The project called for the capacity of 4,000 residents in a 0.25 sq mi area (the population in the area in 1959 was about 1,100). They were told to plan for 4,000 residents because “there is a tremendous market for housing that is now unavailable. The site would attract many non-suitable if it offered suitable amenities.” All models were supposed to have a hotel, bank, theater, and parking for 2,700 cars (the capacity at the time was 500).

6 of the 7 proposals called for high-rise buildings, and virtually all of Collegetown from Eddy to Summit Ave, and Seneca to the gorge would have been demolished. A few proposals saved the Luthern Church on Oak Avenue, and one saved Sheldon Court. A bunch of isolated towers seems awful from the new urban standpoint that’s increasingly popular today, but in the late 1950s, this is what was in vogue. Demolish all the old, towers in the park, superblocks. massive freeways, seas of parking, it was the wave of the future. Ask Boston, Syracuse, Chicago, or any number of cities how that future turned out.

If you’re feeling really bored today, here’s a letter of protest against the design of Olin Library, also from the same issue. Olin was under construction at the time. I’m inclined to agree with the writer’s sentiments.

By November 1965, real plans were set into motion – under Ithaca’s Urban Renewal program, 62 acres of Collegetown was set for “selective demolition”, because the fire department determined that a high density of wood buildings was a fire hazard. Multi-story parking garages were also proposed, and a new bridge over Cascadilla Gorge. The work was supposed to begin in 1969, after a long process of Planning Board approval, Common Council approval, and state and federal government approval. Ithaca would only foot 12.5% of the nearly $5 million bill.

The urban renewal plan continued to evolve over the years. A lot of downtown businessmen, and later the operators of Pyramid Mall (now the Shops at Ithaca Mall), were not pleased with the idea of a business district in Collegetown that would isolate students from their properties. In 1969, 80,000 sq ft of office space and 200,000 sq ft of retail space was proposed in Collegetown – to put that in perspective, the mall in Lansing is 600,000 sq ft, and the token office building Cornell has at East Hill Plaza is 60,000 sq ft of office space. The plan also called for non-student low-income housing and industrial space at various times. By 1971, the plan was becoming more modest, focusing on an area bounded by Dryden Road, College Avenue, Eddy Street and Cascadilla Gorge. The Sheldon/Cascadilla block had received a large urban renewal grant in the spring of 1969, but issues arose with how to use it. Plans to tear down Cascadilla were met with protests, and with all the financial issues the city and university had in the 1970s, redevelopment gained little traction.

By the early 1980s, the plans were finally being fleshed out – with Cornell preparing to fundraise and build a new performing arts center, the university and the city partnered with an urban planning firm to build and renovate the parcels north of the 100 Block of Dryden Road and west of College Avenue, at a cost of $40 million ($115.6 million today). The plan called for 700 new units, 20 businesses, office space, and a 350-space garage (a mock-up from the 4/13/1981 issue of the Sun is included below). Funding for the project from state and federal sources was scarce, however. The city eventually sold their land to local developer Travis Hyde, who built Eddygate in 1985-86, and the proceeds helped cover the cost of the Dryden Road parking garage. Other lands in the initial plan were never purchased (the Avramis and Papp properties on the 400 Block of College Avenue, discussed previously here). Cornell fulfilled its commitments after years of fundraising and some tweaking of designs, with the renovation of Sheldon Court in 1981 (adding the top floor), Cascadilla Hall’s renovation in 1983-84 (adding the top two floors and 276 residents) and the Schwartz Performing Arts Center opening in 1989.


After that, the next substantial Collegetown redevelopment plans were the Form District debates of the past several years, click the links if you’re interested, but I’m going to avoid rehashing old entries this time around. As more structures go up and technology and social concerns evolve, I’m sure there will one day be more redevelopment plans for Collegetown.

A Protest in Cayuga Heights

26 08 2014


About as close as I have to a picture of the townhouses (left, brown roofs).

I’m going to take a break from my Collegetown writeups to write an apropos history piece. A couple weeks ago, the project for 7 Ridgewood went on indefinite pause. I’m a little disappointed, sure, though not nearly as much as I would be if the city hadn’t lifted the parking requirements on Collegetown. With several of the parcels south of Cornell Campus being primed for redevelopment and at least a few hundred more bedrooms, some of the edge will be taken off the housing cost and supply problems that plague Ithaca and Cornell.

The debate with 7 Ridgewood has a historical predecessor. I’m going to spin the clock back in time, to the era of Ford Pintosbell bottoms and when everybody was kung fu fighting: 1974.

Cornell’s campus proper spans three communities – the city of Ithaca, the town of Ithaca, and the village of Cayuga Heights. The line for Cayuga Heights doesn’t quite line up with campus roads, but it could be treated as the portion of Cornell north of Jessup Road and west of Pleasant Grove Road. Today, that would be Jessup Field, the “A” parking lot, the Daycare Center, and the freshmen townhouses.

Cornell was, not surprisingly, facing another housing crisis in the 1970s. The enrollment was climbing hundreds per year. The lack of dorms, even for freshmen, was acute. Collegetown was still seen as a drug-ridden hellhole. The university was cash-strapped, having difficulties with the build-out of its new north campus community (the low-rise and high-rises; the university would eventually give up on trying to build low-rises 2, 3, and 4 due to tight finances). Even with the difficult finances, Cornell was still trying hard to find a way to accommodate its burgeoning student population.

Enter the Richard Meier proposal. Launched in Fall 1973, the design by the class of 1956 (B.A. Arch 1957) alum called for two four-story buildings, “serpentine” in shape, to be completed by late 1975. They were to be at least 60 percent glass, with a yellow “stucco-like” exterior. The two buildings as designed would accommodate 542, and then 547 students at a cost of $4.4 million (about $21.3 million today). Most of the dorms consisted of 105 units of 4-6 bedroom suite-style (then called  “townhouse” and “duplex-style”) units, each with its own kitchen, living room and bathroom. It was to be built north of Jessup Road, between the athletic fields and “A” lot. I have only found one dark photo of a model of the project, included below.


Well, the prospect of hundreds of students in Cayuga Heights put many a pair of panties in a bunch in the wealthy suburban enclave. More than 175 turned out at a village meeting to speak out on the proposal, saying that their children often played there, and that the traffic would overwhelm the town. The breakdown of against vs. for the project was about 9 to 1. The Sun quotes one woman as saying that she hears that “students listen to their rock music morning, noon and night” and that it was sometimes impossible to sleep on summer nights due to noise from the North Campus Union (now RPU). In the summer. When students are, and were, away from campus. Another speaker, a Cornell professor, apologized for his neighbors speaking as if the students were inferior beings. But some students weren’t fans of the project either, calling it too cramped, too expensive, and bothered by the lack of dining or dorm-wide commons areas. The Cornell Op-Ed of March 20, 1974 accused both Cornell and the villagers of Cayuga Heights of high-handed arrogance unbecoming of both parties.

Legally, the project had to get a zoning variance – Cayuga Heights only permitted buildings in that area that were less than 30′, 60 feet from Triphammer Road. The project called for 33’9″ (the dorm ceilings were only 7’6″), but the university felt that because it was 230 feet away from Triphammer, it was acceptable. The number of occupants was eventually whittled down to 497 units, with a construction start planned for the summer. But it ended up being delayed. Cayuga Heights demanded detailed plans for all future development projections of Cornell property within its boundaries, but the university wasn’t game. Eventually, faced with ballooning construction costs well north of $5 million, Cornell found itself unable to break even if the proposal went forward and was built. The project was quietly mothballed, swept into the dusty files of campus history.

With the gift of 40 years, it would appear neither side won. Cornell never built its serpentine dorms, but the townhouses, with heights under 30′, would be built on part of the same site in 1988-1989, with occupancy for 310 students. Originally housing grad students, it was opened to undergrads in the mid-1990s, and then became freshman housing after 2000-01. Cayuga Heights still had to deal with hundreds of students and the loss of the coveted green space, and Cornell couldn’t cram as many students on that swath of land as they initially hoped. Do we have any victors? Maybe Richard Meier and serpentine buildings in Ithaca, both of which have left their mark on the city of today.

The Student Who Designed A Collegetown Apartment Building

12 08 2014

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Here’s another installment in the Collegetown history series.

I like to imagine that it’s every architect’s ambition to have one of their designs built, a building they can touch with their hands. For some, it takes longer than others. Firms have their hierarchies, and companies have their preferred architects. Many budding designers have to start out small, designing housing additions or lobby areas or pavilions, slowly working their up to larger and grander projects. I imagine the Cornell students hard at work in Sibley and Rand Halls dream of the day that one of their designs becomes reality.

It just so happens that for one Cornell student, their big break came a little sooner than most. It happened while they were still a student at Cornell. The building they designed stands in Collegetown today.

I’m not talking William Henry Miller, or some architect from the much simpler times of the nineteenth century. For this, I only need to go back to the early 1980s.

At the time, the company Student Agencies, Inc. was based at 409 College Avenue, just like it is today. Student Agencies is a student-run business that operates Big Red Shipping and Storage, Hired Hands Moving, and produces the Cornellian yearbook and TakeNote, among other things. 409 College is the second building from left in the lead image, and I’ve included a google screencap below. Back in the Disco Era, the Student Agencies building was a rather ramshackle three-story house with a bump-out. You can see the outline of it here, in a photo of College Avenue ca. 1968. The building housed Student Agencies, and a restaurant called “The Vineyard”, a 1970s mainstay for bland Italian-like food until it closed in 1980.


In the fall of 1980, Student Agencies decided to up their game with a new, modern apartment building, one of the first planned in Collegetown area. At the time, Collegetown was still something of a drug-ridden ghetto, lacking today’s high-end units and wealthy students; it was a no-go for many Cornellians. Student Agencies, being the shrewd businesspeople they are, decided to add a twist to their development by making it into a design competition. In a collaboration with Cornell’s architecture school, 4th and 5th year architecture students were invited to submit designs for a mixed-use structure on the site, within zoning constraints. The designs would then be judged on practicality and aesthetics. The judges consisted of the Chairman of the Architecture Department (Jerry Wells), another Cornell architecture professor (Michael Dennis), two Syracuse University architecture professors (Werner Seligmann, the dean, and Prof. Walter Danzinger), Mick Bottge of the Ithaca City Planning Board, and two Student Agencies reps, Peter Nolan and Ed Clement. The winner would not only see their design built, but also win $1,000 (about $2,893 today). Three runner-ups would receive $250 each, and $250 would be donated by SA to publish a booklet of the designs. $2,000 ($5,786 adjusted) was a lot less than hiring a design firm, and it also gave Cornell students an ability to showcase their talents in a practical event. Win-win.

27 designs were received. Now, I would sacrifice a goat to your deity of choice if it allowed me to obtain a copy of the booklet, but I’m afraid I’m out of goats. The winners were announced in March 1981, and the first prize went to Grace R. Kobayashi ’81. The runner-ups were Mustafa K. Abadan ’82, Dean J. Almy ’82, and George M. How ’82. Ms. Kobayashi’s five-story design called for a theater, retail space, and apartments on the upper floors. In an interview with the Sun, she mentioned that although the competition ran for three months, she created her design in only a week and a half. As for the award money, she added “realistically, the award money will go towards graduate school, but maybe I’ll go to Europe.”

Property of the Cornell Daily Sun.

Property of the Cornell Daily Sun.

Well, Ms. Kobayashi wouldn’t have to worry about grad school money. The following year, she received an extremely prestigious fellowship from the internationally-renowned architecture firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, to the tune of $10,000. The history gets harder to trace after that; she was selected as a fellow for the Amercian Academy in Rome in 1989, and had been a practicing architect in the NYC area at the time. Presently, it looks like she may be an instructor at the Pratt Institute in NYC. Mustafa Abadan is a partner at SOM, Dean Almy is an associate professor of architecture at UT-Austin, and George How went to work for equally-presitgious Kohn Pedersen Fox, and co-designed NASA’s headquarters. Sadly, he passed away in 1993 due to complications related to AIDS, aged 35.

As for the building, it would be a few years before it was built, finally beginning construction in 1985 and finishing in fall 1986. Today, it blends in seamlessly to the fabric of the 400 block of College Avenue, creating a fully built-out block of similar massing and scale, unique and yet part of a cohesive group that gives some some urbanity to Collegetown. I wonder how many other towns can claim to have a Grace Kobayashi design in their midst?

That Time Someone Wanted a 10-Story Building on Stewart Avenue

30 07 2014


In keeping with the history theme that is another facet of this blog, here’s a historical construction project to go with all the Collegetown news in the past week. After all, one giant proposal deserves another, 50 years its senior.

I owe reader “Ex-Ithacan” for suggesting this one, as he remembered the proposal when he was a kid, and inquired about it on the website Skyscraperpage.com. Although his source was the Ithaca Journal, I had a hunch the Cornell Sun would have also run a feature about such a large project, so I checked the Sun archives.

Oh hey, I was right. An article about the project, from February 16, 1965, can be found here, sandwiching some extraordinarily sexist advertisements. First, let’s try and put ourselves in the 1965 timeframe. Cornell was rapidly expanding, Collegetown was even more of a ghetto than it is now (let’s not forget old Ctown’s heroin sales and murder), and the big theme for cities was Urban Renewal, where cities desperately tore down their inner cores in an effort to draw in suburban-style development that might bring people back into the cities (retrospectively, this was by and large a failure). Anyone looking back at this time as idyllic in Ithaca is blowing smoke.


The site in question is 403-415 Stewart Avenue. The site was home to a luxurious house belonging to Zeta Psi until WWII; after they moved out, it burnt down a few years later, and the site was reclaimed as it is now – a parking lot used by Cornell.

The parking lot was to be developed by a private group called “State and Aurora Corporation” into a 10-story building housing 70 luxury apartments. The intended clientele were Cornell faculty, Cornell retirees, and deep-pocketed locals. The building would have had a construction cost of $1 million (about $7.57 million today). Even at this time, zoning of the site allowed only 4 floors, so it needed a variance. Cornell placed a high value on the property, and since they owned the lot, one of the sale stipulations was that their staff would have had first dibs on 3/4ths pf the units, similar to what we’re seeing with the Greenways project off of Honness Lane.


The design itself is a dated melange of modernism and brutalism, created by Sherwood Holt (no relation to Ithaca-based HOLT Architects). The 70 units ran the gamut from studios to 3 bedrooms, and the top two floors were designed to be larger “penthouse” units. There would have been 67 feet of frontage on Stewart Avenue, and 109 feet on Williams Street. I wouldn’t call it much in the way of frontage though, it looks to be built onto a podium. Zoning at the time required two parking spaces per unit, so this project would have needed 140 spaces. 70 were surface spaces on the south side of the lot, and 70 were in the pedestrian-unfriendly podium (an ordinance at the time required half of all new parking spaces to be “indoor” spaces).

Also like now, proponents and opponents had similar arguments to today’s debates. Mayor Hunna Johns promoted the revenue it would bring (which would pay for the city’s investment in sewer lines to the site), and because Cornell had expressed interest in building on the site, local officials feared another tax-exempt property if the private developer wasn’t granted approval. On the other end of the spectrum, about 50 local residents signed a petition against the proposal, saying it would burden utilities and cause congestion. It looks like the planning board had only minor suggestions for the development, so it’s hard to imagine it didn’t get ZBA approval.

So why wasn’t it built? My guess is that Cornell did an assessment of its needs, and decided that it wasn’t a high priority to sell to the developer; and when the Ithaca real estate market crashed in the late 1960s, it probably killed the proposal for good. Cornell still owns the site, but zoning rules permit only a 4-story 40′ building (as they did in 1965). It’s outside of the Collegetown zoning, and if it ever gets developed is anyone’s guess.

The more things change, the more things stay the same.



Cornell’s Presidential Credentials

2 05 2014


Making its rounds in the news over the past couple of months, Cornell’s president, David Skorton, is leaving the gorges of Ithaca to be the secretary (head) of the Smithsonian down in Washington D.C. The departure of Skorton in June 2015 will give him a tenure of about nine years, which as Cornell presidents go, is about average. Considering how many college presidents view their institutions as stepping stones, trying to get out of a place as soon as they have a year under their belt and another line on the resume (Excelsior, I suppose), Cornell’s not doing all that badly in this respect. Of course, this also opens up the task of trying to find Skorton’s successor, a task that is by no means an easy one.

In a meeting about what to look for in the next president, an audience member expressed that they would be very disappointed if all the candidates were white men. I hope the candidates aren’t all old white dudes, but I suspect this is mostly going to be a battle of credentials. In that vein, I decided to take a look at the credentials of Cornell’s past president, prior to their hire.

Andrew Dickson White – Hard to use here because he co-founded Cornell, so the circumstances aren’t comparable to other presidents. A.D. White’s resume prior to Cornell includes a B.A. and an M.A. from Yale, a stint working as a translator for the U.S. ambassador to Russia, a professorship at U. Michigan, and at the time of Cornell’s founding, a state senator out of Syracuse. Six years after his term at Cornell was voluntarily concluded in 1885, he had been asked to serve as the first president of Stanford University, but declined.

Charles Kendall Adams – Assistant professor at Michigan, 1863-1867, then full professor from 1867-1885. He was a former student and close colleague of A.D. White. Adams’s time at Cornell was a tumultuous and unhappy one, and he resigned due to conflicts with the Board of Trustees in 1892, after only seven years of service. His nine years that followed at U. Wisconsin would be much more amicable.

Jacob Gould Schurman – Professor, Acadia College (Canada), 1880-1882; Professor, Dalhousie College, 1882-1886; Professor, Cornell University, 1886-1892. Dean of the Sage School of Philosophy, 1891-1892. Schurman had the longest tenure of any president, at 28 years (1892-1920).

Livingston Farrand – M.D., Columbia, 1891. Doctor of Laws (LL.D.), Cambridge and Berlin, 1893. Adjunct professor of psychology, Columbia, member of multiple anthropological expeditions to the Pacific Northwest. Full professor of anthropology at Columbia, 1903-1914. President of U.Colorado, 1914-1919. Treasurer of the American Public Health Association (1912-1914), Executive Secretary for a tuberculosis prevention group (1905), Director in France for the International Health Board, 1917-1919. Chairman of the American Red Cross. Cornell president, 1921-1937; he died in Manhattan two years later.

Edmund Ezra Day – Degrees in economics, BA and MA from Dartmouth, PhD from Harvard. From 1923, professor at U. Michigan, where he would advance to become first dean of their business school, and dean of the university. President of Cornell 1937-1949. He passed away shortly after his resignation. the interim president, provost Cornelis de Kiewiet, would act as president for two years before a successor was approved. He would leave that same year to serve out a decade as president of the Univ. of Rochester.

Deane Malott – B.A. in economics from U. Kansas and a Harvard M.B.A. Assistant Dean/Assistant Professor at Harvard, 1923-1929. Vice President, Hawaiian Pineapple Company (now Dole), 1929-1934. Professor, Harvard, 1934-1939. Chancellor, U. Kansas, 1939-1951. Sat on numerous corporate boards. Deane Malott served 12 years at Cornell, 1951-1963, before he retired. Malott was noted as an excellent fund-raiser, and although personally a social conservative, he had a liberal approach to Cornell’s intellectual pursuits.

James Perkins – Degrees in political science from Swarthmore (BA) and Princeton (PhD). Professor, Princeton, 1937-1941. Administrator, United States Office of Price Administration and the Foreign Economic Administration, 1941-1945. Vice president, Swarthmore, 1945-1950. Vice President, Carnegie Corporation (an educational foundation), 1950-1963. Perkins served as president for six years, 1963-1969, before stepping down in the aftermath of the Willard Straight takeover. Afterwards, he served as the chairman and CEO of the International Council for Educational Development for 20 years.

Dale Corson – BA (Emporia College), MA (U. Kansas), PhD (Physics, U.C. Berkeley, 1938).  Co-discoverer of the element astatine. Helped to develop radar during WWII. Associate professor of physics, Cornell, 1947-1956. Full professor, 1956. Dean of the Engineering School, 1959-1963. Provost of Cornell, 1963-1969. Appointed president after Perkins’s resignation, Corson was considered a mild-mannered scientist who provided stability to the university through the 1970s. After eight years, Corson resigned as president in 1977, becoming Chancellor and then appointed president emeritus.

Frank H.T. Rhodes – U. Birmingham (UK), BA,MA, PhD (Geology, 1951). Fulbright Scholar, U. Illinois, 1950-1951. Professor of geology, U. Durham (UK), 1951-1954. Assistant professor, U. Illinois, 1954-1955. Associate Professor, U. Illinois, 1955-1956. Geology. Dept head, U. Wales-Swansea (UK), 1956-1967. Dean of science, U. Wales-Swansea, 1967-1968. Visiting research scholar, Ohio State, 1965-66. Professor, U. Michigan, 1968-1971. Dean, College of Literature, Science and the Arts at U. Michigan, 1971-1974. Vice president of academic affairs, U. Michigan, 1974-1977. Frank Rhodes served as Cornell president from 1977-1995. He is a professor emeritus of the geology department and still lives in Ithaca.

Hunter R. Rawlings III – B.A. (Classics, Haverford College, 1966), PhD (Classics, Princeton, 1970). Associate Professor, U. Colorado-Boulder, 1970-1980. Dean of classics dept., U. Colorado-Boulder, 1978-1980. Recipient of U. Colorado teaching excellence award, 1979.  Full professor, U. Colorado, 1980-1988. Associate vice chancellor, 1980-1984. President, U. Iowa, 1988-1995. Rawlings served as president of Cornell from 1995 to 2003, and later as the interim president between Lehman and Skorton. Rawlings was known as a strong fundraiser, but was criticized for his hands-off approach to the university. He continues a professor at Cornell, and is also the president of the American Association of Universities.

Jeffrey Lehman – the only one with Cornell in his pedigree prior to his presidency. BA, Cornell (mathematics, 1977). J.D. and an M.P.P. (Master of Public Policy), U. Michigan, 1981. Law clerk to Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens (1982-83),  Lawyer, Caplin & Drysdale, 1983-1987, Assistant law professor, U. Michigan, 1987-1992, Professor of law/law and public policy, 1992-2003, Dean of U. Michigan law school, 1994-2003. Lehman served only two years as Cornell president before suddenly stepping down due to disagreements with the trustees; what specifically caused the rift remains a subject of debate. He continued as a Cornell law professor until 2012, and is now the vice chancellor of NYU Shanghai.

David Skorton – BS (Psychology, Northwestern, 1970), M.D. (Northwestern, 1974). Medical residency in cardiology, UCLA. Instructor, U. Iowa, 1980. Assistant Professor in internal medicine, U. Iowa, 1981. Assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering, U. Iowa, 1982. Vice president of research, U. Iowa, 1992. Vice president for research and external relations, U. Iowa, 2002. Chancellor, U. Iowa, 2003-2006.

So if the latest presidents are any indicator, they’re going to have a lot of education, a lot of titles on their resume, and more likely than not, hail from a large state school. Given our trend for Iowans, has anyone contacted Sally Mason yet?





The Cornell Safety Car

28 01 2014

Except when traveling in and out of Ithaca, Cornell generally plays no role in my travels. Recently, I paid a trip to the vacation destination that is Detroit, Michigan. While on this trip, my hosts suggested a visit to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, where we came across this.

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This homely piece of 1950s Americana is the Cornell Safety Car. It was produced by the Automotive Crash Injury Research Center, run by John O. Moore at the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory in Buffalo (previously briefed here), and built in 1956 with funding from Liberty Mutual Insurance. We take for granted the safety features of today’s vehicles, but in the 1950s, those glimmering bullets of metal and chrome were essentially high-speed death traps, with the number of fatalities increasing every year. Hence, a need was seen to try and improve safety for America’s road warriors.

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The lab was one of the first to do crash testing; first with airplanes in WWII, then with cars. Early on, before the use of realistic test dummies, Moore and his cohorts got in touch with their inner Frankensteins and used corpses, along with an array of high speed cameras and instruments to measure and analyze impact forces.

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Among some of the features that would later become vehicular staples – front seat headrests, wrap-around bumpers, bucket seats, and seat belts a-plenty. Among those that didn’t, or have faded out – rear-facing back seats, steering handles (because steering wheels collapsed and steering columns would break your heart in case of accident), panoramic windshields (a big selling point in the later ’50s and ’60s), accordion doors, a center position for the driver’s seat, and nylon webbing for rear seat head restraints. All of this encased in a perfect 1950s shade of teal, rocket fins included.

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My, how concept vehicles have improved with time to become more attracti-…nope, scratch that.

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