Cornell Provosts Climb the Ladder

21 10 2014


It’s pretty clear the the president of Cornell is first in command of the university. However, being that Cornell is a university with tends of thousands of students, thousands of employees, and multiple campuses, it stands to good reason to have a chief academic officer of sorts, a general supervisor of college affairs while the president represents the university’s “public image” and acts as chief fund-raiser. In comes the provost, a position created in 1931 by the Board of Trustees to manage the university’s myriad affairs. The provost is a sort of COO while the president is CEO.

Many of Cornell’s provosts haven’t been content with being second in command, the latest example being Provost Kent Fuchs leaving to become president of the University of Florida. Fuchs (pronounced “fox”) has been in the provost position since 2009. His predecessor, Carolyn “Biddy” Martin, who left to take over as president of  the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Let me run down the list of provosts since WWII and see what happened with each provost:

Arthur S. Adams (1946-1948): Bid adieu to Cornell when he was appointed president of the University of New Hampshire. He may not have liked UNH much, because he left in 1950 to head the American Council on Education, and from there on a number of other academic leading roles. He passed away in 1980.

Before someone calls me out for not including the provost in 1945, there was no serving provost from 1944-1946. Former Ag school dean Albert Mann (1931-1936) and former Packard Motors executive H. Wallace Peters (1936-1943) both retired after serving as provost.

Cornelis de Kiewiet (1948-1951): Departed when he was selected as president of the University of Rochester, a position that he served in from 1951-1961, from which he retired and spent the rest of his years working as a proponent of investing in higher education programs in Africa. A rather unattractive brutalist dorm at the UofR is named after him.

Forrest Hill (1952-1955): I should note that provosts under President Mallott seemed to have less power than more recent ones; Mallott enjoyed his authority, something that also led to the student riots of 1958. Hill left to head the Overseas Development for the Ford Foundation, and established rice-breeding institutes that increased yields substantially, and helped propel the “green revolution” of the mid-20th century. Forrest Hill retired to Ithaca in 1976 and passed away 12 years later.

Sanford Atwood (1955-1963): Left in 1963 to serve as president of the prestigious southern college Emory University, where he was president from 1963-1977 (and where has a building named in his honor). While at Emory, Atwood became best-known for standing behind a professor who declared a belief that “God is dead”, which didn’t go over very well at the traditionally Methodist institution. He retired from Emory and passed away in 2002.

Dale Corson (1963-1969): The only recent case of a provost becoming president, as a result of James Perkins’s resignation following the Willard Straight takeover. Corson, for whom Corson Hall is dedicated, served as Cornell’s leader from 1969-1977, and lived in Ithaca up to his passing in 2012 at the age of 97.

Robert A. Plane (1969-1973): Left Cornell to serve as president and CEO of Clarkson University, where he served from 1974-1985. After he retired from that position, he became a winemaker, and eventually came back to work for Cornell as head of the university’s Ag Experiment Station in Geneva from 1986-1990. After he retired again,  he served as president of Wells College from 1991-1995, though the college was still all-female at the time. He’s totally, completely retired now, and still kicking at the age of 87.

David Knapp (1974-1978): Left to become the president of the University of Massachusetts, where he served as president from 1978-1990, and retired from his professorial duties in 1993. It was Knapp who suggested changing the name of the College of Home Economics to the College of Human Ecology, while he was dean of the college.

W. Keith Kennedy (1978-1984): For whom Kennedy hall on the Ag Quad is named. He retired at the end of his term, but served on a number of Cornell committees and Ithaca-based foundations and boards for the rest of his life. Kennedy passed away in Ithaca in 2011 at the age of 92.

Robert Barker (1984-1991): Retired from Cornell in 1995, according to the Office of the Provost website, and moved to Washington State.

Malden “Mal” Nesheim (1989-1995): Note the overlap with Robert Barker; Barker served as “senior provost and COO”, the only time that position has ever existed, from 1989-1991. Nesheim became provost emeritus in 1995, and is a professor emeritus of the Nutritional Science department, taking part in various committees well into the 2000s.

Don Randel (1995-2000): Left in 2000 to become the president of the University of Chicago. Left U. Chicago in 2005 to take over as president of the Mellon Foundation. It appears he’s since retired.

Carolyn “Biddy” Martin (2000-2008): Left to take over of the University of wisconsin at Madison. Left that position in 2011 to become president of Amherst College, a small but prestigious liberal arts school in Massachusetts.
W. Kent Fuchs (2009-2014): Leaving to take over as president of the University of Florida.

So, since WWII and excluding Corson, 8 of the 12 provosts have gone on to serve other schools, and only 3 of 12 stayed with Cornell through retirement. The position is often a high-level stepping stone for administrators with grand aspirations. Not to say they don’t care about Cornell, not true at all; but there’s a good chance that Cornell won’t be throwing a retirement party for the next provost.

Olympic Cornellians

24 02 2014


If I was a little better at timing things, I might have managed to get this entry out before the closing ceremonies in Sochi. But, better to get this out now than to wait for Rio in 2016.

In keeping with current events and the Cornell mouthpieces providing updates on Cornellians participating in the winter games, I decided to compile a few pieces of information regarding Big Red staff, alumni or current students participating in any Olympic games since their modern inception in 1896.

Originally, I was going to use a combo of a pdf that Cornell Athletics put out during the Vancouver games, a London 2012 update, and a current piece regarding CU representation in Sochi. But, whether it’s something new or something I missed the first time through, Cornell put out an updated sheet with a little bit of HTML.

Starting with 3 Cornellians in the 1904 St. Louis Olympics, Cornell has had a combined 98 Cornellians participate in the Olympic games (81 summer, 17 winter— the first winter game representative was Richard “Dick” Parke 1916, at the 1928 games in St. Moritz). Another 9 were alternates, 2 more were injured and could not participate, and 1 lost out due to the 1980 boycott. One of the injured ones, Helen Mund White ’57, had another chance four years later (Melbourne 1956), but gave up her spot on the Chilean diving team to her sister. Almost all of these Olympians were Cornell undergrads, but at least two were J.D.s, and one just has “graduate studies” for his year of graduation.

Of the 98 Cornell Olympians, 80 represented the United States; the others have represented 9 other countries (Canada, Chile, Greece, Guyana, Hungary, Mexico, Sweden, Trinidad & Tobago, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which is permitted to have its own team). The 1964 games in Tokyo had 9 Cornellians representing, making it the deepest field the Big Red has ever served up to the Olympics, while Sochi has the strongest winter Olympics showing with 5. Given that most Olympians are on the young side, it probably comes as no surprise that many of these 98 were students while participating in the Olympics; I imagine that balancing the course-load was a challenge, to say the least.

If we count all the medals won by Cornellians, then the Big Red has earned 7 bronze, 16 silver, and 20 gold medals in the summer Olympics, and 1 bronze, 3 silver and 8 gold in the winter Olympics (included the 4 gold and the bronze earned this year at Sochi). In numbers of medals overall (55), that would put us between North Korea (49) and Kazakhstan (59), while 28 golds puts Cornell between Kenya (25) and Greece (30). In theory, Cornell is better stacked than about three-quarters of the participating nations.

The next time someone pokes fun at Ivy League sports teams due to their lack of strength in traditional “American” sports, feel free to cite this post as ammunition.

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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Another Apartment Complex Considered for Cornell Heights

26 12 2013


Original concept description with renderings here, meeting minutes here. The project is a in-the-works proposal by Campus Acquisitions LLC, the design by Shepley Bulfinch Architects of Boston. Campus Acquisitions, if I have this correct, looks to be a Chicago-based investment group with projects generally clustered around Chicagoland, and a number of college towns along the West Coast and Interior West.

The parcels of land in question are “150 and 152 Highland Avenue”, an underutilized lot (152), and a bungalow built in 1920 (150). The bungalow appears to be a 2-unit home owned by Travis Hyde properties. 152 Highland is a heavily wooded, steeply graded vacant parcel, but has a little bit of Cornell lore associated with it, as it was home to Phi Kappa Sigma’s swimming pool (the house, named “Greentrees”, is now Pi Kappa Phi, the pool is now unused and decaying). The 2.49 acre parcel was originally bought in 1996 by Travis Hyde properties with the intention of apartments, but nothing came of the parcel. The property was on-again off-again in local real estate listings (asking for 200k), and was last delisted (sold?) in June 2012.


The image above uses one of the old design concepts. The bungalow is proposed for renovation, though I am not sure what role, if any, Travis Hyde properties has in the development (something in conjunction with the other parcel, maybe?). The original conceptuals for “1 Ridgewood” proposed as many as 70 units, later reduced to 64 units (four floors over an underground garage) in the first design proposal, released this past fall:



This didn’t work for multiple reasons. For one, many of the deep-pocketed local land owners are strongly opposed to more development; I’ve known for years that the venerable widow who owns the house south of the property on Highland (she was a fixture at my fraternity’s annual wine-and-cheese event, and a pleasure to chat with) has been fiercely opposed to any construction on that site. For two, the property is in the Cornell Heights historic district, which subjects it to more stringent and evolving design and massing guidelines. The latest concept calls for 45 units in 3 smaller structures, with a mix of surface and underground parking. At some point in the near future, the formal proposal will likely appear on the planning board’s agenda.



How Does One Fill A Former Sorority House

8 12 2013

Image property of O’connor Apartments

This one was forwarded to me by an observant reader, L.D. It’s a listing on Craigslist for rentals available for June 2014 at 114 the Knoll (I always thought it was 115 the Knoll, but the listing photo matches my photos), which has served as a chapter house for a few different sororities over the years, the last being Alpha Xi Delta, which moved to another house on Ridgewood Road in 2010. More recently, the house has been occupied by a campus Christian group, Chesterton House. Chesterton’s house website notes a 2014 goal for purchasing a property near campus to serve as their permanent home, and I’m assuming that if this posting is up, then there’s a strong chance they succeeded in achieving that goal (if anyone knows where they decided to settle, feel free to comment or email me).

Quoting the listing:

“Beautiful arts and crafts house on North Campus available for June 2014. $750 per bedroom for 16 bedrooms plus utilities. Can hold up to 22 for the same price. Large living room with leather furniture. Banquet size dining room. Cook’s kitchen. You have to see to believe. Use [sic] to be a sorority. Email or call [redacted]“

This seems like a more unusual, and perhaps somewhat more difficult way to fill a large group home. Although the email links to the O’Connor Apartments property group, I don’t see it in their property listings, and I think they’re only handling the rental aspect of the house on behalf of another entity. My guess is that Delta Phi Epsilon sorority still owns the property, and with no short-term prospects of restarting their chapter, they need some way to try and keep revenue coming in for upkeep of the house. On one hand, they could sell to Cornell, which takes care of the tax issue, but then they’re at Cornell’s mercy – the house most likely becomes a dorm and there’s nothing Delta Phi Epsilon would be able to do, especially since they’ve gone a decade without an active chapter (there were attempts to re-colonize about three years ago, which did not materialize – the whole process being the subject of enough gossip at the time that one could have written a book about it). Yet another option is another private sale, like the home at 210 Thurston that was sold a couple years ago to the wealthy parents of a Cornell wrestler, renovated, and now serves as the home of Cornell wrestling team.

This is one of those houses that seems to routinely pass between groups at Cornell. I’ll be curious to see what happens.

Edit 1/23/14: Maybe I’m wrong about DPhiE still owning the property. I forgot that it was listed in July 2009 and sold in January 2010. Perhaps now the O’Connor Apartments firm owns the building.

The Keyword Bar XX

2 11 2013

1. “pearl buck house ithaca” (10-27-2013)

That’s a bit of a tricky question. Pearl S. Buck, Nobel-winning author of “The Good Earth”, lived in Ithaca in 1924-1925 (she completed her M.A. at Cornell in 1925). Her first husband, John Lossing Buck, did a BS at Cornell in ag economics in 1914, and an MS in the same subject that was completed in 1925, and finally, a PhD in 1933. It would appear, based off a Cornell Sun article, that she once again lived in Ithaca from about summer 1932-1933. So most likely, one looking for the house she lived in would be looking for two different places in the Ithaca, the one from the mid-1920s when she was doing her degree, and the second in the early 1930s, when her increasingly-distant husband was completing his PhD. Not sure which time time this pamphlet refers to, but at least some of that time appears to have been spent in Forest Home.

2. “carl sagan’s secret tunnel” (10-27-2013)

One of the stories that enhances Carl Sagan’s mystique is that he somehow had a tunnel from his house to campus. That’s not feasible (there’s a gorge in the way), and perhaps some of its inspiration came from Ezra Cornell’s utility tunnel across the gorge from Sagan’s property at 900 Stewart Avenue. It seems he just preferred to you the back trails along the gorge to walk to his office and back.

3. “cornell prelims” (11-1-2013)

A word fairly unique in its use at the university, prelim is shorthand for “preliminary examination“, and in American usage, are normally applied as a synonym for the qualifying exam one takes to become a PhD candidate. The use of the term at Cornell, as a substitute to describe all non-midterm and final exams, dates back at least to the early 1900s.

4. “does cornell cals accept mostly ny state students?” (10-23-2013)

Cornell in general has about 29 to 30 percent of its freshman class arrive to its door from elsewhere in New York state. This SUNY 2013-2014 guidebook seems to peg CALS’s NYS enrollment proportion at 47 percent. I’ve had it understood that the difference in proportion was more because of the state tutition discount than it being “easier”, but it does look like the SAT scores in the contract schools in the 2013-2014 guidebook are lower than the university average. Speaking strictly from a numbers standpoint. I have no interest in humoring Ann Coulter’s wet dreams.

5. “where was zinck’s, ithaca, ny” (10-21-2013)

Zinck’s, or at least the Zinck’s referred to in “Give My Regards to Davy”, refers to “The Hotel Brunswick” lager beer saloon and restaurant that Theodore Zinck ran from about 1880 until his suicide in 1903. Zinck’s was located in the old Ithaca Hotel at 108-110 North Aurora Street; the building was torn down in the late 1960s, a victim of urban renewal.



Cornell Likes Having Friends

30 06 2013

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The majority of buildings at Cornell are named for faculty, staff, and alumni with deep pockets. A few others just have generic titles. Occasionally, a building on campus is named for someone with no association with Cornell, except that they helped out the university (usually from a financial aspect). Some of buildings named for “Friends of Cornell”, as Alumni Affairs likes to call them, are detailed below.  One exception I make is that early on, some folks who were Cornell trustees (but had no association otherwise) have buildings named for them, such as Henry W. Sage, John McGraw and Hiram Sibley; but since they served Cornell in an official capacity, I’m excluding them here.

Morrill Hall (1868)  – Like many land-grant institutions, Cornell’s Morrill Hall is named for Justin Smith Morrill, author of the Morrill Act that allowed the sale of federal lands to raise funds for colleges focused on the agricultural and technical trades (some of the other schools include Purdue, Rutgers and MIT; Morrill is known best for this legislation, with his anti-Mormon work a distant second). Morrill had no official association with Cornell, although he did pay a visit to the university at least once, in 1883.

Morse Hall (1890), Franklin Hall (1883) and Lincoln Hall (1888) – In the Gilded Age, engineering and science buildings had the pleasure of being named for “great men” that contributed to the then-present condition of the university and STEM studies. Hence, Samuel Morse (inventor of the telegraph), Benjamin Franklin (politician, scientist, and all around bad-ass), and Abraham Lincoln (president who oversaw the passage of the Morrill Act). Morse Hall burned down, and Franklin Hall became Tjaden Hall (for prominent female architect Olive Tjaden ’25 ) in 1980.

Rockefeller Hall (1903) – Named and partially paid for by John D. Rockefeller, the wealthiest man in the world at the time (and, proportionately, believed to be the wealthiest man ever). Rockefeller has recently retired from Standard Oil and was just beginning his philanthropies, funding schools he believed to be practical. Rumor has it that he was so disappointed with the (then considered unattractive) appearance of Rockefeller Hall he vowed to never donate another cent to Cornell. Which hardly dampened his funding of institutions.

Fun fact, Walter Teagle, of Teagle Hall fame, was a vice president of Standard Oil a few decades later.

Baker Lab (1923) – Funded by George F. Baker, a sort of Warren Buffet of his time, and one of the wealthiest Americans on the early 20th century. Baker also provided much of the funding for the Harvard Business school, and made his way through the Ivy League with his donations, including Columbia’s Baker Field and Dartmouth’s Baker Library.

Mudd Hall (the west wing of Corson-Mudd Hall, 1982) – Named for Seeley G. Mudd, a prominent philanthropist. The foundation established with his fortune explicitly earmarks donations for the construction of academic buildings – the wikipedia list shows no less than 30 schools that have benefited from his funds. Otherwise, Dr. Mudd has no connection to Cornell.

Gates Hall (2013/14) – Not unlike Mudd Hall, Gates Hall is funded with a hefty donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the philanthropic org maintained by Warren Buffet and  Microsoft overlord Bill Gates.



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