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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The Cornell Stories

18 01 2013

cornell_postcards_1933

Back in the day, before the internet, TV and even radio, the best way to indulge one’s interest was by the printed word. Novels,  serials and newspaper articles were much more valued. It was also around a hundred or so years ago, when the idea of college went from the dank halls of seminaries and obscure studies of little practical worth, to a sort of idyllic playground of stories and mischief, casting collegiate life into a much more positive light.

During this time, several publications focusing on the wonders of college life were produced. Perhaps the best known are the Frank Merriwell serials, and his exploits at Yale. There were several other works of various quality produced around the same time.

Here, I offer The Cornell Stories (1898), written by James Gardner Sanderson, Class of 1896. The stories are light-hearted and fictional, but the setting and the descriptions conjure up images of a simpler, slower time, the Ithaca of a century ago.

Here’s my recommendation – make a cup of hot chocolate, settle into your favorite chair or couch with a blanket, and enjoy a good read.





News Tidbits 10/11/12: Kappa Sigma Reopens its Doors

11 10 2012

Even though I’m old and way out of touch from Greek Life (apart from the overly sentimental newsletter I get each semester from my fraternal alma mater), I’m sharing this because it happened my last semester at Cornell. From the Cornell Daily Sun:

After being shut down for more than two years, the Cornell chapter of the Kappa Sigma fraternity was recently reinstated on campus.

According to Brett Musco ’13, the fraternity president, Kappa Sigma lost its charter from its national chapter in Spring 2010 after violating sanctions that the chapter imposed on them.

A year and a half before it was shut down, the Cornell chapter of Kappa Sigma was found in violation of its national organization’s “risk management policy” and told that it could no longer host events with alcohol, Associate Dean of Students for Fraternity and Sorority Affairs Travis Apgar told The Sun in May 2010.    The fraternity was also required to have any events approved by a regional manager from the national organization, according to Apgar.

When it was discovered that the fraternity hosted an unregistered party with alcohol, the chapter was shut down by the national organization for breaking Kappa Sigma sanctions.

The fraternity house, a property on 600 University Ave., is owned by Cornell and was renovated and turned into student housing by the University for the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 academic years. However, it was agreed that if Kappa Sigma were ever reinstated on campus, fraternity members could occupy the building again, Musco said.

As part of the process of rebuilding the chapter, Kappa Sigma brothers petitioned for members of the classes of 2012 and 2013 –– who had been expelled from the fraternity –– to be reinstated as brothers.

“Once we got those core guys from those two years reinstated, we could become an interest group,” Musco said. “And then, from an interest group you become a colony, and we became a colony [in] July of 2011.”

According to Musco, while the chapter was not recognized by the IFC or the University, it still participated in rush events and informed potential members of their status.

Though it was not a chapter at the time, the Kappa Sigma colony –– or probationary body of brothers –– participated in formal rush in 2012, according to Musco.

After Rush Week, the members had to follow certain guidelines and submit a petition to regain its status as a chapter.

“A lot came down to learning from the mistakes that the older guys had made and the former chapter had made,” Musco said. “And a lot came down to recruitment and getting new guys to carry the fraternity.”

As a result of Rush Week, the majority of the fraternity’s membership comes from the Class of 2015, Musco said. Kappa Sigma will be participating in Rush Week in January 2013, he added.

***

So, this is an unusual case in the world of GLOs. The chapter was shut down by their national and lost recognition from Cornell. But, they were allowed to recolonize and petition for reinstatement. They also regained their house, because their agreement with Cornell allows them to move back in once they are reinstated (I like to imagine a closet in the dorm where they hid all the lettering and regalia). Now from here, it could go two ways – they fade into obscurity and failure a la Theta Chi in the early 2000s, or they build themselves back up and move on, like Psi Upsilon in 1979.

Speaking personally, about two-thirds of the people I’ve stayed in close contact with post-undergrad have been my old fraternity brothers. And I know that when something happens to the chapter that we don’t like, for instance a poor rush, we try and write it off as “it’s their house to run now”, but it still casts a bittersweet pall over our memories. So from an alumni perspective, I’m glad for their graduated brethren, and I wish them the best.





Why Syracuse and Cornell Would Ever Be Mentioned in the Same Sentence

3 07 2012

I have a certain fondness for the Orange. I grew up in the Syracuse sphere of influence, where because of the lack of national sports franchises in the region (a few hardy souls follow the Buffalo Bills, who went 0-4 in a row in the Super Bowl in the 1990s; having not been to the playoffs in over a decade, beings a Bills fan requires grief therapy), the Syracuse Orangemen/Orangewomen (now using the extra PC term of Syracuse Orange) were the teams to follow, especially in football and basketball. When I was growing up in my hometown not too long ago, it was generally expected that if you were reasonably talented, you went to SU. And a couple dozen of my high school classmates did just that. I was the only one in my year that went to the Big Red, 50 miles southwest of University Hill.

In my mind, I often draw parallels to Cornell and Syracuse. They were both established in the Reconstruction Era – Cornell in 1865, and Syracuse in 1870. Both are large institutions – the combined student enrollment for Cornell is 20,939, and Syracuse is 20,407. In terms of the prestige factor, both are well-regarded, although Cornell, with its Ivy League gilding, is usually considered the more respected of the two. US News & World report ranks Cornell in a tie with Brown for 15th (roughly constant for the past few years), and Syracuse 62nd (a drop of about 12 spots since I started college in 2006). That all being said, if Syracuse had had what I wanted to study, and it was better ranked in that field than Cornell, I would’ve gone to Syracuse, lack of ivy notwithstanding.

The two are physically close, superficially similar, and their history is intertwined, which is what I want to touch on with this entry. Collegiate snobbery aside, Cornellians and Syracusans undoubtedly owe a fair amount of their history to each other.

First of all, Syracusans can thank Ezra Cornell (or curse him, I suppose) for being located where they are today. Andrew Dickson White and Ezra Cornell were state senators in the early 1860s, when the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act was passed; Cornell represented the Ithaca area, and White was elected out of the city of Syracuse. While they both united under the common goal of establish one strong university with those land sale proceeds, they differed on location. White wanted Syracuse to be home to the new school, and for the college to be seated on what is now University Hill. He believed that Syracuse, a burgeoning transportation hub, would make it easier to recruit faculty and serve the university better. However, Ezra Cornell strongly disagreed; he detested Syracuse as a den of sin, citing an incident where he was twice-robbed of his wages as a young man while working in the city. Old Uncle Ezra offered up his farm in Ithaca if White agreed to keep the school out of Syracuse. White relented, and in following fashion, named the school after its biggest benefactor. On a final note, while Ezra gave $500,000 (1865 dollars) and his property to his fledgling institution, he gave $25,000 (1865 dollars) to those who supported a Syracuse school, so they would support the bill establishing the Ithaca school. In turn, this money was used to assist moving Genesee College from Lima, New York, to Syracuse, and helped SU to be established.

In many ways, the relationship between Cornell and Syracuse could be described as antagonistic. Cornell had the first school of forestry in the state, from 1898 to 1903. At that point, Bernhard Fernow had ticked off enough Adirondack land owners and wealthy vacationers that the governor vetoed funding for the school, which led to the Board of Trustees shutting it down. However, several years later, under the influence of Syracuse trustee Louis Marshall, a new forestry college was established in Syracuse, semi-associated with SU (SUNY ESF, in 1911). Rather than completely give in, Cornell continued a much smaller forestry college within the ag school, which annoyed the bean counters in Albany enough that they officially made SUNY ESF the primary forestry school in the 1930s, relegating Cornell to only “farm forestry“. In exchange, Syracuse had to drop all ambition of its own College of Agriculture. Today, the forestry department at Cornell is known as the Department of Natural Resources.

Competition for state money has always been a sticking point for Cornell and Syracuse. While Cornell lost the battle for the forestry school, Syracuse lost the battle for the ILR school (Industrial and Labor Relations) while it was being conceived in the late 1930s. Post WWII, academic competition between the two schools has given way as they diverged in their interests; the primary contests between the two institutions these days involve sports, where Syracuse usually has the upper hand.

So, as much as students at the two schools may taunt and jeer at each other, both institutions have played a crucial role in helping to develop the other. However, given my orange and red sympathies, I will forever be unwelcome at SU vs. Cornell games for the rest of my life.





The Freshman Beanie

11 06 2012

Distinguishing between the years of students of Cornell can be rather difficult after about the first month of the academic year.  Unless it’s orientation, Greek rush, or some other telling factor, you can take a glance at some random person crossing the quad and have no idea whether or not they’re a freshman, a junior, or perhaps even a young grad student (whereas for older grad students, they might be mistaken for professors). However, it’s not like anyone worries about that; except in the case of love and relationships (senior to senior: you’re dating a freshman? Robbing the cradle much?), someone’s year usually doesn’t merit much attention. Well, things were a bit different back in the day.

In the days of yore, it was traditional for freshman males at Cornell (known as “pikers”, like those referenced in “Give My Regards to Davy”) to wear a rather peculiar-looking felt cap called a “Beanie”, which was like a snow hat (wikipedia directs the query to “tuque”, a word I’ve never used in my life), red in color with a grey button on the top. Examples can be seen in the below photo, which dates from a 1919 Cornell football game.

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Beanie was part of the mandatory rules for freshmen, and they were required to wear it in public until the spring, when all the freshmen burned their caps in a ceremonial bonfire. This was a kinda cutesy little sentimental event meant to instill class camaraderie and make warm fuzzies, when the sophomores weren’t trying to kick the crap out of freshmen in the occasional class battles.

The cap rule, along with other rules such as not walking on the grass and not wearing any high school or prep school emblems, tended to be strictly enforced, and with harsh consequences. Violators were liable to have their heads shaved or go for a quick dunk into Beebe Lake.

Of special note regarding the beanies is the case of Frederick Morelli, a freshman originally of the class of 1924, who absolutely refused to wear his beanie. After numerous dunkings and warnings from his peers (including a double dunking into a public fountain and the lake, with a placard hung on his neck saying “Moral: wear a frosh cap”), Morelli ended up being pursued by a mob of angry upperclassmen, and had to be saved by the president of the university to avoid serious injury. The Sun actually condoned the mob’s behavior. But George Lincoln Burr, the most senior faculty member at the university at the time, threatened resignation over the manifestation of “lynch law” on the campus. Fred Morelli withdrew from the university, but returned a couple years later and graduated in the class of 1926. Perhaps his penchant of pushing his bounds played into his undoing; after graduation, he became a gangster and nightclub owner, and was gunned down outside of his club in Utica in 1947. Fun fact: the city of Utica was run by the Mafia and its associates for decades, up through the early 1990s.

The caps faded out, as did the class battles, as a result of the changing demographics post-WWII. Frankly, after killing men in trenches, and now married with children, most vets who came in under the G.I. Bill as freshmen could not give two salts for collegiate antics. When the sophomores made an attempt to enforce the rules in 1949 by shaving the heads of three frosh, the enraged students brought their grievances before the mostly G.I.-composed Student Council, who promptly banned enforcement of the practice. The beanie remained voluntary up to the early 1960s, when it faded out completely.

So nowadays, students can feel completely to engage with members of the other classes. Unless it involves doing a walk of shame to Collegetown from a freshman dorm. That would be awkward.





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.





When The Mayor of Ithaca Stood Up To Cornell

23 04 2012

So, this entry is a little delayed because I was at a conference doing what scientists do best, which is trying to explain their research and justify the grants that pay for it. Since my research (and by extension, my paycheck) takes priority, things got a little pushed back with the blog updates.

Anyway, I made a reference in the previous entry to how Cornell is both a blessing and curse for Ithaca; the blessing being the attention, the jobs and the steady economy, the curse is that Cornell pays a pittance towards the real value of their property in the city (as in, 4.5% of the assessed value). This is covered by the PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) agreement. But how that agreement originally came to be is much more interesting as the situation it stems from.

Turn the clocks back about eighteen years to 1994. At the time, the mayor of Ithaca was avowed socialist Ben Nichols, who was a retired professor of electrical engineering from Cornell (he had also completed most of his education at Cornell).  Perhaps that makes this story all the more interesting; a David vs. Goliath, if Goliath had been supporting David’s career for forty years. Ben Nichols was first elected in 1989, and then again in 1991 and 1993 (two-year terms; these were increased to four-year terms shortly before he lost his fourth run for mayor in 1995).

In late fall of 1994, Ben Nichols, recognizing the dire situation of Ithaca’s budget, demanded for Cornell to pay a higher share for its use of city fire services and police patrols. Specifically, he wanted Cornell to pay an annual fee of $2.5 million, which he thought was adequate to cover dorms, fraternity houses, and the campus store, as they were not purely academic buildings. At the time, Cornell paid about $143,000 (this started around 1967, as a way to cover fire services and a PILOT for the ICSD), and perhaps in politer terms, Cornell told him to take a hike. What followed was a battle with jobs and laws as weapons.

After the rebuff, Mayor Nichols decided to fight back by denying Cornell construction permits, using a normally-unenforced zoning rule regarding the amount of parking spaces needed for a facility – Cornell had about 1/10th what was required for an enterprise of its size, a gross deficit of just under 9,000 spaces. So, no construction could be undertaken, nor renovations, unless those parking spaces were built. Mayor Nichols said that he had many meetings and pleasant conversations with the university, but no results.

To quote:

“Most universities say that they legally are not required to do this, and so the position that we took is, `OK, if you stick to every legal right that you have, we’ll do the same,” Nichols said. “And things like building permits and zoning law, we will adhere to every fine line of the law.’ “

Cornell, of course, fought back using the hundreds of construction workers and tradesmen who suddenly found themselves without work; that May, they protested in front of city hall, demanding a lift of the ban. Furthermore, Cornell said they would consider paying only after the permits were granted. After the protest, Mayor Nichols relented, saying that the lifting of the ban had nothing to do with the protests, and everything to do with the belief that a discussion on an appropriate payment plan would take place at a “much more accelerated pace“.

In the interest of epilogues, eventually a revised and compromised PILOT agreement was hammered out later that year, which increased Cornell’s commitment (albeit still meager compared to assessed value). this was revised to be tied to inflation (Consumer Price Index) in 2003, and increased outright to a minimum contribution of least $1 million annually.

A Cornell supporter might look down on the mayor of the city for being petulant, but I am personally impressed that a Cornellian/faculty member stood up against the metaphorical 800-pound gorilla. Even if there is hardly a snowball’s chance in Hades I’d ever support a socialist candidate.








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