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.

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.


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