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April 2006

And People Complain About Oil Prices

Amidst all of the talk about rising oil and gas prices, it might help to place the rising price of gas in the context of higher education...

Since 1980, the median family in America has enjoyed an 18.4 percent increase in its real income. At an annualized rate, this equates to a real growth rate of 0.73 percent.

Over the same time span, tuition at Cornell's contract colleges -- those colleges that operate with financial assistance from the State of New York because the State deems the educational missions of those colleges to be vital to its long-term health -- has risen by 224 percent, as measured in real terms. (600 percent if you don't take into account the cost of inflation). Equivalently, this is an annualized rate of close to 9 percent a year.

The price of gas, on the other hand, has actually declined since 1980, as measured in real terms. When adjusted for inflation, the cost of gas in 1980 was just over $3.00 a gallon in 2006 dollars.

So I must ask, what is more vital to the long-term security and prosperity of this country? The price of a commodity of which there is only enough left for 40 or 50 more years of use at current consumption levels? Or educating the engineers and scientists who will discover and develop alternative sources of clean energy?

Matthew Nagowski | April 30, 2006 (#)

Now Click Your Heels Three Times...

Tonight, through a series of serendipitous events, I ended up meeting a fellow Cornellian from a previous generation. Even though our Cornell experiences had been seperated by a gulf of thirty years, we were still able to jointly reminisce about our times on East Hill.

So with a little bit of nostologia for springtime in Ithaca, upon coming home I searched for some pictures of Cornell online, and stumbled upon a virtual treasure trove of images from Cornell over at the photo sharing site, Flickr. Check it out yourself.

Matthew Nagowski | April 27, 2006 (#)

Hey That's Us!

There was another interesting op/ed piece in the Sun today -- Corey Earle's Walking Backwards column on Cornell lore and history. Say's Corey:

It's been a pleasure disseminating Cornell's legacy of achievements and history through this column, and I look forward to doing the same next year. For a Cornell fix during your summer months away from Ithaca, I suggest reading Dear Uncle Ezra (ezra.cornell.edu); the question-and-answer site is updated every Tuesday and Thursday. I also recommend the blog known as MetaEzra (www.metaezra.com). Written by three recent alumni who established themselves on The Hill as undergraduates, MetaEzra offers a variety of viewpoints on the latest Big Red news.
So a pleasant greeting to all those out there who stumbled upon this little corner of the web thanks to Corey. We're technically still in a beta-test mode and haven't publicly announced the site yet, as we are working out all the kinks in the publishing system, but please feel free to drop us a line with any comments or suggestions!

Matthew Nagowski | April 25, 2006 (#) (0)

Wrapping Ourselves in Numbers?

Not to beat a dead horse, but The Sun is running a rather interesting editorial today in response to the much talked about New York Times article. They start out strong enough:

Cornellians, the Image Committee especially, just want public perception to match the quality of the institution. It's not about trying to rank higher in US News & World Report, but making sure that the world knows just what Cornell is - a world-class educational research institution, with world-class students, faculty and facilities, all serving (and making a significant impact on) the world.

One former Cornell student quoted in the article commented, "Cornell is Ivy and more."

Cornell is exactly that - The Hill is the only Ivy League institution to come complete with a hotel school and an agriculture college, though the article incorrectly refers to CALS as "one of several at the university that are run by the state." Cornell has four colleges funded by the state of New York, however, the educational operation is governed entirely by Cornell, not by the State University of New York.

Matthew Nagowski | April 25, 2006 (#)

But Where's The Merchandise!

One of the things Cornell alums might have learned by reading the much talked about Times article is that the imaghe committee succesfully lobbied the Cornell Store to start carrying 'cooler' merchandise for Cornellians to wear. Jealous of the retro-looking threads that some other schools offered, the Cornell Image committee succesfully convinced the administration to start selling 'cool' hoodies and hats. The New York Times even gracefully provided a picture of Cornell's 'cool' new wear:

So it wouldn't be beyond imagination to suppose that Cornell alums might try to purchase some of the newly minted merchandise in support of their alma mater. But as far as I can tell, the 'cool' hoodies and hats aren't available through the Cornell Store's incredibly clunky interface, nor are they available through ivysport.com. And I would still like to see some Cornell-brand scarves become available.

Matthew Nagowski | April 23, 2006 (#)

East Hill Insecurities?

So by now, a lot of people have read, or at least heard about, the New York Times article on the successful lobbying efforts of Cornell’s student-run image committee. Over the weekend, it was the second most widely emailed article for the Times, and very obviously, there is a lot that may be said—both positive and negative—about the article.

For starters, no publicity about Cornell can be inherently a bad thing. Moreover, the article finally gives well-deserved credit to the good work of Peter Cohl, Heather Grantham, and others in helping to re-imagine and re-brand Cornell’s public image, especially in regards to the University’s beautiful new public website and the reneging of the universally loathed JC Penny box, as well as for lobbying the University for smaller class sizes. And, the article also gives well-intentioned press to the unrivaled growth in the number of applications that the University received this past year.

However, on the flip side…

Matthew Nagowski | April 23, 2006 (#) (0)

Section O Sucks!

As part of a fundraising drive for the refurbishment and expansion of Lynah Rink, Cornell's Department of Athletics has created a website appropriately titled lynahrink.com.

The highlight of the website is a new video documenting the triumphs of the varsity hockey teams over the years. In watching the video one thing becomes clear: you would be hard pressed to find a more hard working and dynamic sports program in the Ivy League than Cornell men's hockey.

The Athletics department is encouraging donors to sponsor seats in the hockey rink for $1,000 each, meaning that if all the seats end up being sponsored, close to $4 million dollars will be raised. Of course, we here at MetaEzra are surprised that some people have already pledged to sponsor seats in Section O. As we all know, Section O sucks.

Matthew Nagowski | April 18, 2006 (#)

The Outreach Gap

Completely real scenario: You go to a troubled high school in Brooklyn. You apply and, miraculously, are accepted to Cornell for the fall. But your parents are worried. Cornell's not in Brooklyn -- it could be a dangerous place, especially for someone like you, a female minority student from New York City.

What do you do?

Completely ideal scenario: You look up your acceptance letter, where the contact info for your local outreach coordinator -- someone from a similar background as you, but who went to Cornell -- is clearly visible. You give them a call and hopefully receive some wisdom and some reassurance. You even put them in touch with your parents.

Current scenario: You ask your teacher, in the NYC Teaching Fellows program, what to do. Fortunately, she's a recent graduate and has contacts in the college world. Your teacher asks a friend, who asks a friend, who knows someone fitting the profile who could help.

But the current scenario won't work for everyone.

Let's review: This student's parents, from Brooklyn, are worried about their daughter's well-being at Cornell. Clearly, we have a public relations problem if Brooklyn is deemed safer than Ithaca. This student, surely in high demand, has to try alternate avenues for information because it's not readily available. Clearly, we have an outreach problem, a gap in Cornell's supposed commitment to minority and low-income recruitment efforts.

A final thought: Why the public relations problem? Does news of, say, a racially motivated stabbing make the rounds faster than news of this year's increase in minority acceptances? When well-meaning activists publicize this fairly isolated incident as merely part of a widespread, ingrained problem, does that discourage more minority students from attending in the first place? Count this as Anecdotal Exhibit A.

Note to media relations officers: Step One might be publicizing Cornell's current murder rate (0).

Andy Guess | April 16, 2006 (#)

Alumni-Elected Trustees Announced

Like a lot of other semi-important things, the vote for Cornell's alumni-elected trustees completely slipped me by. But it appears that Kelly Brown '88 and Philip Reilly '69 were elected to Cornell's 64 member governing council.

Both bring new ideas and enthusiasm to East Hill: Brown works at Proctor and Gamble and is interested in leveraging Cornell's academic assets into economic value through an increased focus on entrepreneurship and innovative revenue streams. Reilly on the other hand, is the CEO of a genetics company and former NH researcher. He is obviously going to bring commitment to the University's life sciences initiative, but he is also calling for the creation of a nationwide 'Cornell Ambassador Corps' that would aim to increase the University's diversity by advertising the opportunities found at Cornell to minority students and low-income urban inner city and rural students.

Coincidentally, both Brown and Reilly have connections to two of Cornell's more prominent and generous student societies.

Matthew Nagowski | April 14, 2006 (#)

Liberal Bias Indeed

Matt brings up an interesting point: How can there be a crisis of liberal bias (and more broadly, academic freedom) at Cornell if a professor can create a course that honestly investigates the questions raised by proponents of intelligent design -- a theory openly derided by President Rawlings?

Personally, I have only experienced true, consistent, systematic, and blatant bias in one class. Does that mean there's a widespread problem? Not necessarily. In courses where it counts, such as history, my professors have always been extremely fair and open to all ideas (at least those that are relevant and have merit) even when they have been explicit about their own views. In a film class, despite the fact that the professor declared Hollywood's global market dominance "terrorism ... and I mean that in every sense of the word," it was hard to see how his politics would matter in the eventual grading process.

Andy Guess | April 12, 2006 (#)

What Liberal Bias?

Proof that there may be more academic diversity and freedom on Cornell's campus than David Horowitz and company care to believe:

WorldNetDaily: Intelligent design goes Ivy League :: Cornell University plans to offer a course this summer on intelligent design, using textbooks by leading proponents of the controversial theory of origins.

The Ivy League school's course – "Evolution and Design: Is There Purpose in Nature?" – aims to "sort out the various issues at play, and to come to clarity on how those issues can be integrated into the perspective of the natural sciences as a whole."

This course comes just after Interim President Hunter Rawlings's speech regarding Intelligent Design and the teaching of evolution in schools. While many Christian conservatives bemoaned the fact that Rawlings declared that Intelligent Design is not a valid scientific theory, they must applaud the fact that Cornell is taking pro-active steps to foster civil, academic debate among its faculty and students. This, after all, was the main point of Rawlings's speech--to motivate institutions of higher education to inform cross-disciplinary debates of public importance. As Rawlings himself stated:
Cornell’s history, its intellectual scope, and its current commitments position us well to contribute to the national debate on religion and science.

Matthew Nagowski | April 12, 2006 (#)

Durham's Dystopia

Last year, amid some campus (and national) controversy surrounding the release of Tom Wolfe's latest novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons I had the opportunity to write a review of the book for The Cornell Daily Sun.

For those of you who don’t know the book, it was a grandiose attempt to depict student life at an elite institution of higher education. It was ripe with the sordid underbelly of academia – petty campus politics, sexual assault, cocaine sniffing fraternity brothers, watered-down classes for student-athletes, etc. etc. And of course, like his other books, beneath Wolfe’s tantalizing writing and gripping plot line was a current that attempted to address such things as class, race, and privilege. I thought it was a good, if not great, book.

But I found it to be one of the hardest pieces to write during my tenure at the Sun, simply because there was so much to talk about, and I was ultimately highly unsatisfied with the result. For the 700 words ultimately printed, I had written up to 4000 words on the book that went unpublished. And my editor cut out a whole tangential point of mine: that higher education has always been the hallmark of American class/race/geographic assimilation and social mobility, and Wolfe's book correctly identified the growing rift in the social fabric that produces such a mechanism.

Anyways, my inadequacies aside, after reading I Am Charlotte Simmons, it is interesting to follow the growing controversy surrounding the allegations that three white Duke lacrosse players raped a black ‘exotic dancer’ last month.

So I cannot help but to bring myself back to a question that I asked my readers in my review: Isn't Wolfe’s book supposed to be satire, and not real life?

Matthew Nagowski | April 11, 2006 (#)

A Reason To Pay Your Class Dues

When the dreaded red envelope asking me to pay my class dues arrived at my house in January, I probably did what most members of the Class of 2005 did -- I threw it out. Fresh from East Hill and with debt to pay off, I had more important things to do with my discretionary income, like save for retirement or purchase a $6 pint of beer with my co-workers. Why should Cornell hit me so quickly after finishing college? Wasn't 60 grand (I was, after all, in a contract college) enough to tide them over at least until I had kids of my own to send off to college. Moreover, when I paid my class dues and pledged "my senior gift" at the end of April last year, I thought my Cornell Alumni magazine would at least come for a year. But apparently my subscription ran out at the end of December.

So apparently I am missing a fascinating interview that the Alumni Magazine has with David Skorton in its March/April interview. But never fear! The magazine has made the article available on its website. And David Skorton again comes out looking like a demigod, pulling absolutely no punches. And he is candid as well:

I also have to say this: In my thirteen years of being in the administration of a big university in a small town, I've found that the most dispiriting thing that happens is when people are given to believe that a decision will be based on consultation when there's no way that it will be. I come from an orientation where I believe that the vast majority of decisions should be consultative and people are not only heard but know that what they are saying will actually have an effect. But there are some decisions that are not going to be consultative in nature, and it's disingenuous to pretend they are.
I am increasingly gaining trust that good things will come to Cornell under Skorton's reign. Skorton has a certain amount of assertiveness that Lehman (for all of his strengths) lacked.

Of course, I hope that one of the first things Skorton will pay to attention to is Cornell's fledging office of alumni affairs. Sure, he will be a good fundraiser, and the office already is quite successful at developing relationships with the deep pockets, but I think it goes without saying that post-graduation, Cornell only really cares about the alumni with money to give, while annoying the rest of us.

So why doesn't Cornell provide free alumni magazine subscriptions to all of its alums? Besides from just being the right thing to do, it would probably also be a cost effective thing to do -- receiving more alumni gifts in the long run as a result. Moreover, the magazine is already being produced, so the only costs would be the relatively marginal costs of printing and shipping, in which there are economies of scale to be found, as well as increased advertising revenue due to the fact that the circulation figures would easily triple.

So why not? Every other Ivy League college does it, and in fact the school where I studied during my junior year will send me an alumni magazine for the rest of my life.

Matthew Nagowski | April 07, 2006 (#)

Harvard Ups the Ante in the Student Aid Game

It is easy to provide aid to low-income students if you don't have a lot of them!

Following Stanford's decision to eliminate family tuition contributions for families making less than $45,000 a year, Harvard has pledged to not require family contributions from students with families making less than $60,000, in what is certainly a victory for college access and socio-economic diversity in the nation's most elite colleges:

The New York Times ::Harvard University, which two years ago focused attention on the paucity of low-income students in the Ivy League with its announcement that it would not ask parents who earned less than $40,000 a year to contribute money for their children's education, said yesterday that it would raise that ceiling to $60,000 for students entering this fall.

Last year, Yale said it would eliminate the contribution required of parents earning less than $45,000, an plan similar to Harvard's.

This month there has been a profusion of announcements. In early March, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said it would begin matching the federal Pell Grants that its low-income students got. Pell grants are currently $4,050 a year.

M.I.T., which will charge $43,550 for tuition, housing and meals, said that 16 percent of its undergraduates came from homes with incomes below $42,000, and that 90 percent of its undergraduates qualified for financial aid.

Stanford University said this month that it would eliminate the parental contribution for families with annual incomes below $45,000. Last week, the University of Pennsylvania said it would replace loans with grants for undergraduates from economically disadvantaged families with incomes of $50,000 or less.

If nothing else, these developments in student aid reflect the growing dispersion in wealth among the nation's top colleges and universities. In the face of Harvard or Princeton's opulence -- each school boasts more than a million dollars of endowment per student, there is no way that Cornell could ever hope to compete in the student aid game while at the same time making the required investments in its faculty, buildings, and research that are necessary to maintain Cornell's position as a research university of international importance.

David Skorton has been brought to Ithaca with much fanfare as a proven fundraiser, but even if the University's current capital campaign is a success, it would be nearly impossible to match the Harvards of the world in terms of the financial aid that we offer our undergraduates. Still, it would be nice if some of the proceeds of the upcoming capital campaign would be used to subsidize undergraduate education for those students that need the help, and not all into the Life Sciences initiative.

Of course, it is worth mentioning that it is relatively cheap to provide high-levels of grant aid to low-income students if you don't have a lot of them, and Cornell has four times as many low-income students as Harvard does. One wonders if these changing financial aid policies will mean any real difference in the amount of socio-economic diversity at these colleges.

Matthew Nagowski | April 04, 2006 (#)

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