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May 2006

Should Cornell Be Feeding Feral Cats?

An interesting lawsuit was recently filed by a former Cornell employee who claims he was fired for feeding feral cats while working at a Cornell barn. It's a curious little story, and as the plaintiff freely admits, a long-shot:

A cat-loving former farmhand at Cornell University has filed a $20 million lawsuit against the Ivy League school for firing him - because he refused to stop feeding a pack of feral felines that hung around the dairy barn. John Beck claims he cared for about 20 cats at the 2,600-acre Animal Science Teaching and Research Center in upstate Harford while working a weekend graveyard shift for about nine months prior to his firing in August 2003. It was at that time, Beck claims, that he rebuffed repeated orders from the farm's supervisor to stop feeding the cats - using his own money to buy no-name kitty kibble and even once slipping them leftover pizza crusts he found in the center lunchroom.

Matthew Nagowski | May 31, 2006 (#)

Cutting the Grass

I was able to make the pilgrimage back to Ithaca this weekend for the University’s 138th Commencement. As anybody who has ever experienced a commencement ceremony in Ithaca before can attest, the weekend brought out the best of all Cornell has to offer. The doctoral gowns were as impressive as always, the Glee Club and Chorus performed beautifully, President Rawlings’s speech on Cornell’s historical role in forming lifelong bonds between professors and students was timeless, and the blue sky and 85 degree weather left little else to be desired. And the weekend ended in perhaps the only fitting way: with a leisurely swim in Fall Creek below the suspension bridge followed with a night cap (or two or three) at the Chapter House.

That is, all was in fine form at the University except for one thing – many parts of the University did not appear to have its grass cut recently, which struck me as quite odd. The flowers, landscaping, and gardening looked beautiful as always, but dandelions and unkempt grass were to be found across the Slope and the Arts Quad. With so many wallet-opening parents and alumni/ae on campus this past weekend, wasn’t this a bit tactless of the university administration? A little bit akin to leaving one’s dirty laundry lying around the house when you have invited guests over…

Matthew Nagowski | May 30, 2006 (#)

No Surprise There

This article in Editor & Publisher not only reveals the results of the Doonesbury poll (MIT cleaned up with 48%, RIT came in second with 32%, and Cornell languished last, with a measly 19%), but clarifies what I'd suspected: Those geeky pranksters at MIT hacked their way to glory, at least until the Slate web folks caught on.

This of course begs the question: Why didn't Cornellians see it necessary to cheat their way to comic-strip infamy? Is it because we have lives? Maybe, but I don't see Cornell engineers having significantly more free time than MIT students. (Or RIT, which also mounted an online hack campaign.) Is it because we don't care as much about our funny-page fate? No. Judging by the alumni office's campaign and the 10,000 e-mails I received urging me to vote (again), Cornell seems to have taken the strip more seriously than either of its competitors, probably because of our image-infused perspective and the perception that we had more riding on a victory. Are Cornell students busier, less competent, or just lazy? Some of the cited excuses, from the Doonesbury page:

Cornell blogage shows that students there were watching the fray ("Me thinks the site is being bombarded by a script war between Troy and Cambridge..."), but a higher, or more urgent, course was taken. ("We're at a disadvantage, because we've got finals now and presumably no one has the free time to write a Cornell spamming script.") The Cornell alumni office had early-on taken an above-board interest, alerting alums to the situation and urging them to vote, but this effort did not bring Cornellians to the poll in numbers sufficient for Big Red to catch up. "We're obviously not trying hard enough to cheat," lamented a dismayed blogger. However, students and alums managed to post many passionate, articulate, humorous, and convincing posts on our Blowback page, all making the case that Alex should head to Ithaca. In acknowledgement of this impressive and moving effort, the Doonesbury Town Hall is pleased to award Cornell the Doonesbury Straw Poll Congeniality Award.

I would conduct a poll to find out the real reason, but I'd rather wallow in the blow to my self-esteem this loss has caused me.

Andy Guess | May 27, 2006 (#) (1)

New VP For Alumni Affairs Announced

In yet another clear sign that Cornell University's strategic goals over the coming years are going to be life sciences, life sciences, and yet more life sciences, the University announced today that it is hiring Charles D. Phlegar as its new Vice-President for Alumni Affairs and Development. Phlegar is currently the Interim Vice-President of Alumni Affairs and Development at The Johns Hopkins University, an institution certainly not unknown for its medical and life sciences research.

Some might say that Phlegar's hiring brings the Lehman saga to a close: The resignation of the former Vice-President for Alumni Affairs and Development, the much respected Igne Riechenbach, was one of the first signs that all was not well in Day Hall last spring. Richenbach since accepted the top development position at Yale.

Anyways, the Cornell News Service isn't running the story of Phlegar's appointment yet, but the following was sent out across Cornell's Mid-Atlantic office alumni list serve today:

We are delighted Charlie Phlegar will be coming to Cornell," said Cornell President-elect Dr. David Skorton. "His savvy and broad experience will be a great benefit for the university at this important time. His ongoing successes and leadership in development coordination and campaign fund-raising, along with his notable record of fostering collaboration between academic and alumni development units gives him a strong base for success here at Cornell, as the university looks forward to a new capital campaign...

Phlegar, a native of Virginia, will come to Cornell after serving as Johns Hopkins University's interim vice president for development and alumni relations since early 2006. In 2005, Phlegar was promoted from associate vice president overseeing all non-medicine fundraising and medicine central operations to senior associate vice president for development and alumni relations, in recognition of his strong contributions to the leadership of the division and to the new capital campaign. That $2 billion campaign, which began in July 2000, has now yielded $2.2 billion.
While I know that Skorton, Phlegar, and the trustees are going to be understandably concerned about securing the big money donations to build up the life sciences initiative, I hope that Phlegar doesn't forget about the role of the less than wealthy donors.

For one, he should take immediate steps to allow the indepedentally operated Cornell Alumni Magazine be sent for free to all Cornell alums that want a subscription.

Such a small (and relatively cheap) gesture could reap enormous dividends for the University: Not only would it create a happier, more content alumni base that would be more connected with their alma mater, but if 100,000 extra living alums all donated an average of $10,000 to the University over their lifetime as a result of such an initiative, that would add an extra billion dollars to the University's coffers -- something that the University will need if it wants to do more than just focus on the life sciences.

Matthew Nagowski | May 23, 2006 (#)

Unmasking the Big Red Tape

Elliot Back has posted an interesting and somewhat misleading article on his blog about what Cornellians affectionately refer to as the "Big Red Tape" -- what he defines as Cornell's "hasslesome adherence to bloated policy and procedure."

Before addressing the overall premise of the article, I wanted to point out one blatant error in Elliott's post -- his claim that "other colleges’ endowments (are) skyrocketing and Cornell University’s (is) slowly rising. Quite simply, this is not true. In 2005, of the top 20 endowments in the nation, Cornell ranked fifth in terms of endowment growth. Moreover, over the past ten years, Cornell's endowment rank among private institutions has only slid from 13th from 15th -- a dip nonetheless, but hardly suggesting that other universities' endowments have "skyrocketed" past Cornell's.

As for Cornell's alleged "red tape", it should be taken as granted that Cornell is a large and complex organization serving many diverse needs and aims, and it comes with its share of bureaucratic hang-ups and processes to improve upon. But, quite frankly, with so many different colleges and administrative units, I am amazed that Cornell is able to work as effectively as it does. Student service offices on the Hill go to great aims to cater to students needs, and are often responsive to unique requests; nearly all professors are efficient in their grading and dealing with academic matters; cross-registering for classes across different colleges is ridiculously easy; and every year, without hitch, the campus magically transforms itself into feeling like a lush country club for Commencement and Reunion.

What are Elliott's gripes then?

Matthew Nagowski | May 23, 2006 (#)

Marriage, Dear Uncle Ezra Style

Too cute:

My girlfriend is obsessed with Ask Uncle Ezra. She reads you first thing in the morning every Tuesday and Thursday, and always reads the fun ones aloud (she loved the one with the dude whose girlfriend who said the North Campus-Collegetown relationship was long-distance, because we had to deal with that when we were juniors. It's harder than you think!)

Anyway, I have a question that you can't answer, Ezra. Since by now I've provided enough details that she knows who she is, I want to know if she will marry me. If she opens the bottom right drawer on the computer desk, and looks under my old Physics 410 lab reports, she will find a ring. It's been there since January, and I've been working up the nerve to ask.
I wonder if she said yes, and if they are graduating seniors. If so, I wish the love-birds all of my best upon their graduation and the commencement of their life together.

Matthew Nagowski | May 21, 2006 (#)

Diversity Costs Money

Apparently Robert Harris Jr., Cornell vice provost for diversity and faculty development, is getting ready to release a 'diversity report' that will position the University for further staff, faculty, and student development along diverse lines. The Chronicle has a rather candid article on the report and its aims. One select passage states:

Cornell champions its needs-blind admissions policy. But it faces a major challenge in how to compete with schools that offer merit or athletic scholarships -- Cornell doesn't -- as well as how to compete with such universities as Harvard, Princeton and Yale, which offer free tuition with no loans attached for students whose family incomes are below a certain level. Cornell offers many need-based scholarships, including free tuition, but loans are usually part of the package, Harris said.
I doubt Cornell would ever be able to compete with some of the richer schools in this regard -- some of these schools wield endowments of over $1 million per student, while Cornell barely scrapes together an endowment of $300,000 per student -- not to mention the fact that these richer schools have a lot less poor kids that they need to accomodate, so of course they can afford it.

Meanwhile, Harvard's Crimson reports:
Eighty percent of students admitted to the Class of 2010 will matriculate at the College next year, giving Harvard its highest yield in over a quarter century, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 said yesterday.

Fitzsimmons attributed the high yield primarily to the expanded Harvard Financial Aid Initiative (HFAI), which this year made Harvard free to all students whose parents earn less than $60,000 a year, up from a previous annual salary of $40,000.

Matthew Nagowski | May 17, 2006 (#)

Ian Alberta 1983 - 2006

During his time at Cornell, Ian worked in Cornell Dining and volunteered regularly with such organizations as Habitat for Humanity and the Cayuga Nature Center. He was also a fellow in the Cornell Tradition. An active artist and musician, Ian was a member of Ithaca's Somatic Umbra and worked extensively with the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art and the Sculpture Center of New York City. He graduated from Ithaca High School.

Notes of condolence may be sent to Bill and Sherry Alberta and their daughter, Amber, at 751 Elm Street Extension, Ithaca, NY 14850. In lieu of flowers, Ian's family requested that donations be made to the Cornell Chapter of Habitat for Humanity. The Cornell Tradition will be making a donation in Ian's name. If you would like to contribute and/or volunteer, you can also visit the Cornell Habitat for Humanity website for more information.

Perhaps the death mother like the birth mother
does not desert us but comes to tend
and produce us, to make room for us
and bear us tenderly, considerately,
through the gates, to see us through,
to ease our pains, quell our cries,
to hover over and nestle us, to deliver
us into the greatest, most enduring
peace, all the way past the bother of
beyond the finework of frailty,
the mishmash house of the coming & going,
creation's fringes,
the eddies and curlicues
- ar ammons

Matthew Nagowski | May 16, 2006 (#)

The State of Cornell's Off-Campus Student Housing

In light of the tragic fire and death of Ian Alberta '06 this past weekend, it seems almost inevitable that a discussion of the safety and quality of Cornell's off-campus student housing will arise. Such a discussion should probably take place regardless of whether or not negligence or foul-play (on anybody's part) accompanied this tragedy. (And all information suggests that the fire was accidental and that the landlord, one Mary Ridgeway Tinker, is an upstanding doctor in the Ithaca community.)

Ask any Cornell upperclassmen who has lived off-campus about the state of housing in Collegetown and they will tell you that it leaves a lot to be desired. The Ithaca rental market is full of absentee landlords -- soaking up student's rent checks and enjoying the good life elsewhere -- all while students are living in reproachable conditions. Upon moving into my Collegetown apartment junior year, I quickly discovered that my stove wasn't working, there was a gas leak in the house, there were holes in my mattress, our back door and many of our windows was rotting out, and the porch's railings were ready to collapse. Meanwhile, as the property manager told me, the man who I was sending my monthly checks to was enjoying retirement down in Tampa.

Matthew Nagowski | May 15, 2006 (#)

Mark Zuckerberg in the New Yorker

This week's New Yorker has an in-depth article by John Cassidy on what he labels as "Me Media" and the explosion of Internet sites tailored to creating personalized extensions of the self on the web. Unfortunately, the article is not available online, but the article is so good I would reccomend that you pick the issue up at the news stand.

Not suprisingly, the article revolves around facebook.com and its now-infamous creator -- Mark Zuckerberg. The article provides detailed insights into the company and the student that started it. While Cassidy does his fair part in triumphing Zuckerberg as boy-genius and correctly credits Zuckerberg's little project for catalyzing substantial changes in the way that college students socialize, he also isn't afraid to hit some hard punches in some of the places that people have always been curious about -- like how the website is dealing with potential market saturation and with user privacy issues, as well as the lawsuit alleging that Zuckerberg broke a contract with a rival project before forging ahead with his own site where he would be in charge. A very good read, all in all, and Cornell is even mentioned a couple of times in the article.

Of course, this is all even more interesting to me because in my past life as a student I had some more formal interaction with the website and its creator.

Matthew Nagowski | May 11, 2006 (#)

Self-Segregation Re-examined

Matt's last post touches on an interesting tension within the anti-program house camp. (I count myself as a member, despite having lived in one for two years.) Most acknowledge that self-segregation tends to happen naturally on a college campus but still advocate for policy changes like randomized freshman housing. But if the former is assumed to be true, the latter won't improve anything. Right? Therefore, the status quo is acceptable.

I think that much of what the Facebook study unearthed was the operation of Nobel Prize-winning economist Thomas Schelling's segregation model, which proved that even the slightest preferences toward interacting with people of the same race (or gender, or smoking preference, etc.) can drive individual living patterns that ultimately result in highly segregated arrangements...

Andy Guess | May 06, 2006 (#) (0)

Is Self-Segregation Inevitable?

My employer graciously paid for me to attend the annual Society of Labor Economists meetings this weekend, and today was busy with many seminars, poster sessions, and heavily detailed discussion about statistical techniques. Among other things addressed, interesting topics discussed included the role of nuns in encouraging fertility, the deceleration of female entry into the workforce, why fat kids will never exhibit good leadership abilities, and the use of SAT data to proxy for secondary school quality.

But one of the sessions that I attended today stood out as particularly relevant to a perennial policy discussion that takes place at Cornell: campus diversity and the self-segregation of students.

Matthew Nagowski | May 05, 2006 (#)

That'll Be $35, Please

Much has been said about Cornell's treatment of alumni, especially recent graduates. I was able to witness this treatment first-hand recently when I attended a gathering of Washington-area Cornellians at the University Club, dubbed a "pre-reunion" event.

Friends and I dressed up in our best suits, figuring that we'd probably be the youngest ones there. (We were.) But we figured that the $35 -- yes, $35 -- fee would surely be waived for recent, unemployed grads who just wanted to meet a few alums and maybe collect a few business cards. We even reasoned that we could skip the cash bar -- yes, cash bar -- and head straight for the free cheese and crackers.

My roommate was able to negotiate an understanding with one of the organizers, who seemed embarrassed to have to ask us for any money at all. She told us to go inside, and that she'd catch up with us later. Toward the end of the event, she found me and whispered uncomfortably, "$15 should be enough." To test her resolve, I produced $14 and made a show of trying to borrow a dollar from one of my friends. She didn't budge.

Fifteen dollars, and two lousy business cards. If they're trying to put me in the mood to donate later on, when I actually have money, they're taking the wrong approach. I've already shelled out $10 for a membership to the Cornell Club in Washington, which organized the event, and even more for a magazine subscription that should be subsidized. Cornell should seek to foster pride, not resentment, in its (future) alumni benefactors.

Andy Guess | May 03, 2006 (#) (0)

Matching Perception With Reality

The ongoing discussion about Cornell's Image Committee (of which I'm a member) seems to me a bit hypocritical. On the one hand, there are those who believe the group's mission represents a profound lack of self-esteem and Harvard envy. On the other are those who swear by rankings as absolute bearers of truth. Isn't there a more approachable way to look at the issue?

As an oft-repeated quote from the recent Times story puts it, our self-worth is intimately tied to Cornell's U.S. News ranking. Please. You don't have to believe that in order to admit that there's a little surge of pride every time Cornell gets recognition in the press, and a little tinge of disappointment every time it screws up in the public eye. We know we get a top-notch education, but we wish our public perception matched what we know to be true.

When I applied to college, I bought a book of 10 Real SATs and practiced till I was happy with my score. I made sure I took the right SAT IIs and AP courses, crafted my essay, and generally created an outward image that I hoped represented the best of who I was, what I wanted the admissions committees to see. In turn, that's what everyone else does when they apply to a prestigious college, and lately, they go much further. Students -- even some who criticize efforts like Cornell's Image Committee -- regularly take rigorous SAT courses, hire firms to rewrite their essays, and use consultants to tailor their applications. As recent reports have suggested, this is snowballing into an admissions climate in which applying to 15 or 20 schools is becoming less and less unusual.

If that's the situation you're stuck in, however unfair, you join the fray. You don't stand back and say, "My self-worth can't be measured by a test score or a class grade." The same exact principle is at work in university rankings. While schools far inferior to Cornell -- say, a Washington University in St. Louis -- have recently shot up to higher slots, Cornell has in recent years felt content to stay where it is. That only changed with Image's public pressure and President Lehman's commitment to media relations -- but there's more work to do.

The point is not that Cornell could inflate itself to become a Top 5 school. The point is that, with a little more work improving factors that the rankings deem essential, Cornell's own quality as well as its public perception will rise to a point where the two are equivalent. Today, in my estimation, its reputation is far below what it deserves to be.

Andy Guess | May 03, 2006 (#) (0)

Other Recent Posts

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-- Barrier Update: City Approves Nets (DJost)

-- Big Red Cymbal Guy (Nagowski)

-- New York Times Survey on Campus Recruiting is Flawed (KScott)

-- Barrier Update: Legal precedent suggests City of Ithaca will not be held liable for gorge suicide (DJost)

-- Despite MSG Loss, Big Potential for Big Red Hockey (EBilmes)

-- City Council Will Vote on Suicide Nets (DJost)

-- An Encounter on the Upper East Side (Nagowski)

-- Showing Off Your School Spirit (Nagowski)

-- Chipotle Ithaca? (KScott)

-- Cornell at the ING NYC Marathon (KScott)

-- Crossing Over a Fine Line: Commercial Activity on Campus (KScott)

-- Milstein's Downfall (Nagowski)

-- Can any Cornell-associated organization really be independent of the University? (Nagowski)

-- Slope Media Revisited (EBilmes)

-- Slope Media Group Approved for Byline Funding (KScott)

-- Occupy AEM? (KScott)

-- New campus pub to be good for both Greeks and non-Greeks (Nagowski)

-- Gagging the Election (Nagowski)

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