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March 2007

Blogging From South Hill

There's a welcome addition in the Ithaca blogosphere. Sharp witted and insightful, the Ithacan's College Ave. has been commenting on the Atkind fiasco, academic freedom, the narcissism of today's college students, and Cuomo's lawsuit against college loan originators, among other topics, with poise and humor.

The website is run by Ithaca College senior Matt Quintanilla, and demonstrates what The Sun could be doing with its web presence. I for one hope that Quintanilla keeps on blogging after he graduates. And maybe his blog will help foster more Ithaca-Cornell interaction, something that could definitely be improved.

Matthew Nagowski | March 27, 2007 (#)

Hum Ec Dean Tapped as Provost of Temple

Lisa Staino-Colco PhD '81, current Dean of Cornell's College of Human Ecology, has been selected to be the chief academic officer of Temple University.

Staino-Cocio has been with Cornell since 1983 in various capacities. She has been a professor of professor in the fields of surgery, dermatology, cell biology, and genetics at Weill Cornell, as well vice provost for external affairs at the medical school.

As dean of one of Cornell's four state-funded colleges, Staiano-Coico oversaw a $70 million budget, more than 1,400 students, and a $23 million annual research program.

In a prepared statement, (the President of Temple) lauded Staiano-Coico's experience as an administrator, researcher and teacher.

"Yet what has impressed us most - and what makes her a perfect match for Temple - is her energy," (she) said. "She is a dynamo."

It's obviously a great opportunity for Lisa, although it will be interesting to see how her departure plays into the University's new life sciences initiative and the attempt to bridge Weill Cornell and the Ithaca campus. Lisa has been traveling extensively for the University, speaking to alumni groups across the nation... no doubt as part of the capital campaign.

Late Update: The Chronicle has released its own stories regarding Staino-Colco's departure. On top of Lisa, Cornell will also be losing Lisa's husband, the vice provost for intercampus affairs. Alan Mathios, current associate dean of Hum Ec, will be interim dean until a replacement has been found.

Matthew Nagowski | March 23, 2007 (#)

Rabkin's Fallout

While I never crossed paths with Professor Rabkin ’74 during my time on the Hill, I have many friends who spoke highly of his teaching style and his intellect. It’s disappointing that Cornell has lost a loyal and esteemed alumnus in this fashion.

To those who think that ideology or university politics were at play: Sure, it’s fair to speculate, but I’ll simply point to Rabkin’s own belief that he was “not the victim of some partisan conspiracy against me” and the chair of the government department’s claim that she “followed the same procedures” with Rabkin’s departure as she does with everybody else.

This leads us to Rabkin’s assertion that Cornell is not well prepared to respond to outside offers to senior faculty, a recurring issue for the University. This makes sense, especially in light of Tim Vogelsang’s departure last year, and the Provost’s recent comments on how Cornell has to succeed at “doing more with less”.

Cornell has always been a school where stellar faculty members are developed, and some—like Richard Feynman or John Rawls—unfortunately move on. But the ability to retain top researchers and teachers in the field is paramount to the long-term success of our Alma Mater, and is one of the major motives of the capital campaign.

In fact, explicitly mentioned in the “Case for Cornell” is the bold goal: To achieve top-ten ranking in the fields of economics, sociology, and government. But to put it bluntly, such a position is unachievable as long as top faculty like Vogelsang and Rabkin continue to find more appealing offers outside of Ithaca.

So I wish Rabkin all of the best at George Mason. But, I’ll keep my fingers crossed that the capital campaign will be massively successful and the University will be able to recruit Rabkin back to East Hill one day. Besides, I trust that Rabkin will soon be missing Cornell’s loyal alumni base and energetic student body.

Matthew Nagowski | March 21, 2007 (#)

Rabkin Follow-Up

I've now heard back from the government chair, Valerie Bunce, and Prof. Isaac Kramnick, so in fairness I want to note that here. Prof. Bunce did not want to comment, except to say, "As I told Jeremy, I am very sad that he is leaving. I followed the same procedures in Jeremy's case that I have followed in all cases where there is an outside offer in the making."

Kramnick said in an e-mail: "I heard about Jeremy leaving from his resignation e-mail to his colleagues, which was the first inkling I had of the possibility he might leave. I am saddened at his leaving the department because I always felt that, like myself, he always put undergraduate teaching at the top of his priorities."

I should also note that Kramnick has been on leave, and it's still spring break, which might account for the relative lack of response from the department.

Andy Guess | March 21, 2007 (#)

Prof. Rabkin's Departure: In His Own Words

Attempting to get the full story on Professor Jeremy Rabkin's departure from Cornell's government department to the George Mason School of Law, I sought answers from Rabkin himself, as well as the chair of the department, Prof. Valerie Bunce, and other colleagues. Only Rabkin responded. His answers are excerpted and annotated with links below.

The easiest question to answer is the last -- yes, I have been nominated to the board of the Institute of Peace. The nomination requires Senate confirmation to take effect, so it may be a while before I am actually sworn in there. On the other hand, the Institute is required by law to have a balance of Republican and Democratic members, so even the current Senate will have to swallow some nominees they might not like and I hope they will be indulgent toward a professor. One point of relevance is that the Institute makes grants. It might, for that reason, have been helpful to Cornell to have one its own on the Board. But no one here seems to have paid any attention to that. People here certainly knew it was in the offing, because the FBI spent a week interviewing all my colleagues about my potential infirmities and I then had to explain (at least to a few of them) what that background check was for.


There are two things worth saying about this. First,the move was attractive in itself, for all sorts of reasons. GMU really tried hard to recruit me. They offered not only a very substantial raise (I mean, in salary) and other nice things to attract me but people there also called me regularly to coax me into coming. I was attracted to working with some very fine colleagues at GMU.

For someone with my research interests, Washington offers unique opportunities, anyway. (GMU's Law School is two Metro stops from DC.) And I have been at Cornell a long time. My kids were students at Cornell but the older one is moving on this year (with an MA in CS) and his brother will finish next year. So it was much easier to think about moving now then it might have been a few years ago.

On the other side is this: Cornell made no effort of any kind to keep me here. I told my department chair that I had this offer. She told me I could have an "exit interview" to discuss my feelings about Cornell before I left. She did not offer to ask the administration for a counter-offer -- which is the usual thing to do in these circumstances. She did not ask me to wait until I saw what Cornell would offer. She did nothing at all. I waited some five weeks, in the course of which I was never contacted by the chair (Val Bunce) or by anyone else. In the circumstances, I did not feel I had any choice. If an institution wants to keep a senior person, it does what it can to match an outside offer. Cornell didn't even bother to inquire what the details of GMU's offer actually were.

More after the jump....

Andy Guess | March 19, 2007 (#)

Biddy Martin on Cornell's Budget

The Faculty Senate recently released minutes from its December meeting, and they are a doozy. Provost Martin spent around 30 minutes explaining the 2007-2008 budgeting process with faculty, and in the process many interesting items were revealed.

Among other things, the Provost feels that the University should have started the capital campaign a little bit earlier, the number of students requiring financial aid at Cornell has been decreasing, and that administrators are concerned that Cornell is losing top students to schools that offer merit-based scholarships.

All quotes are lifted right out of the meeting minutes, and are attributed to Biddy Martin, unless otherwise noted.

We have a challenge at Cornell. I know you all have heard me say this before, but it has the virtue of being true. We do more with less at Cornell, and I think that everybody here probably feels that, the effects of it, and either you take some pride in it, or you don’t. But it remains the case that our endowment is smaller and our revenue streams in general are less than some of our peers, yet we manage to compete pretty well with all of those peers.

I’ve said this in the context of talking about the capital campaign, so I think most of you have heard it before, but Carolyn and I believe that we are about three to five years behind in raising the funds through a campaign, that we actually need to cover those things to which we have committed over the past six or seven years or even longer back. We hope, in the context of the campaign now that is in its public phase, to catch up quickly, to be able to bring in funds in our priority areas. But it’s simply the case that we are behind, that is, we have committed to things and we are already doing things for which we have not raised enough money from gifts.

More from Biddy and others after the jump.

Matthew Nagowski | March 19, 2007 (#)

Cornell Statement on Alex Atkind

There's incredible outcry surrounding the Alex Atkind story that we picked up yesterday morning. Elliott Back posted a lovely picture from Facebook of Atkind doing a keg stand, and inferred that Atkind is associated with a fraternity, leading to "indisputable proof that the Greek system is full of idiots." Meanwhile, the Ithaca Journal and Elmira Post-Gazette both have message boards that are full of angry Cornell students, Ithacans, and animal lovers nationwide expressing their shock and anger over the story...

Somebody dug up some information on Atkind's parents and his home address, claiming that Atkind's father is a doctor associated with Harvard Medical School, and are encouraging people to contact the Boston media. Others have written to the University, demanding Atkind's expulsion. Tommy Bruce and Simeon Moss are issuing a formal statement regarding the incident:

Thank you very much for taking the time to share your concerns the press stories regarding the abusive behavior perpetrated against a dog. We are distressed by this reported behavior and find it totally unacceptable and abhorrent, if true.

Because this incident happened off campus, the matter was investigated by the Ithaca Police Department. We understand that IPD arrested the student in question and the case is now pending in the Ithaca City Court. Because the matter is an Ithaca Police matter and pending in court, we defer to the Tompkins County District Attorney for further comment about the criminal process.

Normally, the Campus Code of Conduct does not cover actions that occur off-campus. We are monitoring the case downtown and will make judgments as we gather additional information to determine if the University may appropriately take action in this matter as well.

So there's hope that the University will be able to take action on this issue.

From here, the conversation spirals downward. Some are making threats on Atkind and making sweeping statements regarding the behavior of all Cornell students. Both are unfortunate repercussions of the incident. If the allegations are true, Atkind deserves psychiatric help, not a taste of his own medicine.

And while there are admittedly some Cornell students who are arrogant, rude, and inconsiderate (more than I would care to admit, many coming from affluent east coast suburbs), they are unfortunately a visible minority on a campus filled with some of the nicest, most genuine, and loving people I have met in my life. I doubt that the distribution of personalities at Cornell differs significantly from that of society as a whole...

Matthew Nagowski | March 17, 2007 (#)

Shock! A Free Cornell Event?

When an announcement regarding a lecture by Cornell's librarian, Sarah Thomas, first hit my email inbox, I expressed disbelief... could it be a free Cornell alumni event? But no, it dawned on me that Sarah Thomas has recently accepted the position as Oxford's chief librarian:

Dr Sarah E Thomas Director of University Library Services and Bodley’s Librarian

Wednesday 28 March 2007, 6:00 - 8:00 pm

Downtown Harvard Club of Boston
1 Federal Street, 38th Floor
Boston, MA 02110

I've been meaning to blog about Thomas's departure for a while. She was a wonderful librarian for the University, a champion of digital services, and brought many good things (Libe Cafe anyone?) to a decentralized and often confusing system of libraries on East Hill. But believe it or not, Oxford's academic structure is even more confusing than Cornell's. So as an Oxonian as well as a Cornellian, I hope she will be equally successful among the dreaming spires of Oxfordshire.

N.B. Cornell's office of alumni affairs could take some pointers from the much more financially strapped Oxford. A free event featuring a university speaker that is open to all is virtually unheard of among Cornell alumni events.

Matthew Nagowski | March 16, 2007 (#)

Cornell Student Tortures Dog

Like Ann Coulter ’84 , sometimes Cornell admissions officers let a rotten apple through the cracks.

While not all of the facts of the case have been released yet, what Alex Atkind has done is absolutely, positively horrific. It’s a blow against the good reputation of the University, and its many fine students, faculty, and staff.

If Alex suffers from some sort of psychiatric disorder, I hope he gets help. And if the University has any basis to expel him from the Cornell community as a result of this incident, I hope it does so.

Alexander H. Atkind, 23, of 710 Stewart Ave., Apt. 8 and of Lexington, Mass., was charged with “overdriving, torturing and injuring animals” in violation of a section of the state Agriculture and Markets law. The offense is a misdemeanor. He was released with a ticket to appear in Ithaca City Court on March 21.

The officer found the apartment and kennel area in disarray, with dog food, bleach and detergent spilled. The dog had a laceration 1 inch by 2 inches wide, and some of its skull was showing through, according to the officer's report. He called the Cornell University veterinary hospital and took the dog there for evaluation. The next day, he was told by the attending veterinarian that the dog suffered chemical burns to its face, eyes, back, groin area and paws. It would likely have diminished eyesight the rest of its life, and it had blood in its stool, probably from ingesting some bleach by licking itself.

The officer noted in his report that Atkind acted “cocky and arrogant” and “made numerous comments that this incident meant nothing to him, that he would do it again, and that he knows how the criminal justice system works, and guaranteed me the prosecution of this case would result in an ACD in City Court.”

And somehow, I suspect that when Cornell claims to promote “diversity”, it isn’t necessarily referring to white males from exclusive New England suburbs that happen to torture animals and then claim that they are above the law.

Or does Cornell help to create these types of people?

Matthew Nagowski | March 16, 2007 (#)

Men's Lacrosse Ranked #1 in the Country

While the basketball team had its best season in over ten years, and the hockey team had its ups and downs in a "rebuilding year", there's promise developing just in time for the snow to melt on Schoellkopf field:

The Big Red (4-0), which dispatched ninth-ranked Army Saturday at West Point, 7-4, was last ranked No. 1 during the 1978 national runner-up season. This year, Jeff Tambroni's club owns convincing wins over Binghamton (19-4), Colgate (16-6) and former No. 8 Notre Dame (13-8). Cornell has a 10-day layoff until a date with No. 4 Duke on March 20 in Raleigh, N.C.

In the USILA coaches poll, Cornell received 10 first-place votes and 236 points. Upstart Albany is slotted No. 2 with two first-place votes, followed by Johns Hopkins, Duke and Navy. In the Nike/Inside Lacrosse media poll, Cornell received six first-place votes to edge defending national champion Virginia, which received seven first-place votes. Johns Hopkins is third, with Navy fourth and Duke fifth.

Bring on Dook.

Matthew Nagowski | March 13, 2007 (#)

Cornell Increases Entering Class Size

The Cornell Chronicle is reporting that the University seeks to admit 3,200 freshmen this fall. President Skorton announced this number in a meeting to the Board of Trustees on Friday.

This represents an increase of 150 freshman, or roughly 5 percent, over previously stated goals to enroll 3,050 freshmen every August. It's an interesting development because over the past few years the administration has gone to great efforts to limit freshmen enrollment levels, citing crowding issues on North Campus. As a Fall 2005 white paper issued by the University's Institutional Planning and Research unit asserts:

The current enrollment planning process focuses intensely on a first-time freshman enrollment target of 3,050 students. It is especially important to be disciplined about first-year enrollment targets given that all freshmen are housed within the North Campus Residential Initiative.

So why the increase in freshman class size? The University has "over-enrolled" in recent years, and it's possible that Skorton's comments just reflect this reality. Then again, North Campus has a lot more empty beds to fill due to waning interest in the program houses, and the University is not one to pass up on extra tuition revenue.

UPDATE: Doris Davis asserts that the target class size remains 3,050.

Matthew Nagowski | March 11, 2007 (#)

Business Week: AEM is #10 in Nation

Not that we think rankings deserve the amount of attention they get, but Business Week has published it's 2007 list of the the best undergrad B-Schools. Cornell has jumped four spots to place tenth on the list, but still lags behind notable heavy hitters Wharton, McIntire, Sloan, and Stern.

Cornell is actually featured in an accompanying article, which stresses the breadth of courses that Cornell's AEM students can take. Sounds about right for an institution that endeavors to allow "any study".

In addition to the variety they encounter outside the business program, students get a second dose inside, where they're required, strangely enough, to take a full year of biology—thanks to the program's affiliation with Cornell's agriculture school—as well as five electives ranging from consumer behavior to emerging markets. They're also encouraged to look beyond the program for business-related courses, studying human relations in the School of Industrial & Labor Relations, or leadership in the Johnson Graduate School of Management, home of Cornell's MBA.

Here is the detailed list, with accompanying data. The program has roughly 700 students, with an average SAT score of 1330. (I wonder how many AEM students are athletes?...)

Admittedly, studying biology doesn't sound like the most appealing course of study for future Sherman McCoys. So it's unfortunate that the article fails to mention that if you want to go into business, Cornell's accredited business program might not even be the best option for you. The University's programs in engineering, industrial and labor relations, human ecology, and hotel administration all send many top grads out into the business world every year. I wouldn't be surprised if the University is rethinking the way it's undergraduate business program is oriented, especially in relation to the Ag school...

But of course, that's to say nothing about the myriad anthropology, history, or English majors who go onto Wall Street every year. You don't need to major in business to go into business.

Matthew Nagowski | March 09, 2007 (#)

Surprise Resignation of SUNY Chancellor

Probably falling under the radar of most Cornellians today was the surprise announcement that SUNY Chancellor John Ryan will resign effective May 1st. By all accounts, Ryan was an effective chancellor and passionate advocate for higher education in the state. Reports the Associated Press:

Ryan was appointed by a board of trustees controlled by Pataki and the former Republican governor reappointed several SUNY trustees late in his term, assuring his appointees would control the board through Spitzer's first term. But Ryan shared many of Spitzer's goals for SUNY and hadn't been expected to leave with the change in governors...

In his budget address to the Legislature earlier this month, Ryan (lauded) Spitzer's support for the 64-school system and its future. Spitzer has created a Commission on Public Higher Education that is expected to help plan the future of SUNY and the City University of New York.

So at first glance, it doesn't seem that politics are involved. By all accounts, Spitzer and Ryan would have had a very good working relationship going forward.

Or maybe not.

Matthew Nagowski | March 07, 2007 (#)

Whither the Program Houses?

According to the Daily Sun, interst in Cornell's program houses is waning:

Only 40 returning students had signed a housing contract for Ujamaa and participated in room selections as of two weeks ago. According to Black, there are 140 room slots, 30 of which remain open for incoming first-year students. This leaves Ujamaa at only half of its maximum occupancy even after the house extended its application deadline twice, she said.

Ujamaa is not the only program oriented residence hall experiencing a decline in applications. Tarae Howell '07, who works with Campus Life, said all program houses had to extend their application deadlines this year.

Does this mean that Rawlings' West Campus Residential Initiative is a success? Has the Harvard/Yale/Princeton "house system" for upperclassmen on West fostered a greater sense of community than the program houses on North? Or maybe students are just wising up and looking to save money by moving off campus.

Perhaps more importantly, what does this mean for the program houses on North Campus? Will the University disband them and turn them into freshman housing, expanding the size of the freshman class? (Not a bad option, in my opinion.) Or will the University continue to support these fledging ventures in the name of "diversity"?

Matthew Nagowski | March 06, 2007 (#)

The Location of Gates Hall

Last year, shortly after the announcement of Cornell's new Computing and Information technologies building, Gates Hall, we asked where is the building going to go?

At the time, the Cornell administration asserted that the building would be "in close proximity to the Colleges of Engineering and Arts and Sciences and the new Life Sciences Building" as well as the first building block in an "information campus" that would "be 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."

Which to us, at least, seemed impossible.

But now the Comprehensive Master Plan (CMP) website has released some slides that preliminarily indicates that Gates Hall will be tucked in behind Duffield and Upson Halls, very close to the now closed Ward Reactor.

Here's the relevant graphic from the CMP:

And here is a birds-eye view of the site:

Will this parking lot turn out to be the future site of the "information campus"? Time will only tell.

Matthew Nagowski | March 04, 2007 (#)

Skorton's Transnational University

The Chronicle of Higher Education is running a fascinating feature article on Skorton's recent trip to India:

"It's the country-du-jour syndrome," says Madeleine F. Green, vice president of the Center for International Initiatives at the American Council on Education. "In the early 1990s it was Eastern Europe. Then they all ran to South Africa, ... then they moved on to China, and now to India."

With the parade of American visitors showing no signs of letting up, Indian academics are beginning to wonder if these high-profile tours are anything more than publicity stunts designed to siphon off students rather than hammer out real partnerships.

"There's a lot of ceremony to these visits," says K. Muniyappa, chairman of the biochemistry department at the Indian Institute of Science, in Bangalore, after a meeting with Dr. Skorton. While he and Dr. Skorton discussed several specific ideas, such as a six-month rotation in India for Cornell postdocs, some universities come with empty agendas, Mr. Muniyappa says. One visiting American university simply came to ask for a list of the institute's students so it could recruit them.

Of course, one can't deny Cornell's long-standing connections to India--perhaps stronger than any other American university. Two of the University's trustees are Indian businessman, and Cornell's Agriculture program was actively involved in India's "Green Revolution." And then there are Cornell alums like Leonard Elmhirst that did a lot of work in India in the early 20th century.

(A little bit of Cornelliana: Elmhirst, coincidentally, would marry Willard Straigt's widow and wrote the fascinating book: "The Straight and Its Origin")

Still, one can't but help but feel a little bit for Jeff Lehman. Cornell was his "transnational university", but Rawlings got to go to China, and now Skorton to India.

Matthew Nagowski | March 02, 2007 (#)

Where's the Latin Jazz?

When David Skorton was at Iowa, he hosted a weekly radio program featuring latin jazz. Now at Cornell, it appears that Skorton is going to get back into the radio business. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear as if Cornell's new President thinks that Ithaca needs more salsa in its nightlife; the new radio program will feature talk, talk, and more talk. About higher education of course.

Reads the Cornell Press Release issued this afternoon:

The pilot of Cornell University President David Skorton’s radio program, “Higher Ed in the Round,” will premiere Monday, March 5, at 7 p.m. on public radio station WEOS-FM, and it is offered to all public radio stations throughout the state. The live show will feature a roundtable discussion with guests Peggy Williams, president of Ithaca College, and Carl Haynes, president of Tompkins Cortland Community College, on the broad range of issues related to the cost of higher education today.

The plan is for “Higher Ed in the Round” to become a regular series that will feature Skorton and a range of interesting voices in higher education interacting with listeners to explore topics around the fact that over 4.5 million prospective students, each year, find their way to study in more than 4,000 institutions of higher learning across the country and in New York State. Each show will examine timely issues, such as college admissions, financial aid and access to college, as well as the first program’s focus – the cost of higher education.

This is yet another initiative that Skorton has recently undertaken to engage and stimulate the greater Cornell community and to champion the University to the rest of the state... he has already tapped Biddy Martin to give the first-ever "Academic State of the University Address", issued the first-ever report on the economic impact of Cornell University, and has routinely engaged himself with undergraduates. If these types of actions are any sign of things to come, the future looks bright for the University.

And for those of you looking for your Latin fix, well, here you go.

Matthew Nagowski | March 01, 2007 (#)

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