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October 2007

Hear Those Crickets Chirping?

The great unreported story on campus, at least since the "diversity arches" and the Poffenbarger fiasco, has been students' general apathy toward heavy-handed administrative attempts to impose "open-mindedness" and "tolerance."

The Sun admirably takes on this obvious trend in a story today about the lackluster attendance at the latest "Diversity Council" forum (six students, although one guess as to how many of them were student leaders or campus activists to begin with). Here's a typical gem:

“This [forum] will act as a conduit to the Executive Committee of the UDC to see what we should be doing to enhance diversity in Cornell,” said Robert Harris Jr., vice provost for diversity and faculty development, as he introduced the forum.

Harris has been saying this sort of thing for years. If he was honest with himself, he'd take a quick look around the room and read the attendance numbers as evidence that whatever he's doing isn't enhancing diversity at Cornell, fostering a meaningful dialogue or even easing frictions between groups. I suspect most students have figured out that talking about diversity is a useless gloss when the real discussion should be about the campus's still-present racial tensions and mutual distrust. By ignoring the real issues, Harris and his supporters compound the problem.

Andy Guess | October 30, 2007 (#)

Pity the indie-rock girlfriend

So, to follow the indie rock meme some more, I woke up this morning to discover that I have been woefully negligent in keeping up to date with this month's hot cultural criticism, and that my post last night came amidst a much larger argument right now about indie rock. (I can blame a recent relocation and new job... I've just moved to Buffalo from Boston... has left me high and dry... thus also explaining the dearth of posting on MetaEzra.)

But thankfully the Cornell Daily Sun is here to fill us all in :

For the .01 percent of music listeners who care about these issues, this past few weeks has seen a pretty exciting clash between two well-established music critics.

So we have the New Yorker's Sasha Frere-Jones, who asks: How did rhythm come to be discounted in an art form that was born as a celebration of rhythm’s possibilities? Where is the impulse to reach out to an audience—to entertain?

And then there is Slate's Carl Wilson, responding with this gem of a paragraph, which may hit a little bit too close to home:

Among at least a subset of (the younger) musicians and fans, this class separation has made indie more openly snobbish and narrow-minded... The profile of this university demographic often includes a sojourn in extended adolescence, comprising graduate degrees, internships, foreign jaunts, and so on, which easily can last until their early 30s. Unlike in the early 1990s, when this was perceived as a form of generational exclusion and protested in "slacker"/grunge music, it's now been normalized as a passage to later-life career success. Its musical consequences might include an open but less urgent expression of sexuality, or else a leaning to the twee, sexless, childhood nostalgia that many older critics (including both Frere-Jones and me) find puzzling and irritating. Female and queer artists still have pressing sexual issues and identities to explore and celebrate, but the straight boys often seem to fall back on performing their haplessness and hyper-sensitivity. (Pity the indie-rock girlfriend.)

And so, yeah, everything I wrote yesterday was before I read any of this.

But it makes great food for thought. Although Cowie would probably much rather have us doing anything else than be neurotic about.

Matthew Nagowski | October 25, 2007 (#)

Whiny Indie Rock

As Andy linked on the sidebar earlier, a Cornell professor, Jefferson Cowie, has written a rather stimulating thought piece on the listening habits of today's college students over at Inside HigherEd. He asserts:

At the same time, white indie rock has been devoid of soul and blues influences — drained of the alchemical lifeblood created in the synthesis of white and black musical traditions. Indie is left with a whiny, trebly, irresolute sound that seems to fit the dull green glow of a computer screen in darkened suburban bedrooms. Music today is just another part of the price of America’s re-segregation.

My own kids’ strange connection to Dylan and the Clash at the tender ages of 7 and 10 suggest that I may be well on my way toward being part of the problem. Am I screwing them up by not adequately screwing them up, softly indoctrinating them into the glory days of rock and roll over family brunch on Sunday? Will they learn about the backbeat of power and rebellion at the displays of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame instead of the more illicit places they ought to be receiving such education?

Jeff Cowie happened to be a professor of mine for a semester, and was one of the most thoughtful, stimulating, and worthwhile professors I had during my time on East Hill. He was the type of professor that made the cost of tuition worth it (and I was only paying in-state contract college prices!). Coincidentally, he was recently named dean of one of the new residential houses on West Campus, and I know he will be outstanding in this position.

But I wanted to discuss Cowie's ideas a little bit more...

In general, I find the thesis to be correct and to reflect my own experiences at Cornell. The majority of students from white, privileged backgrounds have inherited their parent’s taste in music and combined it with the de facto influences from current popular culture. Led Zepplin, Bruce Springsteen, The Who, or even Bob Dylan wouldn’t elicit anything other than happy or fond memories of their childhood/parents because they never needed to emote this music into their lives. Their parents emoted to this stuff during their struggles (on college campuses, of course) of the 60s and 70s, but now they have established a level of affluence and comfort for their children that leaves this type of music unnecessary (except, that is, for the long car rides to Cape Cod). So instead of worrying about the war draft and listening to Bob Dylan, the bulk of kids these days are worried about their inter-personal relationships and listening to Jack Johnson’s and Coldplay’s tenuous songs of love and lust.

It’s really an offshoot of David Brooks’s Organization Kid theory.

Matthew Nagowski | October 24, 2007 (#)

Homecoming: Where to Find MetaEzra Today

After closing out Chapter House last night and scaring a couple of undergraduates with how old we are; MetaEzra is catching up with some of our favorite places in Ithaca this weekend for homecoming. Places to find us include:

-- The Ithaca Booksale
-- Tailgating on Kite Hill
-- Bear Necessities to Purchase All of Our Cornell Gear
-- Just a Taste for some Tapas
-- Cornell's Red v. White Hockey Scrimmage
-- The Glee Club Concert
-- A rented cottage on the shore's of Cayuga Lake

Let's Go Red!

Matthew Nagowski | October 13, 2007 (#)

Note to Sun: Financial Aid is Growing, Not Shrinking

Judging from the title of an article in today's Cornell Daily Sun, a reader would suspect that Cornell is setting aside less money for financial aid:

Financial Aid Shrinks As Cornell’s Budget Increases

But astute readers of MetaEzra will remember that way back in June we reported that the University is budgeting a 6.4 percent increase in financial aid for the 2007-2008 academic year, representing close to $10 million dollars.

So what's the deal?

What is happening is that as Cornell's budget grows, a decreasing share of the budget is being dedicated to financial aid. Still, more money is being dedicated to financial aid every year.

Ben Eisen's article actually does a very good job of explaining why there has been a push for more administrative positions under Provost Martin as the University tries to reign in its decentralized functions, and that there are no easy trade-offs in academe:

While the administration’s allocated budget over the last 10 years has been raised, the amount set aside for financial aid, academic programs and the physical infrastructure has decreased 4.5 percent collectively, according to Cornell’s annual budget plan. This raises questions as to whether the administration’s allocation, which pays for some of these new positions as well as a number of services like health and safety and information technology, comes at the expense of other resources like financial aid and academics.

“The issue of, are we spending too much on administration and not enough on faculty is something faculty is always concerned about,” said Ehrenberg. “Faculty members may complain but, on the other hand, the faculty who benefit from what they are doing would not complain.”

According to Ehrenberg, Cornell could do more to provide financial aid. “The wealthiest competitors [to Cornell] have improved their aid packages substantially,” Ehrenberg said. “My personal perception is that we should be devoting more resources to financial aid, but I’m not the president or the provost in that they have to make all of these balances.”

“There is nothing but a set of tradeoffs,” Martin said. “Every penny we spend on administration raises a question in our minds about what we might be able to do less of as a consequence of doing more of that … [But] is there is a direct trade off between funds for administrative needs on the one hand and financial aid on the other? No, not in so simple a way.”

In fact, this, combined with a separate article on rising administrative costs by Suzy Gustafson, may very well be the best Sun articles I have read about the administration of the University and its finances ever. Kudos to Eisen and Gustafson.

But unfortunately, an improperly titled article isn't going to help to educate the casual reader.

Matthew Nagowski | October 10, 2007 (#)

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