The Cornell Logo That Failed

13 01 2015

Let me start with a rhetorical question: What makes a college? Academics? Athletics? The physical facilities themselves? The logo?

The last one doesn’t really seem like it should be a contributing factor. But there have been claims that it made all the difference for Cornell, causing it to lose prestige in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

It seems like the silliest thing in the world, but here’s the argument. In 1999, Cornell was 6th. By 2004, it had dropped to 14th. One of the reasons for this was brand image – a clunky website, bland brochures, and the logo.  Quote:  “Imagine a flag of the old Soviet Union: a field of red, and in the middle in plain white letters, Cornell.”

Most folks familiar with the 1999-2004 logo not-so-fondly describe it as the one that looks like a J.C. Penney knockoff (J. C. Penney had a similar logo from 2000-2006). Well, funny story about that. From the 2006 NPR interview:

Ms. HEATHER GRANTHAM (co-chair, Cornell image committee): The company that designed that logo originally was the same company that designed the almost identical big red box for J.C. Penney. It’s not Cornell. It’s not Ivy, it doesn’t have that history, and so we really wanted to make that push to revert back to some form of the original crest.

It must have been a busy week for the logo designer (who oddly enough, I can’t even find the name of online). Given the complaints above, and J.C. Penney’s market tumble, I’d be hesitant to hire this company.

The student-led Cornell Image committee made it a priority in the mid-2000s to bury that logo in favor of something more traditional and “Ivy” – the simplified emblem by Chermayeff and Geismar Inc. that Cornell still uses today. It was hoped that it would make Cornell look less like Michigan and more like Harvard. The committee also had goals of reducing class sizes, limiting enrollment and increasing financial aid to minorities, all ways to game the rankings.

Some of those things may have happened (Cornell improved its financial aid, but enrollment has climbed), but rankings haven’t really changed much, hovering between 12th and 16th since the logo was changed at the end of 2004 (for the record, Cornell is currently ranked 15th by U.S. News & World Report). The rankings the NPR interview used were cherry-picking anyway. Cornell spent most of the 1990s hovering between 10th-14th; 1999 was an anomalously good year. So the change isn’t very effective on paper, but I do prefer the current logo to the old one.





The Brains of Uris Hall

27 12 2014

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I feel that for all the attention the Wilder Brain Collection gets in Cornell promotional material, the display itself is relatively tucked away in the bowels of Cornell’s Central Campus. The brains are featured in the “welcome” display of the Department of Psychology, on the second floor of Uris Hall (third if entering from the auditorium side).

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The display itself is pretty modest – eight brains, with page-long biographies of each of the individuals featured, seven male and one female. Perhaps thankfully, none of the brains featured belong to children or young adults, sparing anyone from a fun, happenstance conversation about youth mortality. The collection actually numbers about 70 specimens currently, most of which are stored in a basement closet in Uris Hall (unfortunately, Cornell is not accepting donations from the newly departed).

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The brain collection used to be much larger, however. It was started by Cornell professor Burt Green Wilder in 1889. Prof. Wilder established the “Cornell Brain Society” with the goal of determining if differences in the size, shape, weight and appearance of the brains could be established between the grey matter obtained from “educated and orderly persons” versus women, murderers, the mentally ill and racial minorities. I’ll give female readers a moment to roll their eyes. The eventual conclusion was that there were no detectable differences, at least none apparent to 19th century methods or the naked eye. This might seem obvious now, but in the 19th century, this was still a largely unexplored realm. For instance, phrenology, a psuedoscience where skull measurements were used to determine ones traits and behaviors, was still accepted in some quarters in the late 1800s.

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Over time, the number of full and partial specimens collected by Wilder and his successors numbered over 600. Unfortunately, as the years wore on, the brains fell into obscurity, and were not well maintained. By the time Prof. Barbara Finlay assumed the curator role in 1978, many of the brains had “dried up” or were “carried out of the basement via buckets“. This led to the purging of most of the specimens, and the eight selected for display were chosen if only because the psychology department was able to find enough information to write brief biographies on each of the donors.

Briefly, the eight donors are:
Burt Green Wilder (1841-1925) – The founder of the collection, Wilder was a surgeon for the Union Army during the Civil War, and a professor of neurology and vertebrate zoology at Cornell from 1867-1910.

Helen Hamilton Gardener (1853-1925) – An author and prominent suffragette, Gardener donated her brain to the collection to prove that a woman’s brain was in no way inferior to a man’s.

Edward Titchener (1867-1927) – A prominent psychologist and Cornell professor, Titchener coined the word “empathy” in a 1909 publication.

Henry A. Ward (1834-1906) – A naturalist who pioneered the business of collecting specimens (specifically rocks and minerals) and selling them to colleges and museums. He was also Buffalo’s first automobile fatality.

Jeremiah Jenks (1856-1929) – An economist and Cornell professor from 1891-1912.

Sutherland Simpson (1863-1926) – A Cornell physiology professor (1908-1926). Simpson had intended in his younger years to become a ship captain, but depending on the source, either a hand injury or a letter from his mother caused him to rethink his plans, and instead he applied for the position of laboratory boy in the physiology department of the Univ. of Edinburgh, which started a long and fulfilling academic career.

Simon Henry Gage (1851-1944) – the most recent of the displayed brains, Gage was associated with Cornell from his 1873 enrollment to his death 71 years later. He was an anatomy and physiology professor and co-designed Stimson Hall on Cornell’s campus.

Edward Rulloff (1819/1820-1871) – The famous murderer, previously written about here and here. Wilder collected his brain after he was hanged, and declared it to be the largest on record.

There are a lot of brains on Cornell’s campuses, though perhaps they’re a little busier than these.

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Canines at Cornell

25 11 2014

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During my four years at Cornell, dogs were something of a rarity. I knew a couple of grad students who had dogs, and a couple of fraternities with house dogs, and that was about it. A member of my chapter tried to push a proposal through our alumni Corporation Board to permit the adoption of a house dog, but the board declined, citing concerns about liability (and given the possibility of someone being bitten at a party or something, I didn’t disagree with their decision).

Before the 1950s, dogs were far more ubiquitous. For one, the Vet School was located where ILR is today, and then-president Mallott cited the incessant animal noises, including barking dogs, as one reason to move out of the A.D. White House at the start of the 1950s (Altschuler and Kramnick 36; I wager that the student riot in front of his house in 1958 reaffirmed his off-campus preferences). But even outside of the kennels and vet offices (dogs weren’t allowed in lecture halls in the vet school), dogs were accepted and even welcome on the quads, in academic buildings, libraries and even cafeterias. Some thought it was the result of an alumni donation with a stipulation to allow roaming digs free rein of the quads.

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But the hospitality towards canine companions was fading. In 1948, they were banned from the Willard Straight cafeteria, and the following year, the Cornell Sun waged a campaign to have rowdy rovers removed from campus Libraries. In 1953, Malott (what is with this man hating on dogs?) had Fido banned from the graduation ceremony. By December 1959, dogs were banned from all campus buildings aside from the Vet School. The reasons for banning dogs were fair enough; dog fights, interrupting a symposium on segregation, destroying books; but some students and faculty still mourned the disappearance of canines from the classroom. One misogynistic professor told the Sun in 1959 he “surveys the situation before each class and throws out any wild puppies. Dogs are like co-eds knitting. I’m willing to put up with them if they stay quiet. Who knows? Like the co-eds, they might learn something.”

A special focus of the anti-dog sentiment was on a 5-year old, three-legged husky named “Tripod”, who became a sort of quad-wandering unofficial campus mascot in the mid and late 1950s. “Tripod” had three legs as the result of a car accident in November 1953, from which “he hovered for many weeks between life and death“, and his back left leg was paralyzed and later had to be amputated. Officially, he was the house dog of Kappa Delta Rho (KDR) and named Chinook, but like many dogs, wandered campus at his whim. However, Tripod chased a cat to death and was reported to have snapped at students. Eyewitness reports to the Sun claim he was chasing the cat when it ran into the path of a patrolling campus police car, but the police report suggests he mangled the cat, which then crawled under the car. The Sun was not inclined to believe them. His former owner (Roger Burggraf ’56) claimed him, and once his army tour was completed in Spring 1959, said he would return the husky to Alaska. Tripod had a fraternity-hosted feast in his honor on October 17, 1958, and while it’s not stated whatever happened after he was picked up by his owner the next day, I hope that he lived out some happy days in the last frontier. His now 82-year old owner did return to Alaska, worked as a dog trainer, and was awarded Alaskan of the Year a few days ago, so I have every reason to be optimistic.

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The removal of dogs took a pause during the 1960s, when civil unrest was the forefront of concerns and soft-hearted professors didn’t care to raise a complaint to the occasional four-legged attendee. Dogs could still walk untethered on campus outside of buildings. But after a large ill-tempered dog bit four students during a chemistry exam in 1973, (AK 233), the university started enforcing a 1971 rule requiring all dogs on campus be leashed (although I don’t think a 1972 recommendation for mandatory dog registration was approved). Tompkins County followed suit in 1980.

Gone are the days of dogs frolicking free on Cornell’s campus. Legally, anyway.

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[1] Altschuler, Glenn C. and Issac Kramnick. Cornell: A History, 1940-2015. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2014. Print.





Cornell Provosts Climb the Ladder

21 10 2014

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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

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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

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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.

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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:

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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.

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