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?





Fast Facts: Tuition Rates

26 11 2013

To go with your Thanksgiving meals, here’s some food for thought, courtesy of the university factbook.

Tuition goes up in fits and starts. Consider the graph for the endowed colleges shown below.


In 1973, tuition and fees added up to about $3,180, a 6% increase over the previous year. According to the inflation calculator from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this is equivalent to about $16,727 dollars today. Put into further perspective, that was about the same price as a brand-new Chevy Chevelle Laguna Colonnade sedan. You know it’s a great car when it has that many names. Median household income was $9,226, so tuition was about 34.5% of the mean household’s annual income.

If the annual tuition hikes seem a bit high in the 1970s and early 1980s, it’s for good reason – this was a period known for stagflation, where the economy grew at anemic rates (if it all), while inflation continued to rise near 10% yearly. Fall 1981 was particularly shocking, with a 19.5% increase in tuition and fees over the previous academic year, from $5,860 to $7,000. Still, compared to today, that BLS calculator says $7,000 in 1981 has about as much buying power as $17,985 dollars today. Put another way, that was about 36.7% of annual household income in 1981 ($19,074). Or to illustrate the advances in computers, a top of the line IBM 5150 PC cost about $6k, with color graphics and a 256kb hard drive.

Since 1983, there have been no annual increases greater than 10%. By 1993, tuition and fees went up a relatively modest 5.5% to $18,226. With the exception of the 5.5% increase in Fall 2007, all other years in the two decades since have been less than 5.5%, falling somewhere between 4% and the low 5’s. Fall 2009 is the lowest at 4%, likely an effect of the Great Recession. Inflation-adjusted, tuition cost about $29,458 in 2013 dollars. Keeping with the theme, household income was $30,210 in 1993, or about 60.33% of annual household income. So through the 80s and early 90s, we’re starting to see this rapid relative rise in tuition vs. income, even though the annual increases have dropped off as inflation lessened.

Fast forward ten more years to 2003. The mean household annual income was $42,560. Knowing my own family’s finances, we were about a little below that average. Tuition in 2003 had increased 5% over the previous year to $28,754, or 67.6% of mean household annual income. Or to a working-class family like mine, it meant being told at a young age that if you didn’t get scholarships, you weren’t going to college.

The most recent estimate for mean household annual income is about $51,017. Tuition at an endowed college is $45,358 this year, a 4.5% increase over 2012. 88.9% of the mean household’s income in a year. There’s a reason why college debt gets so much attention these days.

For the purpose of being all-encompassing, in-state tuition for the contract colleges, followed by non-resident tuition at those schools, is included below:



Year   Tuition (NYS/non-res)  nys:non-res   MHAI         Tuition as % of MHAI

1973   $1,350/2,100                  0.642              $9,226           14.6%/22.8%

1981   $2,800/4,700                 0.596              $19,074         14.7%/24.6%

1993   $7,426/14,106                0.526              $30,210         24.6%/46.7%

2003  $14,624/25,924             0.564              $42,560         34.4%/60.9%

2013   $29,218/45,358             0.644              $51,017          57.3%/88.9%

Note that 1981 is a little misleading, as in-state tuition was jacked up $500 dollars for Fall 1982. Everything moves slower in state government. Except the tuition hikes themselves, those seem to be increasing at a pretty good clip.

Now, all of this information sounds pretty scary, and sticker shock certainly is. But the mean household income would get a full ride to Cornell on grants and scholarships. I was fortunate enough that Cornell’s revised program kicked in before my junior year, and even before that, my contributions were very modest. My debt load is small enough that it will be paid off by next spring. Cornell enabled a working class kid like me to go to a top college. For that I am thankful. Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

News Tidbits 11/17/13: Hotels and Hazing

18 11 2013


After a lull in new development proposals in the city of gorges, something new has come to the table.  Down in big box land, another hotel seeks to join the ten-year old Hampton Inn (66 rooms) and the recently-completed Fairfield Inn (106 rooms). According to Jason over at Ithaca Builds, the proposed “All Suites Hotel” at 371 Elmira Road calls for a 4-story, 54′ tall, 11,769 sq ft hotel with approximately 76 rooms, proposed for the site of a vacant office building and an auto body shop (both of which would be demolished). Looking at the aerial below, its proximity to the new Fairfield (upper right) is quite clear. Planning board agenda here, map of site here, site plans here, elevations/renderings here.


Although no brand is stated in the proposal, I suspect it might be a part of the Holiday Inn Express brand owned by Intercontinental Hotels Group. For one, the hotel is in the 60-80 room range as recently-built HIE hotels (see the recently-opened 74-room Holiday Inn Express in Cortland for example).  Reason number two, Intercontinental Hotels Group will lose its Ithaca presence once the license with the downtown property expires in January, and the Ithaca hotel market is generally strong enough that they might wish to maintain a slice of the hospitality market.


Although it’s pretty standard chain hotel fare, architectural work is being handled by Buffalo-based Silvestri Architects. Additional work will be undertaken by Optima Design and Engineering, also out of Buffalo (no surprise, the developer’s LLC also has a Buffalo address). Both organizations have previous experience with chain hotel construction and design.

Apart from that, other proposals in the city include a small amount of infill at the Statler Hotel, a two-family home on West Hill, and a 10,384 sq ft commercial building on Cherry Street. Ithaca Builds notes the Cherry Street proposal is a Crossfit Gym, to be housed in a rather industrial-looking 1-story structure with a pitched roof.

In other news, Cornell has beaten a proverbial hornet’s nest with a stick. The Cornell Sun published an article last Friday that the men’s lacrosse coach would be dismissed from his position.  The decision is widely suspected to be related to the suspension of the Lacrosse team from fall exhibition games after a hazing incident where allegedly freshman were forced to chug beer by senior team members. Unlike fraternities, where one merely has to wait before some chapter does something stupid, the lacrosse team is respected by its peers and a moneymaker for the university, so this seems unreasonably harsh. Given the commentary on the article, Cornell’s heavy-handed approach appears to have its share of critics. As a personal opinion, I feel the lacrosse team is being made an example of, to scare the other teams into playing nice. In the long run, I don’t think there will be much uproar until the university starts to go after large student groups outside the Greek system and athletics.  The more students who feel Cornell breathing down their necks, the more they’ll raise a hue and cry.

UPDATE 1/30/14: And it is in fact a Holiday Inn Express. I’m giving myself a gold star.

Fast Facts: Academic Staff and Faculty Trends

10 11 2013


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 Drops a Spot and the World is Ending

10 09 2013

USN&WR drops Cornell from 15th to 16th and the entire Cornell-centric world becomes unglued.

“If we don’t get back to top 12 soon, I’m rescinding my diploma.”

“it was 12 like my sophomore year with Columbia at 10.
now it’s 16 and Columbia is at 4. Yay for Skorton!”

Not even in top 15.. Cornell is dilutinge ivy league brand.. Should apologize to rest of ivys…

Quick Trudy, grab the smelling salts, I fear a mass fainting spell is a-comin’.

Ignoring the fact that rankings are becoming a dime a dozen, and that USN&WR tweaked its ranking system, I’m going to focus on the historical standpoint of rankings. First off, a brief check of previous rankings of Cornell by USN&WR. As noted by the Chronicle, Cornell’s US News ranking generally fluctuated between 10th and 14th from 1989-2009. More specifically:

2014: 16th

2010, 2011, 2012, 2013: 15th

2009: 14th

2008: 13th

2007: 12th

2006: 13th

2002, 2003, 2004, 2005: 14th

2001: 10th

2000: 11th

1999: 6th

1998, 1997: 14th

1996: 13th

1995: 15th

1994: 10th

1993: 11th

1992: 12th

1991: 9th

1990: 11th

1989: 14th

1988: 11th

1983: 8th

Let me offer a visualization:


Cornell has only briefly flirted with rankings of 12th or higher in the past two decades. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that in general, it’s less what Cornell is doing and the changes have more to do with the way the rankings are calculated. Noting the above commenters, and that Columbia was last ranked 10th in 2003, it’s essentially a group of knee-jerk reactions from not-so-young alumni.  With regards to the previous entry, we’ve seen that US News’s ranking has little bearing on the acceptance rates, application numbers, and applicant yields. I understand the prestige factor and concerns if this worsens, but unless your job is extraordinarily dependent on your alma mater’s current ranking by a single agency, I suggest toning down the hysterics.

It’s the same damn thing every time. Ranking drops, people from that school are up in arms, the school is decaying, students are worse these days, its the admin’s fault, don’t associate with me with that lowly school. Ranking goes up, people call it “the new/public/Southern/Western Ivy/Harvard/insert prestige item here” and croon about how smart they are, even if they went there twenty years ago when its rankings were lower.

It’s good to assess the school’s direction periodically, but with every annual reranking, some alums need a reality check more than anything else.




Lock Up Your Damn House

4 08 2013


Back during my own Cornell days, I can remember an incident where over Spring Break my freshman year, my fraternity (I was pledging at the time) had one of its code-key locks substantially damaged, which given that it looked like it was attacked with a blunt object, we assumed was an attempted burglary. It is no big surprise that wealthy Cornell students have a habit of leaving expensive things in their rooms, and that with a cunning and conniving mind, those things can easily end up in the hands of a thief. Luckily in our case, the thief gave up and went elsewhere (although we had a $300 grill stolen right off the property not long after I graduated).
That is why stories like this don’t surprise me. From the Ithaca Independent:

Two suspects have been arrested in the Sunday burglary of 55 Ridgewood Road, home of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity house.  Ithaca police were called to the address after a resident returning home caught a burglary in progress.

Using a description of the two suspected burglars and the vehicle they used to leave the scene with a list of stolen items, a 28-year-old Lansing woman and a 35-year-old Elmira man were arrested Monday…(cont.)


The cops only found the burglars because the two were reported to the police for a domestic incident, and left in their truck.  They essentially gave themselves away, since they and the vehicle matched the description provided by the witness.

In sum, although Ithaca is generally safe city, Greek houses would do well to limit access over breaks, and for its members to discreetly make use of a strongbox for valuables.

Scoundrel, or Scapegoat?

18 09 2012

The Sun’s piece regarding the problems with Jason Fane is nothing new. Previous articles over the past several years have done the exact same thing. I personally have never, ever been a fan of Jason Fane. So, since he is the (man? villain?) of the hour, I figured it was worth taking a look at the man who owns so much of Ithaca.

Jason Fane, from as far as I can tell, has been a major landlord in the Ithaca area since the mid-1970s. He is New York bred, holds a civil engineering degree from MIT and a Harvard MBA, and is about 70 years old. The recent Sun article notes that his tenants refused to pay rent in 1974, citing deplorable maintenance of his properties. In 1979, he feuded with the city building commissioner, who condemned one of his properties (with 15 occupants still living in it). An academic study of Ithaca compares quotes from him in 1975 to 2000, where he goes from saying “students aren’t interested in aesthetics” to students “are looking for quality”. By quality, we’re talking $1,400/month in rent. To be fair, Jason Fane knows his business…and for better or worse, he knows how to milk his stakeholders to his advantage.

Cornell has a fairly wealthy student body, such that extremely high rents are acceptable, as some students have the means (or rather, their families do) to afford such rates. Business owners, however, tend to be a different story. A student pays high rents because of proximity to Cornell and high quality of services. For a business, setting up in Collegetown means suffering a major lack of business during academic breaks, not to mention extremely high rents for choice, high-traffic locations…many of which are owned by Jason Fane. As long as the apartments are rented, Fane has no need to try and fill the commercial space, no matter how much students, residents and local officials complain. He’s still making a tidy sum from his residential units, and rather than cut prices to lure in shopkeepers, would prefer to wait until that day when someone is willing to pay his high price – because occasionally, someone will.

Let’s be clear – the man is rich. He owns a real estate empire that stretches from New York City to Toronto, where he is currently developing high-rise condo towers. For more proof, here’s an article where he goes to court over $850k in gold and silver bullion. He also isn’t afraid to weigh in on anything that may affect his business – he was a major opponent of the Cayuga Green apartment project, and he also tried to have the city building commissioner shut down Cornell’s temporary freshman housing in student lounges – presumably, because both had an impact on his business.  He is not the compassionate and caring businessman pro-commerce groups like to promote. In fact, a few other c-words – cold, calculating, and controlling – come to mind instead.
In all fairness, Mr. Fane is under no obligation to fill the space, unless he feels a need to deepen his pockets further. But it certainly isn’t doing him any favors in the communities he’s invested in. I guess when you own ten Collegetown properties, several more in downtown Ithaca, and a couple suburban properties, you can afford to do as you please.

Cornell and Crime II: Here There Be Guns

15 05 2012

If you want to have a spirited debate on campus, open the floor for a discussion for the provision of guns on university grounds. Stating the obvious here, but student-owned guns are prohibited on campus, and have been for over a century (CUPD officers are issued Glock semi-automatics, an effect of the Willard Straight Hall takeover back in 1969). Few things seem to do a better job of getting someone’s blood to boil, and not without due reason. I thought of looking at this because of this recent little piece from the Sun about a student being robbed at gunpoint in North Campus, and the ensuing “we should be allowed to have guns/are you crazy no we shouldn’t have guns” comment queue.

I mulled this over in my head a little while, thinking that this usually gets tied into some “good old days” argument about back when everyone could have guns and everyone was safer (and there was much less crime, everyone was good-looking, all the kids were above-average, and whatever else those rose-tinted glasses show). I decided to look at the Sun archives for some historical perspective.

One of the first things returned in the search was an article from 1930 – before the vast majority of us were even alive – detailing a series of armed robberies and the murder of a gas station attendant leading to a possible rise in gun permit applications (the only requirement be that you are a law-abiding citizen of “good character”). So much for those good old days. For what it’s worth, the CUPD was formed the following year, with a whopping two patrolmen on horseback, and no guns during day shifts (today, Cornell has six times as many students, and about 45 officers).

As for the case of responsible students, it’s not always easy determining which are and which aren’t – as these cases demonstrate. You have (in order) the hard-partying student, the student claiming self-defense, and the self-inflicted fatal gunshot wound (thought to be accidental, but could have been otherwise). In imagining a world where guns were okay on campus, I can see a clear case for pulling the gun rights of the first, a lawsuit waiting to happen with the second (the gun owner claimed he shot at someone who was leaving racist notes under his door), and another lawsuit waiting to happen with the third, if the family gets on the “my child’s university didn’t do enough to prevent this” train. There would be time, money, and a bevy of other issues involved.

On the other hand, as this Sun editorial from 1981 illustrates, there are some valuable reasons one can have for owning a gun, such as women protecting themselves against rapists, and it’s important to note that most gun owners are responsible, law-abiding citizens. From here we can get into a range of arguments, all of which are easily blown out of proportion. The passion people put into the guns argument is second perhaps only to abortion, especially with regards to the intransigence of its debaters.

So I didn’t write this entry to start up a gun control debate; that’s what news websites are for. The purpose of this entry is to show that there was no “golden era” for either party – no period where guns, or the lack thereof, made us so much safer. There will always be crime, there will always be grey cases in the argument of who is and isn’t irresponsible, and for the foreseeable future, there will be a gun control argument.

News tidbits 1/6/2012: If You Screwed Up Once, You Can Screw Up Again

6 01 2012

As time has gone on and I become more removed from my days at Cornell, this blog focuses less and less on student-specific events, such as Greek Life. But then, news articles like this pop up:

After Hospitalization, TKE May Lose Recognition

January 6, 2012
By Jeff Stein

Cornell will revoke its recognition of Tau Kappa Epsilon following reports of an alcohol-related hospitalization of a freshman unless the fraternity succeeds in its appeal of the decision, according to multiple sources.

In a memo obtained by The Sun on Thursday, University administrators faulted TKE for reportedly failing to ensure the safety of a highly intoxicated individual — the same oversight that officials say led to the death of George Desdunes ’13 last spring. Sixteen former pledges of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, the fraternity in which Desdunes died, joined TKE a few months later.

The freshman, who had been consuming alcohol before attending TKE’s event, arrived at a recruitment dinner hosted by TKE at the China Buffet on Nov. 11. While it “remains unclear if he continued to consume alcohol at the dinner,” TKE did provide both beer and hard alcohol at the event, the report states.

But as early as September, the University had reason to believe “rumors that SAE has been operating through TKE,” according to the report, when administrators learned of plans for the “White Party” — an event “historically hosted by SAE [as a] social activity attracting hundreds of community members.”

“Out of great concern for the safety of attendees, considering that TKE would not be prepared to host a large event such as this, due to their inexperience, we placed the chapter on interim suspension,” the report states.

The memo then notes that, in a meeting with administrators, fraternity leadership agreed to cancel the event, terminate plans they had to “induct ‘little sisters’” and work with the TKE national organization toward building TKE “traditions that the community could support, as opposed to adopting SAE traditions.”

Despite these promises, “it became clear in that meeting that SAE’s former members, those who were fully initiated and have no affiliation with TKE, have significant influence on TKE as an organization,” the report states.


I read stories like this and I cringe. I’m a fairly avid supporter of Greek Life at Cornell. But stories like this make me rethink my stance. I understand that the person may or may not have consumed beverages at their recruitment dinner. Okay, innocent until proven guilty. But you’d think for a group of pledges that watched some of their pledgebrothers be indicted for killing someone, they’d use a little more precaution than “we’ll just drop him back off at his room and hope he’ll be fine”.

But that seems to merely be the straw that broke the camel’s back. The administration was bothered by how the chapter became SAE with a different set of letters. I couldn’t agree more. I am strongly bothered by the open flaunting of the SAE connection, and figuratively (maybe literally?) pissing on TKE’s original brotherhood and traditions (not that it wasn’t expected). I don’t know how much of the comments on the article to believe, but I don’t think they’re far from the mark. Calling yourself “Epsilon” because you feel the fraternity that took you in is so inferior you still have to tie it in to SAE (stating the obvious here, but it’s a nod to the fact that both Tau Kappa Epsilon and Sigma Alpha Epsilon share that letter). It just disgusts me. You’re not SAE. SAE of Cornell was doomed the moment George Desdunes died due to alcohol poisoning administered during a pledge kidnapping.

It’s sad. Sad that TKE was so desperate for social status and growth that they sold out everything their brotherhood was. Sad that SAE let someone die. Sad that one organization is gone completely and the other one is about to be kicked off campus. Sad that this reflects on the whole system, which is in a percarious enough position as it is.

What an ignominious way to go. I hope as a Greek alumnus that if my fraternity was ever in TKE’s position that they would just close instead of selling out.



Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder

10 11 2011

So, this is a question that I often wonder about when I play the role of armchair architecture critic. Cornell has pontificated that “each new building should reflect the spirit of Cornell as a pioneering institution and should represent an awareness of its time and place”. Back in the day, that was symbolized by A. D. White’s passionate desire to develop the campus into a New Yorker’s version of Oxford, hence his well-documented derision of red-brick buildings such as Morse Hall and Lincoln Hall, as these were very un-Oxford-esque. Lincoln Hall was built while White was overseas as the U.S. ambassador to Germany (effectively, they sneaked it in when he wasn’t looking), and it’s been said that White smiled when he first heard Morse Hall was destroyed by fire back in 1916. I’m guessing he never counted his own house, but maybe he considered that to be tucked away from the main campus, which it was back in the early days.

Cornell’s architectural preference has evolved with the times. By the 1920s, the fashion was Collegiate Gothic, as seen in buildings like Willard Straight. By the 1950s and 1960s, function was deemed more important than form, and we eneded up with buildings like Clark Hall, and Hollister et al. on the Engineering Quad. Today’s buzz is about “Starchitects” like Rem Koolhaas (Milstein Hall), Richard Meier (Weill Hall) and Thom Mayne (Gates Hall), who designed ultramodern structures that are meant to represent Cornell’s forward-thinking.

My question lies in what is interpreted as forward-thinking. It seems college campuses these days follow two rather discordant trains of thought – one of the modern or ultramodern designs as we have seen lately at Cornell (I was tempted to call them avant-garde, but I don’t think they’re radical enough to merit the term), and then a second line of thinking that delves into the Neoclassical and Gothic themes that conjure images of the romantic colleges of our grandparents’ youth.

Take for instance Princeton and their new Whitman Residential College, or Notre Dame’s new Eck law school building:

Image Property of Notre Dame University

Granted, comparing the new STEM buildings to Dorms and Social Science buildings is a bit like apples to oranges. But what are the pros and cons for the new Houses on West Campus? Were we better off with new and contemporary, or should we have revived the original 1920s era plan and constructed new Gothics?

The original West Campus Plan. Image Courtesy of Wikipedia

Any casual reader of this blog probably recognizes that I fall more into the traditionalist point of view. I guess my concern lies with the aesthetically pleasing value of a campus. Cornell has some tremendously wonderful natural spaces both in the confines of the main campus and surrounding it (the many gorges and waterfalls throughout the area assure that much). The built environment can either enhance that or detract from it, and I’d venture at Cornell it’s been hit-or-miss over the years.  I wonder though, if the increasing traditionalism of some of our peer institutions gives them a recruiting advantage for top students. I think the West Campus structures are quality constructions, but they don’t quite garner the same level of fondness as the arches and turrets Collegiate Gothic.

So I’m going to go out on a limb and throw the question out there for debate. What role does architectural style play in prospective students’ decision-making? Is Cornell being bold and progressive in its current architectural plans, or are we foregoing traditional architectural styles at a detriment to the physical appeal of the university? I’m really curious to hear others’ take on this, so please leave a comment if you’d like to contribute your opinion.

P.S. I don’t want to downplay the importance of interior design, which is important from a livability angle. But I am more interested to hear about opinions about building exteriors, since they often set the first impression.


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