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July 2006

Youthcast Hits Up Cornell

I want to say one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening? Podcasts. Podcasts, people, podcasts! Invest in podcasts: they're the wave of the future. Podcasts, I tell you!

I literally just murdered the most famous film quote of the 1960s, but my lack of tact is surely fodder for another post, or another blog altogether. What my uncalled-for revision alludes to, friends, is the excitement and possibly warranted (or not) confidence in a medium that only just came into its own this past year. Already, though, there are literally millions of these little things teeming around the Internet, bits of sonic wisdom stashed among steaming piles of aural wreckage in the vast online hinterlands. Subscriptions to content that don't involve annoying CDs dumped into your mailbox or postcard-sized ads covering the floor.

All of this is entirely unrelated to my place of daytime employ, naturally.

But not so unrelated to our fair Cornell. One of my periodic duties -- I mean, uh, I stumbled upon this little gem called Youthcast, a podcast hosted by National Public Radio, featuring weekly stories actually reported and hosted by teens. As one can imagine, the results are mixed, but always interesting. (Ah, for the stunning technological wizardry that is the podcast medium! --ed.) The latest episode in this curious little series actually begins with a high school senior opening his acceptance letter to a land-grant institution in upstate New York. (You even hear the envelope ripping. Yep, that sound takes me back ... kind of.) For the next week, you can listen to the episode here, or you can just subscribe to it yourself. I know you want to.

So the story is actually about this student's decisionmaking process over whether to go to Cornell, or to an HBCU, Xavier (which was kind of devastated by Katrina, but that's not mentioned as a factor). The host takes us to the Hill, in fact, and interviews students at Ujamaa. The main dilemma for the prospective student is: Should he go for the Ivy and the name recognition, or a place where mentoring is a priority and the term "minority retention" is irrelevant? One of the people interviewed, incidentally, certainly sounds familiar.

This conflict, surely felt by many other prospective minority freshmen, often seems to me to be a false dilemma. What the story doesn't mention is Cornell's massive support and mentoring apparatus, as well as its relative superiority in -- that phrase again -- minority retention when compared to other Ivies. But what bothers me the most, I guess, is the idea that mentoring and retention are (a) only minority concerns and (b) concerns of all minority students. If Cornell began advertising and directing its support services to all students who needed them -- not just those the administration assumes can't cope -- the result could be a more unified and harmonious student body.

And count this as yet more anecdotal evidence that Cornell has a serious P.R. problem (as I've discussed here). When minority students have to contact each other in order to get the word on the street (Is Cornell minority-friendly?), before Cornell-assigned minority outreach coordinators reach them first, the wrong message has already been sent. Because the most outspoken people are the ones who are going to have a bone to pick. Administrators have to ask themselves: Is Cornell considered friendly to minorities? Friendly to gays? Friendly to [insert group here]? Because the answer will surely affect those cherished minority retention figures further on down the road.

To find out where this particular student decided to go in the end, though, you'll have to listen for yourself.

Andy Guess | July 27, 2006 (#) (0)

MetaEzra is Six Months Old

Frequent readers of MetaEzra will notice that there have been sone general improvements to the site over the last couple of weeks. In particular, the archives have been made more accessible (over on the left-hand sidebar), a new logo has added some much needed color/history to the site, and two (rather stubborn) search features (on the lower right-hand side) are now available to use as well.

Why the improvements? Well, the site recently turned six months old and it was felt that it might be time to take the training wheels off of this experiment. Marc, Andy, and myself have certainly gone a long way from our first couple of posts commenting on the announcement of David Skorton as Cornell's 12th President. And for those of you who are interested in the origins of this site, we refer you to our page describing this project:

As alumni, we realize that Ezra Cornell founded his University with democratic sentiments, and that over time, his university has only obtained the stature that it now enjoys through the concerted efforts of many diverse parties engaging in constructive dialogue with the University. Therefore, this project continues in the tradition of building and strengthening our beloved alma mater so that it may endure in its mission of providing instruction to any person in any study.

With little to no publicity, the site has quickly gained a pretty consistent following, and many of you have written to us to add your comments, suggestions, and encouragement. Please don't hesitate to ever get in touch!

We might add that we are always interested in recruiting additional members to the team, especially to cover areas of Cornell and higher education that the current staff may not have as much background in (e.g. athletics, minority affairs, graduate education, alumni development). The fact that all three of us are also young, white and male is also somewhat disconcerting. Certainly there has to be some female/minority/older Cornell alumni out there that would be interested in this project as well.

If you are interested in writing for this site or have any other concerns or comments, please be sure to send us an email!

Matthew Nagowski | July 21, 2006 (#)

Harvard to Expand Engineering Program

For all of Cornell’s myriad strong points, the College of Engineering probably stands out as the University’s shining star. It offers one of the best all-around undergraduate engineering educations in the country, and is known worldwide for both its level of excellence and preparedness of its graduates.

Moreover, Cornell’s engineering program has always proven to be a source of pride for Cornellians. For all that students from other schools might jeer that Cornell is a ‘trade school’ we know that students who were serious about engineering would choose Cornell over some fancy- liberal arts education any day.

But now Harvard is announcing that it is going to dedicate some of its considerable resources to developing its engineering program, in part to compete with some unknown vocational school down the street from it. In the process, it is upgrading its ‘division’ of engineering and applied sciences to a full-fledged ‘school’ and will be hiring 30 new faculty members.

Most interestingly, in a bid to develop well-rounded engineers, Harvard’s initiative will be developed within its liberal arts program, and the new school will function as a school ‘within’ the larger Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

While Cornell has considerable momentum in its engineering programs, and its investments in the nanosciences are already starting to play out nicely, it needs to be mindful of its competitors for top engineering undergraduates. It will be interesting to see how Harvard’s initiative may change the dynamic of undergraduate engineering programs in the coming decade.

Matthew Nagowski | July 19, 2006 (#)

Looking Eastward

The University has unveiled a new website for its master plan that will outline growth on the Ithaca campus over the next twenty five years. While the site does not yet feature a lot of substantial information, it does have a link to the page of the University's transporation impact study, which will be conducted in tandem with the development of the master plan.

One interesting aspect of the site is the topographic map of the campus featured prominently on the site's main page. Curiously, the map is centered not above the spiritual center of the campus -- the Arts Quad -- but rather above the Vet School and the open areas of Game Fame Road. Might this give us some insight as to where the University is planning on expanding?

I've previously posted about the conundrum facing the university as it plans for the new Gates Hall -- it has no large building area on central campus even though the University wishes to place it in "close proximity to the Colleges of Engineering and Arts and Sciences and the new Life Sciences Building." This forces the University to look ever eastward when it looks for new areas suitable for building.

Which brings mention to this Ithaca Journal article discussing the new building. It claims that locations under consideration include "the old polo grounds below the Kite Hill area... and the far end of the university orchards on Route 366." Those areas aren't exactly in close proximity to either Arts and Sciences or Engineering. Combine this with the fact that Cornell is planning for a whole "information campus" next to Gates Hall complete with "a complex of linked buildings integrated with a variety of green spaces and common spaces designed to involve students and provide opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration," and it looks like the only choice the University will have to build these new buildings is eastward, out by the Vet School.

The only question remaining is how are students going to get to their classes on the new 'I-campus'. This is probably where the transporation study comes into play... and MetaEzra has heard rumors that the University is considering building some sort of dedicated people-mover to shuffle students across its increasingly expansive campus. Perhaps this will just involve an expansion of the bus system, but an extensive light-rail system connecting the University with the both downtown Ithaca and the airport would also be pretty cool (if not downright expensive). And here is just one example of how another hilly campus has managed its transportation woes. Personalized Rapid Transit, anyone?

But then again, as loyal Cornell alums, we couldn't imagine future students doing anything other than walking uphill both ways to class, during a blinding snowstorm, in 0 degree weather; only to fail a prelim.

Matthew Nagowski | July 15, 2006 (#)

But Can He Walk the Walk?

Back in January, when the Board of Trustees first announced the appointment of David Skorton as the 12th president of Cornell University, I had a rather… skeptical… response to the news. I was concerned that a growing university commitment to the life sciences would crowd out other endeavors, and that the University’s research mission would begin to eclipse its focus on undergraduate education. I also expressed my disappointment in the fact that the public face of our very diverse university would be yet another white man.

But since then, Skorton has been able to appease my fears greatly. He’s repeatedly insisted that the University must continue to stress the arts and the humanities, and he has made allusions to the need to position Cornell as more of a force of economic development in Upstate New York. Moreover, he has demonstrated a zealous willingness to interact with undergraduates – most explicitly in the announcement that he will live on North Campus during the first week of classes, while pledging to deal with issues regarding diversity and racial inclusion. And, most importantly, he has appeared as a thoughtful and publicly minded leader that will work to ‘shepherd’ and not ‘coerce’ the University community.

The Ithaca Journal has posted a transcript of its interview with Skorton, where Skorton is able to speak out on many of his views. Although I would suggest reading it in full, here are a couple of highlights…

Matthew Nagowski | July 12, 2006 (#)

Is Ann Coulter ’84 A Plagiarist?

MetaEzra first reported yesterday that people were accusing Ann Coulter—Cornell alum, firebrand conservative, partisan zealot, and wet dream for the male staff of the Cornell American—of plagiarism.

But now that some reports are out that actually document the claims against her, we’re not too certain of the veracity of the claims. The alleged plagiarism seems to me to be more of a prudent rewording. While we'll wait until the verdict is in, here’s one example:

Example: Souter openly proclaimed his support for the 'original intent' in interpreting the Constitution.

Alleged Source: "Souter has declared himself a believer in the strict 'original intent' view of interpreting the Constitution." (Identified by John Barrie/New York Post)

Of course, we should have faith in a fellow Cornell alum to keep things honest—it’s not like we attend a certain nameless school in the Boston region that doesn't know how to play hockey.

But yes, all cheap shots at Harvard aside, Ann Coulter is still an embarrassment to Cornell alumni everywhere.

Matthew Nagowski | July 07, 2006 (#)

Has Anybody Heard Of Communiqué?

I recently learned of the existence of a magazine published by the Division of Alumni Affairs and Development: Communiqué.

The magazine appears to be similar to Harvard’s newly launched ‘The Yard’ in many respects—it is very obviously an in-house organ designed to promote the University, its initiatives, and alumni giving and it stands in direct contrast to the editorially independent (and woefully under-subscribed) Cornell Alumni Magazine. But unlike Harvard’s newly launched venture, it appears that Communiqué has been around for quite some time: It’s currently in its 30th volume.

Unfortunately, Communiqué isn’t for everyone. As the masthead states, ‘Communiqué is distributed to alumni, parents, and friends who support Cornell University.’ But somehow I suspect that rooting for the Carnellian and White when they play in Lynah East does not comprise ‘supporting’ the University.

But the oddest thing is that the magazine is not available on the web. A rather in-depth perusal of both the websites of Alumni Affairs and the University Communication turns up nothing.

This is a shame, because for every fluff article in the publication about how excited some alumni couple is to make a large gift to Cornell, there are also some rather interesting articles, including interviews with top administrators about the direction and scope of our University.

So why wouldn’t the University want to make a great resource available on the web to anyone who is interested? It might just get more alumni donations as a result…If anybody out there reading this might know the answer to this question, feel free to get in touch.

Cornell was built on egalitarian principles. It would be nice if alumni affairs recognized this fact and at least tried to treat all of its alumni with a little bit more respect.

N.B. And what’s with the name? I would think that wealthy-alumni-donor-types would respond more favorably to a bit of Cornelliana, maybe like ‘Cayuga’, ‘Cascadilla’ or ‘The Slope’.

Matthew Nagowski | July 07, 2006 (#)

Cornell and the Student-Aid Arms Race

Elliott Back has posted an interesting link to an online discussion forum that points out that Cornell tends to give out more loan-based aid than other top schools. While I don’t know where the exact numbers that the post refers to are coming from, the assertion is true. And as other institutions have announced plans to only offer grants to their students and phase-out family aid contributions under certain income levels – financial aid considerations are going to increasingly affect the University's competitivenessto in recruiting the top students from across the nation and the globe.

Simply put, Cornell doles out more loan-based aid than any of its peer institutions; in 2004 (the last year for which data is available) the average need-based loan at the eight Ivy League institutions was $3,950 and the average amount of indebtedness upon graduation was $15,716. Cornell stood at $7,958 and $22,200, respectively. The later figure is a better measure of the total payment burden incurred by students because some students take outside loans as well.

So why is Cornell seemingly so frugal in its student aid policies? A combination of institutional characteristics constrains Cornell’s ability to be generous...

Matthew Nagowski | July 06, 2006 (#)

Other Recent Posts

-- WSJ: Cornell Wins NYC Tech Campus Bid (EBilmes)

-- 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)

-- The Changing Structure of Rush Week (Nagowski)

-- Ivy League Humility in the Midwest (EBilmes)

-- Of Median Grades and Economics Minors (Nagowski)

-- Homecoming Recap (Nagowski)

-- My Cornell Bookshelf (Nagowski)

-- The Sun's Opinion Section Has Suddenly Gotten Good (Nagowski)

-- Remembering the 11th (Nagowski)

-- Cornellian Tapped as Top Economic Advisor (Nagowski)

-- Cutting Pledging, and the Good Which Comes With It (EBilmes)

-- Why Cornell Should Not Close Fall Creek Gorge (Nagowski)

-- Welcome to the Class of 2015 (Nagowski)