Two Sides to an Argument

18 03 2014


I generally try to stay on the sidelines when it comes to promoting or opposing for Ithaca projects. I’m not about to get involved in favor of the West Falls Street proposal, the Stone Quarry proposal, or Cayuga Meadows, or any other local project that neighboring residents want shot down. NIMBYism (NIMBY is short for “not in my backyard” , a reference to when people accept a community has a need for a project but they oppose it in their neighborhood) is ever-present, just about every project in the city and town has had some degree of opposition (the only exception I can think of offhand is the convention center/hotel planned for downtown). My own opposition arises when I feel a proposal threatens something of historic value. Regardless, the planning board is good at staying neutral. I may not always agree with the planning board, but I generally respect their judgement.

I’m going to make an exception to my non-partisan stance for 1 Ridgewood, thanks to Walter Hang.

As much as it bothers me to do it, to explain my issues, it is best if I provide a link to the petition and its partially-labelled map of square footages.  A large chunk of those appear to be people who have little or no connection to Ithaca. Token disclaimer: I’m not for or against his fracking work, my concern is focused squarely on this project. In an attempt to keep this project from being railroaded, I decided to examine the petition’s arguments.


Here’s the area Mr. Hang wants his moratorium, Cornell Heights, split between the city and Cayuga Heights. For the record, the dark grey represents Cornell-affiliated properties, mostly GLOs and a few Co-Ops in the CHHD. Looking at the city section specifically:

The red X is the Ridgewood apartment parcel, for three buildings between 5578, 5710 and 6662 square feet, with mostly below-grade parking. One of my issues is that some of Mr. Hang’s assertions are misleading. For example:

Due to recent development, the Historic District is clearly transitioning from its original turn-of-the-20th century “residential park” to a densely developed area that bears little resemblance to the community that warranted special historic district protection approximately 25 years ago.”

It’s hardly changed. There have been two three projects built since 1989. A single-family home at 116 Dearborn Place that was built in 2005, the Tudor house of the Bridges Cornell nursing home was built in 2005, and the new apartments currently going up on Thurston. If you want to push the envelope, Alpha Zeta (214 Thurston) replaced half of its original structure in 1992-1993 when it was renovated. A couple buildings (Kappa Delta, and 111 Heights Court) have received renovations, which were approved by the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council (ILPC).


Approval is being sought for an apartment complex proposed for 1 Ridgewood Road. Three buildings would be built on the largest undeveloped property in Cornell Heights, a spectacular forested setting enjoyed by hundreds of local residents who walk along and through it each day.

The proposed buildings would dwarf nearby structures. Figure One illustrates that the buildings would be 300% larger than the adjoining structure on Highland Avenue and at least 200% larger than all the immediately surrounding structures.

Out of a total of more than 200 structures in the Cornell Heights Historic District, only six are bigger than all three proposed buildings. Those six were built before the Historic District designation.

What’s not being told about that “spectacular forested property” is the abandoned swimming pool or dilapidated poolhouse. Also, as seen in at Mr. Hang’s map, the project is shifted to the west (left side) of the parcel, where many its nearby neighbors tend to be larger, ranging from 3000-8600 square feet (Westbourne to the north is a contiguous complex with 10,800 sq ft of space). To call this “dwarfing” is to take it out of its full context.

It concerns me that a petition with emotionally-charged language, gathering signatures from people that are not stakeholders in the Ithaca community, is being pushed by someone who has a history of aggressive tactics. It bothers me that an underutilized parcel with great public transit access in a highly populated area is going to have its zoning changed after the developer has been sensitive to planning board concerns and returned with a proposal within current regulations, which sets a terrible precedent for the community and opens up the possibility of legal action against the city. Lastly, in a period where Cornell continues its enrollment growth, I’m worried that if projects like this will be prohibited, it will only encourage more rental conversations of existing housing, more subpar housing situations, higher rents and increased sprawl.

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.

The Keyword Bar XX

2 11 2013

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

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

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

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

3. “cornell prelims” (11-1-2013)

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

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

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

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

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



Cornell Graduation Rates

25 10 2013

4-8-2013 231

Graduation; perhaps the most important part of the Cornell experience. Facts are from the university factbook, as is the image below:


-For freshman who started in Fall 2007 (graduating 2011-2013), the overall university graduation rate (frosh who finish in six years or less) was 93.2%. Human Ecology set the standard at 95.5%, with most of the other schools clustering near the average, except for AAP, which polled at only 88%. Arguably, AAP’s number are more prone to skewing, since they’re the smallest college and it takes 5 years to complete architecture degrees; but the facts are what they are, AAP usually ranks below average, and is often the worst of the seven colleges for graduation rates.

-Over the decade, graduation rates jumped in the first half from 92 to 93.4%, but have dipped slightly since. The number still poll better than the 1990s, when graduation rates were just under 91%. The localized max is 98.7% for Fall 2004 ILR freshman, and the local min is the 69.9% for fall 2001 AAP freshmen. Compared to the 1990s, students seem to averaging a slightly quicker completion of their courses of study, with an increase in the less-than-4 year path, and a decrease in the percentage of super-seniors.

-Women consistently graduate at slightly higher rates than men. In 2007, 95% of women graduated within six years, vs. 91% of men. This is consistent across schools and in most years, though in some years the gap is as low as 1%, but the gap has trended slightly larger in the past few years.

-University-Recognized Minorities (URMs, referring to non-white and non-Asian students) graduate at slightly lower rates, 88% for those starting in fall 2007 (the value has been in the upper 80s for most of the past decade). URM males fare worse, at 85% for fall 2007’s freshman class. For African-American males, the rate has been as low as 75% in recent years.

-International student finish at rates not substantially different from the general student body, but they finish in less than 4 years at much higher rates – 20 to 30% of those freshmen will finish early. If I remember correctly (i.e. I can’t seem to find anything to back this up), certain countries, like Singapore, push their students to finish as quickly as possible.

-About 1 out of every 8 students will graduate from a college different than the one they were enrolled in as a freshman (ex. started in Arts and Sciences, finished in CALS). There’s no real trend over time, or for school transfers (evidence that AEM is trying to become more exclusive?)

-Transfer students graduate at rates virtually identical to those who started at Cornell as freshmen, with the exception of AAP, where they do not do as well. Once again, small incoming transfer numbers can skew this figure easily.

-About 3-4% drop out after freshman year. From there on, about 1-1.5% who finish their sophomore or junior year will not come back for the subsequent year of their matriculation.




Fast Facts – Cornell Admissions

5 09 2013

7-26-2013 039

Well if this isn’t just one of the best one-stop shopping sites for Cornell facts. Five years ago, when this blog started, the “University Factbook” would best be described as a bunch of sparsely-populated webpages and a ramshackle set of links between them, more of an amateur endeavor than anything specific produced by the university. This is quite much awesome.

Since I feed off of Cornell/Cornelliana facts much like an addict looking for their next hit, I thought it was fascinating to consider enrollment trends and things of those numbers in context. Since the graphs start at 1980, I’ll start from there as well. Note that these figures cover undergraduate admissions only.

  • Looking at the number of applications and starting with the 17,007 in 1980, there’s a steady rise through most the 1980s, peaking in fall 1988 with 21,765 applications. From there, the numbers drop off to about 20,000 and stay close to that value until the fall of 2004, where a rapid ascension commences. Much of this can be explained by Cornell starting to accept the Common Application, where a check of the box equals another base application, making it much easier for the prospect to apply to 20 schools instead of a few.  Arts and Sciences and CALS follow the same general trend, while engineers never had much of a peak in the 80s, and AAP applications have dropped off since 2010. HumEc has stayed roughly constant since the late 1980s, the Hotel school shows the most wild swings, and ILR really took off in 2006, when some folks decided that being a lawyer was the path to easy riches. We also have the ones that don’t choose a school, which if I remember right, means an automatic rejection. Cornell shows at least 1,000 a year since 2006, and over 2,000 in 2008. Nice one, kids.
  • Looking at acceptances, Cornell started the ’80s with around 5500 acceptances per cycle, creeping past 6,000 as the decade progressed. For some reason, the numbers shot up in the 1990s to over 7,000 acceptances by 1993, and stayed near that number through 1998. After that, Cornell became more stringent, and acceptances dropped to 5,861 by 2001. Numbers have stayed in the 6,000 range since, with mini-peaks in the fall 2006 and 2008 classes, and little dips in the early 2000s and with the most recent classes.
  • The largest freshman classes? 2011, with 3356, followed by 1993(3286) and 2013(3282). The lows were all in the early 1980s, led by 1982(2785), and followed by 1980(2836) and 1981(2885). Cornell’s capacity has grown over the years, as the north campus townhouses were built in 1989, and CKB/Mews were opened in 2001. Notably, the last sub-3,000 class, in 1992(2959), seems to have precipitated the 1993 peak. No schools show any discernible trends, although Engineering’s numbers were up during the days of the 1990s tech boom.
  • The highest yields for the university (average 49.2%) were in 1984, 2000, 2001, and post-2010 (2013 is the highest at 53.4%). The lowest yields were 1992-97 and the mid 2000s. 1992 was the lowest at 44.4%. The university will have its work cut out for it as the echo boomers/millennials finish their collegiate years and schools compete over what may be smaller applicant pools.
  • HumEc shows the widest range in yield, with a low of 48% in 1983 to a high of 96% with the fall 2001 frosh class (the latest class is 67%). Schools with specialized focuses, like ILR and Hotel, seem to have the best yields, as Hotel pulls numbers consistently near 90%, and ILR does as well (albeit a little more inconsistently). CALS also pulls above average numbers, which may be in part to the in-state tuition benefit. Engineers are close to the university average (damn you MIT), while Arts has an average yield only in the upper 30s (there’s just so many liberal arts schools to compete with, not to mention the other Ivies…)
  • On average, women have a slightly higher yield than men, 49.9% vs. 48.4%. A few years, such as 2008, had a higher yield for men than women.

The Keyword Bar XIX

15 07 2013

4-8-2013 205

1. “cornell aem transfer from cc” (2013-07-15)

I can already hear the dyed-in-the-wool AEM majors complaining about this one, an image-conscious program sensitive to anything that would tarnish its reputation, including the suggestion that community college students can get into it. But fear not AEM majors, while CALS has guaranteed transfer agreements with many community colleges (“partner institutions”), the biology, landscape architecture, and non-agribusiness AEM majors are exempt from this and fall under “competitive transfer” admissions. So, for the community college student that thinks they can guarantee a transfer to join the I-Bankers to be, the process is much, much more competitive (on a related note, AEM is well known for having a high number of people applying to transfer into the program within Cornell internally, which has resulted in that process becoming rather difficult as well). Also, if you don’t attend a partnered institution, then the transfer isn’t guaranteed either. So, theoretically possible, but highly unlikely.

2. terrence quinn cornell (2013-07-13)

A case of where truth really is stranger than fiction. Terrence Quinn ’93 was a member of Sigma Alpha Mu, and was last seen alone and drunk outside a bar on January 15, 1993. Three days later, he was discovered in Psi Upsilon’s chimney, when his shoes and jeans fell to the mantel after the flue was opened. The cause of death was positional asphyxiation – whether by his own volition or the goading of others, it appears he climbed into the chimney and got stuck, suffocating due to the awkward position his neck was bent in. No foul play has ever been suspected, but it must have been for a very awkward rush week.

3. apartment+complex+in+cornell+heights+planned (2013-07-13)

Yup. This one. 20 units and 56 bedrooms. More details here.

4. architecture of mcgraw hall, cornell (2013-07-12)

Generally, McGraw Hall, the middle of the Old Stone Row, is considered to be an interpretation of Second Empire architecture  designed by Archimedes Russell, a prominent and prolific Syracuse-area architect in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Second Empire was in vogue at the time of McGraw Hall’s construction in the late 1860s and early 1870s (completed 1872), and takes its name from the French Second Empire, where the style originated. The building is finished with Ithaca bluestone, and the tower appears to face the wrong way because the earliest campus plan proposed (by Frederick Law Olmsted of Central Park fame) that all campus structures form a grand terrace facing the lake.

5. cleveland estates ithaca housing development (2013-07-11)

Housing developments generally fall out of my focus – slow to build out and generally unremarkable. So I’ve seen Cleveland Estates, and just never wrote much about it (the last real blurb I wrote referencing it was in 2009). The site looks to have 12 lots, on a cul-de-sac off of Danby Road, west-southwest of Ithaca college. Infrastructure has been laid and lots are for sale.

6. mathai kolath george (2013-07-13, 2013-07-10)

Not long after I wrote about Llenroc Mansion near Albany, local news erupted when the widow of its owner, Annie George, was found guilty of keeping an illegal immigrant as a personal slave in her home, and as a result, the federal government is permitted to seize the property. If I were superstitious, I’d be tempted to think the property is cursed.

Cornell Likes Having Friends

30 06 2013

4-8-2013 233

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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