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October 2006




How ĎFar Aboveí is the Capital Campaign?

With people complaining about the ďfiscal arroganceĒ of capital campaigns for already fabulously wealthy institutions, it might help to put Cornellís capital campaign in perspective.

As this table shows, after we control for the size of the student body, Cornellís campaign doesnít seem as atrocious as say... Stanfordís bid to raise $300,000 per student. Cornellís only aiming to raise $200,000 per student. And although the absolute size of Dartmouthís $1.3 billion campaign may be dwarfed Cornellís $4 billion campaign, the Big Green is actually seeking to raise more money per student (and presumably per alumni/ae) than the Big Red.

We can go one step further and see how ambitious the campaign is relative to a universityís already established wealth. This is where Cornellís campaign becomes more assertive: Whereas Stanford is seeking to raise 28% of its current wealth (as measured by endowment per student ) through its capital campaign, Cornell is essentially trying to double its wealth in its campaign.

Keep in mind that these are all back of the envelope calculations, and not all of the funds for the capital campaign will go into a schoolís endowment. A lot of Cornellís campaign will be going into the West Campus houses, Milstein Hall, the Life Sciences Building, and the new physical sciences building, just to name a few. And of course, only $2.7 billion will find its way back to Ithacaís campus. The rest will be for Weill-Cornell.


Matthew Nagowski | October 26, 2006 (#)

Beef Tenderloin and More Loans For Poor Students

So the NYTimes just picked up from the wires an article that pumps Cornell's capital campaign and then some. It's so positive about the University, it's as if the guys at the Chronicle wrote it themselves.

The lede:

On Friday, 1,000 volunteers and wealthy alumni such as former Citigroup chairman Sanford ''Sandy'' Weill will be back on the main campus in Ithaca, N.Y., for an elaborate dinner. The menu: a salad that includes wild mushrooms and sweet vermouth cheesecake; marinated beef tenderloin; and, a hazelnut Godiva chocolate tart with minted raspberry sauce. Cornell should more than recoup the bill. The festivities are kicking off a campaign to raise $4 billion.

Further quotes that paint Cornell out to be visionary, bold, and confident:

''We have to have transformational gifts,'' says Charles Phlegar, who heads Cornell's fundraising. ''Fifty million, $100 million -- in that range -- and we will certainly have that.''

"'We have a lot of wonderful things to do with the money,'' Skorton said in a telephone interview this week. Of the $4 billion target, he said: ''I hope we're going to blow right by that.''

Further Skorton: ''Philanthropy should be spread around. But we should get our share because we're one of the places that's really turning the crank and changing the world.''

But then there is this rather odd quote by Skorton, saying that even with all of the dough the University will raise, the University "hopes the school will someday replace loans entirely with grants for low-income students, but can't promise that even with this $4 billion."

The University can't promise something that would only cost $17 million dollars a year? I find that hard to believe. They're raising $640 million for student scholarships... that's a functional revenue stream of $32 million a year, assuming a 5% endowment payout.

This might not affect the big-time donors, but if the University wants to receive smaller donations from the little guys (the type of donors that could turn into big donors a couple of decades later), they might want to consider promising grants to all low-income students.


Matthew Nagowski | October 26, 2006 (#)

The Noisy Phase

I guess it is only appropriate that I received in the mail last night a letter asking me to donate to the Cornell Annual Fund; as of early this morning, 'Far Above: The Campaign for Cornell' has officially entered the noisy phase. The website: campaign.cornell.edu is alive and kicking.

The exact terms of the campaign should be of no surprise to people who have been reading MetaEzra. The University is hoping to raise "more than" four billion dollars, of which one billion is for Weill-Cornell. At first glance, there's not really one surprise that we haven't heard about before -- life sciences, physical sciences, area studies, West Campus, Gates Hall, Milstein Hall, endowed professorships, they are all there.

The University makes its case for a "bold" campaign (isn't that Brown's term?) by stressing three key areas: students ($640 million), faculty ($1.9 billion), and facilities ($1.2 billion). "Unrestricted support" fills in the rest.

There's obviously a lot more to explore. The next five years are going to be a very exciting time on East Hill.

N.B. Coincidentally, farabove.cornell.edu will also re-direct to the campaign's website. Another site, giving.cornell.edu has also been launched. But where is givemyregardstodavy.cornell.edu?


Matthew Nagowski | October 26, 2006 (#)

In Defense of Economists


Thereís been some public outcry lately over a working paper written by Cornell economists that explores whether or not there may be a link between television watching among youth and autism.

It all started with a Slate article that lauded the paper, while stressing what the paper itself said: ďsome other factor may explain what only appears to be a television-autism relationshipĒ. But then Time jumped into the fray, attacking the paper and calling it ďirresponsible.Ē From there, it was just a hop, skip, and a jump until people started writing articles linking the Cornell researchers with a vast conspiracy including the Rockefellers, the Brookings Institution, and Big Pharma. Meanwhile, Elliott Back labeled the study ďtotal BSĒ and called it a ďbad public relations move on Cornellís part.Ē

Even if there is absolutely no link between television and autism, the study certainly doesnít deserve to be called the names it has been called. That Cornell professors are using the tools of their trade in researching possible causes for a societal epidemic and submitting their work for peer review is inherently a good thingóboth for Cornell and humanity.

Let's remind ourselves of one simple fact: the Cornell professors only conclude by saying that their findings may warrant further research on the subject:

Although our findings are consistent with our hypothesis, we do not believe our findings represent definitive evidence for our hypothesis. We believe the only way to establish definitively whether or not early childhood television watching is a trigger for autism is to more directly test the hypothesis.

Isnít that what any scientifically-minded research should be all about?


Matthew Nagowski | October 25, 2006 (#)

Rankings That Matter

Itís important to note that the University doesnít pay close attention to silly rankings like those that U.S. News or Time puts out. Rather, what really gets provosts excited at night are the National Research Councilís (NRC) rankings of research program quality, which is done every decade or so. The last ranking was released in 1995, and the next set will be completed in 2007.

How did Cornell stack up in the 1995 NRC rankings? Pretty damn well. It was considered to be the best land-grant institution in the country, and across all 41 research program categories in which a school could be ranked, it ranked fourth. And after adjusting for the fact that certain institutions went unranked for certain research programs, Cornell ranked ninth.

Most importantly for these rankings, a strict ordinal ranking system will not be used. Rather programs will be ranked in "bands of quality". After all, there isn't much difference in being 12th or 14th, but there is a difference between being 5th and 25th, especially for research programs.

The University is aiming to rank in the top ten for thirty separate disciplines by 2005. This might be easy to do for the ever-strong humanities and physical science programs, but I suspect that the University has its work cut out for itself in the social sciencesÖ

And for those of you who might think that these rankings are less important than the U.S. News Ranking, think again. The NRC rankings are very important in terms of obtaining research grants for faculty and departments, as well as for improving the reputation of the institution among its peers. And last time I checked, both financial resources and peer evaluations for very important for the U.S. News game, not that I think that those rankings are worthwhile.


Matthew Nagowski | October 20, 2006 (#)

The Cornell Blogosphere

There's a new blog on Cornell's campus that actually covers more than a student's personal life: Corneconomics. It's written by a first year student in Cornell's graduate economics program. Intelligent, anonymous, and snarky, the blog has covered a range of topics, including grade inflation among the undergraduates. It's pretty entertaining. In a recent post, "Killah Economist" waxes all philosophical about the dearth of charismatic professors on campus.

Thus is is the death of romanticism in the general public that leaves the university, like the military, less trusted than perhaps it was one hundred years ago. I guess I can believe that. It seems the romanticism is dying amongst the professorate, as well. From our perspective at corneconomics, where professors once styled themselves as gods of truth and understanding, now they style themselves simply as gods, their material no longer represents anything greater. Perhaps they feel defeated by deconstructivism.

Meanwhile, Elliott Back has announced that he finds himself increasingly unconnected to Cornell's campus, and is looking for other people to "step up" to the Cornell blogging scene as he "steps down".

I've always wondered why there haven't been more Cornell-centric blogs covering Cornell news and events. The campus is vast, and there is never a lack of things to talk about. At the very least, it would seem like a perfect outlet for something like the Cornell American. Who's up for it?


Matthew Nagowski | October 19, 2006 (#)

Far Above: The Campaign for Cornell

Cornell's capital campaign has unofficially entered its "noisy" phase.

As of early this morning, the Chronicle is running an interview with Vice President of Development Charlie Phlegar that functionally announces Cornell's much anticipated capital campaign.

Of course, the numbers for the campaign should be of no suprise for loyal readers of MetaEzra. We previously reported that the campaign would total $4 billion, with $3 billion for the Ithaca campus.

Phlegar doesn't offer much in terms of specifics, but he does run through the usual laundry list of University priorities. West Campus is not completely paid for. A new physical sciences building is still in the works. The life science initiative still has a long way to go. More money is needed to recruit and retain the very best faculty. And the need for undergraduate student aid has never been more pressing.

I imagine more specifics will be coming out very soon, once campaign.cornell.edu is launched.

Update: The logo used in the Chronicle story is not the official logo to be used by the Development office in the campaign. It's just a logo that the Cornell News Service developed for their own purposes. Any resemblance to it and the Big Red Box is strictly coincidental.


Matthew Nagowski | October 19, 2006 (#)

Whither Cornell's Faculty?

Rob Fishman has another excellent column in today's Daily Sun on faculty retirement, faculty salaries, and faculty attrition -- particularly in the social sciences. While Cornell has made some recent strides in improving faculty pay, it still lacks the financial resources to keep the future Carl Beckers and Walter LeFebers from heading elsewhere. For any alum wondering why the upcoming capital campaign will be so crucial the University's long-term success, Rob offers some sobering facts:

Some telling statistics come from the University's Financial Plan. For the 1985-86 school year, 16 institutions paid higher average salaries to professors than those meted out by Cornell. On average, Stanford paid $52,577, while Cornell offered $45,631 to endowed professors.

By 1995, we had fallen three spots in the rankings, and schools such as Rutgers, Northwestern and NYU were offering packages of up to $10,000 more per year than Cornell's wages. CalTech paid average salaries of $88,827 ‚ÄĒ close to $20,000 more than the average Cornell professor was earning.

Currently, we're the 12th ranked school in pay, offering an average salary of $115,414. Still, some of our finest professors, such as Timothy J. Vogelsang, who left our economics department last year for Michigan State University, have chosen to relocate because of financial concerns.

"There was a salary difference, and it was a factor I could not ignore because of my family,"Ě Vogelsang wrote in an e-mail message, noting that Michigan State also provided more research funds. Aside from pay, he said that he was very content with Cornell, and had salaries been close, it would have been a difficult choice. In Volgensang's case, Cornell could not compete with a public state school to retain one of its most popular professors, and tha's a shame.

Speaking as somebody who had Vogelsang as a professor for an econometrics class, he represented the very best of Cornell teaching. He was the type of professor that made hard, challenging material fun and exciting, and his class stood out among many other very good courses. He was also a phenomenal mentor to undergraduates, his door always open to stop in and chat.

To be fair, Vogelsang probably had other reasons to leave Cornell. Namely, some of the world's best econometricians are at Michigan State. But conveniently, Michigan State lists how much Cornell would have had to pay Vogelsang to keep him on the hill: $225,000 a year as the Frederick S. Addy Distinguished
Chair of Economics.


Matthew Nagowski | October 18, 2006 (#)

Where's Our Free Alumni Magazine?

Inside HigherEd recently is running an interesting story on the growing endowment arms race taking place at research universities around the country:

More mega-campaigns are on the way: Cornell University will announce one within weeks, the University of Pennsylvania in a year, and Harvard University some time after it picks a new president. People familiar with early planning for Harvardís campaign expect its goal to top $5 billion.

It includes an interesting antecdote on the quantity and size of gifts these colleges plan on receiving:
At the University of Virginia, Bob Sweeney, senior vice president for development and public affairs, said that he expects a total of 500,000 gifts from about 175,000 donors during the course of the campaign. The campaignís plan to reach its targets is based on generating more than 600 gifts of at least $1 million. And of those 600 gifts, 133 will have to be in excess of $5 million and 2 in excess of $100 million. Looking broadly, he predicted that about 1,500 gifts of at least $100,000 will generate 90 percent of the campaignís dollars.
So Cornell should only be cozying up with the rich and famous, and not little ol' me who can only afford to donate $50 bucks back to the Hill, lest I encroach on my beer money. Right?

Wrong:

John Lippincott, president of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education says: ďWhat you canít know is who that 10 percent [of major donors] is going to be from the recent graduating classes, and if you are not stewarding the alumni who are out five years and encouraging them to make those $25 gifts, you are less likely to see them emergeĒ later as major donors, should they become wealthy.

If you invest in the small-time donors today, they will turn into the big time donors of tomorrow. But only if they have reason to like you.

A free magazine would be a small gesture and a noble start.


Matthew Nagowski | October 17, 2006 (#)

University Goals: Cornell 2015

With the upcoming capital campaign and seemingly mammoth amount of building taking place on Cornellís campus these days, itís interesting to place Cornellís activities within the context of its long-run objectives. As the capital campaign escalates into high-gear, I imagine that we will be hearing a lot more about these goals in the near-future.

Specifically, the administration and the Board of Trustees are targeting the following goals:

- To rank in the top ten in faculty and program quality in 30 fields and every professional school.
- To be the best research university for undergraduate education.
- To make transformative contributions in interdisciplinary areas of critical social importance.
- To be the land grant institution for the world.
All are noble and important goals, and capture the mission of Ezraís founding principles. Of the above, the University is probably closest to reaching the first and the last, and it still needs to work to achieve the middle two goals.

Mandating a research project of every student before she graduates, decreasing class sizes, and strengthening the increasingly inter-disciplinary social sciences could go a long way to achieving the middle two goals.

How will Cornell achieve these goals? Well, it needs more money of course. So in the upcoming capital campaign expect to hear the following coming from Cornellís fundraisers:

- Cornellís founding vision as a university where ďany person can find instruction in any studyĒ. (Especially important for financial aid dollars.)
- Cornellís unique identity as a private university with a public mission. (Stressed for expanding the Universityís outreach and research.)
- Cornellís core academic values, strengths, and history of openness and innovation.
I also expect that we will be hearing more about Lehmanís three transformative goals for the University: Wisdom in the age of digital information. Life in the age of the genome. Sustainability in the age of development.

The only thing remaining is to ask what the upcoming campaign will be called. Brown chose to be Boldly Brown, and UVa echoes Thomas Jefferson in theirs, claiming: Knowledge is power. Any guesses for Cornellís?


Matthew Nagowski | October 10, 2006 (#)

The Final Word on Rankings

Iíve received some emails tonight in response to my applauding of Rob Fishmanís article. For those who missed it, Fishmanís article was critical of those who stress out about college rankings. The emails mostly contend that Cornell is a lot better school than Reed, and therefore Cornell shouldnít try to be like Reed and needs to worry about the rankings.

But Fishman never suggested that Cornell should emulate Reed College. In fact, he suggested the opposite. What Fishman argued is that all universities should fulfill their educational mission in the way that is best suited for them. Such an action is what Reed College has done, and so in Cornellís case, this would necessarily involve paying careful attention to what's best for Cornell in fulfilling Ezra's founding mission, and not necessarily doing what is best in the eyes of any given rankings system. Moreover, this is what the University's leadership has continually strived to do since 1865.


Matthew Nagowski | October 05, 2006 (#)

Rob Fishman in the Cornell Daily Sun

Rob Fishman '08 has an excellent column in todayís Daily Sun criticizing the U.S. News rankings and those who consistently point them. He maintains:

The rankings seek to drive a wedge between Ezra Cornellís credo and David Skortonís administration, when, in truth, the two should uphold the same mission.
Exactly.

Unfortunately, Fishmanís column was not available online this morning. When you tried to access his column through the Daily Sunís website, one received only an ďaccess deniedĒ error message.

Of course this is not a one time incident. That Cornell University has literally hundreds of some of the smartest computer and information science students in the country, and yet the student-run paper has been continuously plagued with website problems is a major embarrassment not only to the Daily Sun, but also to the University, its students, and its alumni.

Update: The Sun has fixed the problem, and now all can enjoy Fishman's piece.


Matthew Nagowski | October 04, 2006 (#)

Does Lynah East Need a Ticket Line?

Like any faithful Cornell alum living in the Boston area, I eagerly anticipated this morning. Why? Tickets for the annual Harvard-Cornell Men's Hockey match up at Lynah East were supposed to go on sale this morning. I even wore my big red underwear for good luck last night.

But now the ticketing website does not appear to be functional -- I can't even purchase tickets for the Harvard-Yale game, and it's certain that nobody would want to see that.

Rumors are flying over at eLynah: Some say that all the tickets were already bought out by the Cornell Club of Boston, others report that the website has crashed (which seems correct if I can't buy any tickets to any game), and still others say that they are only taking phone orders.

All the more proof that Harvard Hockey Sucks.

UPDATE: I just got through on the phone, and was able to secure four tickets in the Harvard student section (what could be more fun than that?) The gentleman on the phone, who made sure to tell me that he didn't go to Harvard, confirmed that the website is not functioning (it got "slammed" at 10AM), and that there were 100 people (mostly Boston College students I assume, lest the Lynah Faithful made the six hour trek to do their time in yet another line) waiting at the ticket office when it opened in the morning. The Cornell game will be sold out by noon.


Matthew Nagowski | October 04, 2006 (#)

Undergrads Need Not Apply

So a couple of years ago, Hunter Rawlings declared that he would make Cornell the best research university for undergraduate education in the country. People oohhed and ahhed over it, and it even got mentioned in such things as the Fiske guide.

President Skorton re-asserted this ideal in his inaugural address this September, in a provocative question asking whether or not all Cornell graduates should complete a research project before graduating. A very noble and worthwhile goal, I would add.

But Skorton mentioned something else in his speech--the creation of the Lehman Fund to foster substantive interaction between Cornell graduate students and professors and institutions of higher education in China.

To be fair, it is a very exciting and gracious gesture to the man who sought to make Cornell the "transnational university" of the future. But oddly enough, though, undergraduates cannot be the receipient of these funds... even though the university's mission is explicity geared towards research and the undergraduate experience. So why isn't the Jeffrey Sean Lehman fund for undergraduates as well?


Matthew Nagowski | October 03, 2006 (#)

Lehman: Show Us The Love!

The Daily Sun today is running an interview with former President Lehman. While the Sun doesn't even bother to ask whether or not he will be teaching at Cornell Law School (for what it is worth, the reigstrar doesn't have any classes listed for him), they do confirm that he is moving to New York City:

Sun: With all this traveling, where are you based out of now?


Lehman: Well we're moving from Washington to New York. As you reported, Cathy (sic) has accepted a position at Columbia and so we've just gotten an apartment up there.
Of course, the Sun never reported that Kathy Okun got a job at Columbia. That was us. What the Sun did report was that we reported that Kathy had taken a job with Columbia. This, of course, was after we had confirmed the news again.

So we're frankly dissapointed that Lehman didn't give us a shout out. We can at least spell his wife's name right...

Update:The Sun's online article is now spelling Kathy Okun's name correctly. What would they do without us?


Matthew Nagowski | October 03, 2006 (#)


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