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January 2008

A Two Year Anniversary - - Shedding the Ivy

It's now been two years since this little website began. Conceived as a way to channel my unhealthy obsession concerning all things Cornell, MetaEzra started out with a humble post about a search for a scarf.

And by my own assessment, we've been pretty successful for a shoestring alumni operation being operated in cities far beyond Cayuga's waters. Despite inconsistent reporting, we're attracting a consistent following of 500 to 750 readers a week, and have had close to 100,000 unique visitors since inception. And we've broken some pretty big stories, and have had some fun along the way too.

But the website has always had higher aspirations than fashion apparel. At the time of MetaEzra's inception, I felt that there was a greater need for quality information and analysis reported about Cornell during a very exciting and important time for higher education. The University was still quaking in the shock of Lehman's resignation, and we were faced with the uncertainty of a new President, a capital campaign on hold, and articles in the New York Times highlighting student-led critiques of the administration, from Redbud Woods to the Big Red Box Logo.

But more importantly, the intention has always been to simply highlight and focus on Cornell -- its triumphs, its difficulties, its experience. Cornell for Cornell's sake, if you will.

In this spirit, the Daily Sun ran an editorial today that we can agree with:

Cornell has tried to keep up with the Harvards again this week by telling us all about its new and improved financial aid policy. The announcement comes on the heels of a financial aid revolution of sorts within the Ivy League. Schools like Harvard, Yale and Princeton are upping the ante, and Cornell feels the pressure to make a similar effort.

Calling Harvard and Yale our “peer” institutions, though, is kind of a stretch. With more than three times the number of undergraduates, billions less in endowment and three land-grant colleges to boot, Cornell is really in a league of its own. And while Capital Campaigns and financial aid improvements will help Cornell meet the standard within its own football conference, it might be time for the Big Red to remember what sets it apart.

No doubt, the time has come for a better financial aid program at C.U., but it ­shouldn’t take the Harvards and Yales of the world to get Cornell moving forward. If the Big Red plans to pattern its behavior after the rest of the Ivy League, the powers that be might want to rethink what this University is all about. We’re excited about the Capital Campaign, and we’re glad that C.U. is finally paying better attention to financial aid, but we’ve had enough of the culture of catch-up that seems to prevail these days among the Cornell Administration. Cornell is unique, and it should be a leader, not a follower, in the academic community. Now that’s something to toast to.

Frankly, the Ivy League naval gazing has got to stop, and now is as good as a time as ever. So kudos to the Sun for turning over a new leaf.

As MetaEzra has long espoused, the reputation that Cornellians constantly remind others of the athletic conference of their alma mater isn't exactly the most becoming, especially when in certain ways Cornell might be better served by being in a different athletic conference.

The fact of the matter is that athletic concerns are really the only matters at Cornell affected by its Ivy League membership. Financial aid policies? Try COFHE. Research initiatives? Try the AAU. Funding and educational mission? Look up the NASULGC.

That's why I always wince whenever I read an editorial written by a Cornell student espousing about "what it means to be a student at an Ivy League university" or read about a member of the administration gloating how Cornell was selected as the year's "hot Ivy". Because its superfluous and meaningless unless one's talking about what happened last week on the gridiron or the ball diamond.

As any alum will tell you, Cornell more than stands on its own merits. In fact, it excels. Many young alums will tell you -- now that they are out in the world and interacting with individuals with all sorts of backgrounds -- that it is hard to imagine an undergraduate experience that better prepares individuals for all of the challenges, vastness, and vagaries of modern life better than our own, our fair Cornell.

This is of course not to suggest that there are no problems with Ezra's school. We've definitely touched on a few of these in the last two years.

But the Daily Sun asserts that it is about time that Cornell becomes a leader, not a follower. Any individual casually acquainted with Cornell's history will know that that it's already a leader in so many myriad ways. But to carry this history into the 21st century, we need to spend less time speculating and more time studying, researching, connecting, inventing, and exploring.

So let's continue to stand up for Cornell. Hopefully we'll be around for another two years.

And if anybody is interested, we have found our Cornell scarf.

Matthew Nagowski | January 31, 2008 (#)

No-Loan Financial Aid Policy Announced

After months of speculation, and just nine months after Biddy Martin argued that Cornell couldn't afford to go no-loan fo its neediest students, Cornell has done it. Starting next year, Cornell drops need-based loans for undergraduate students from families earning under $75,000.

It's going to cost the University an additional $14 million dollars a year -- the University is already spending $116.8 million a year on undergraduate aid. That's a huge amount of money for a relatively cash-strapped institution like Cornell.

Why is this announcement so important? Because due to Cornell's financial position and more economically diverse student body, the announcement represents a much larger commitment of resources than some of Cornell's peers.

The university expects to spend $116.8 million of its own resources on undergraduate financial aid in 2007-08, 94 percent of which will be spent on grant aid. More than 60 percent of Cornell's undergraduates receive some form of financial aid. Cornell has a greater number and a higher percentage than most of its peers of Pell grant recipients -- students from families that have annual incomes below $45,000. For fall 2007, Cornell enrolled 1,799 Pell grant recipients, representing 13.3 percent of its undergraduate student body.

As David Harris so adequately put it:

Deputy Provost David Harris added: "Because Cornell's financial-aid population is larger than the entire undergraduate student bodies of a number of our fellow institutions, the challenge was especially significant here. This initiative will strengthen the economic diversity of our student body and, most importantly, free our students to pursue studies and careers that match their skills and interests, rather than those that ensure they will be able to repay their loans."

While the administration has obviously been considering this move for a while, I'll speculate that the turning point might have been Dartmouth's announcement earlier this week. While the Harvard, Yale, and Princetons of the world have all adopted more assertive policies, Cornell honestly doesn't compete for many students with these schools. But for Dartmouth, there is a pretty strong cross-admit recruiting battle with Cornell, and as I mentioned last year, game theory plays a large role in higher education.

If you read between the lines, however, what's not clear is whether or not the University is actually adopting a "free tuition" policy as Dartmouth and Harvard have (Dartmouth for families under 75k, Harvard for families under 120k). I suspect that the no-loan policy actually still involves expectations that Cornell students will work during the year and the summer and contribute to the cost of their education. Which if you ask me, is a good thing.

More analysis to come.

Matthew Nagowski | January 31, 2008 (#)

Alumnus Considered for Czech Presidency

File this under bizarre.

So a couple of years ago--back in the Lehman era--there was an open deanship at the ILR School. At the time, President Lehman selected Jan Svejnar '74, an ILR alum and professor of economics at Lehman's former school, the University of Michigan.

What followed was all all sorts of controversy. Some faculty welcomed the appointment with open arms, looking forward to a new direction in the ILR School. Others expressed discontent that an individual without significant experience in 'Industrial Relations' would be selected as dean. And then some cavalier students decided to take matters into their own hands, emailing Svejnar directly and telling him not to accept the appointment.

In the end, for whatever reason, Svejnar declined the appointment and the ILR School had one of their own--Harry Katz--appointed to the deanship.

But now it seems that Svejnar is being considered for a new leadership position. As President of the Czech Republic:

In a last-minute effort to gain support for his bid for the presidency of the Czech Republic, Ross School of Business Prof. Jan Svejnar told Czech voters he will give up his United States citizenship if he wins the election 10 days from now.

Svejnar, whose work at the University focuses on economic growth in Eastern European countries, announced his bid for the Czech presidency six weeks ago after receiving requests from Czech parliament members dissatisfied with the incumbent president's economic and environmental policies.

Svejnar, who was 17 years old when he immigrated to the U.S. to flee from the communist government of former Czechoslovakia, earned degrees from Cornell University and Princeton University in labor relations and economics.

Svejnar's policy suggestions, which include adopting the Euro, have been well received by Czech citizens, but he has faced criticism for holding American citizenship and residing in the United States. In response, Svejnar said he would relinquish his U.S. citizenship if elected.

Fully 52 percent of Czech citizens support Svejnar's candidacy, but the Presidency depends on the votes of Parliament. If elected, Svejnar would join other Cornellians who have served as head of state -- including Taiwan's former President Lee Teng-hui, former President of Cuba Mario García Menocal, and former Iranian Prime Minister Jamshid Amuzegar.

Matthew Nagowski | January 29, 2008 (#)

Applications Rise by 7.5 Percent

The Cornell Chronicle has some more statistics on applications for Cornell's Class of 2012. And as MetaEzra first reported two weeks ago, Cornell experienced a record number of applications this year as 32,655 applied for freshman admission.

Over at the Sun, Julie Geng has projected an overall admissions rate of 18 percent this year.

But here at MetaEzra, we'll go one decimal point further in our projection. Assuming a regular admissions cycle yield of 36%, Cornell will have to accept 5,160 applicants to fill the roughly 1,860 spots in an entering class of 3,000. (1,142 early decision students have already been admitted to the University.) This would bring us to a projected overall acceptance rate of 19.3%, with a 17.5% regular decision rate.

As this is the peak year of the echo boom generation, it remains to be seen whether Cornell will be able to sustain these numbers. We're not holding our breath.

More importantly, it remains to be seen whether or not the Class of 2012 will be the most talented class that Cornell has admitted. As we have espoused before, acceptance rates tell us nothing about the quality of the entering class. For the time being, Cornell's falling SAT scores seem to have stabilized: 67 and 83 percent of the Class of 2011 had SAT scores greater than 650 on the Verbal and Math sections of the test, respectively.

Update: The New York Times is running an article today that collates application data from top schools across the country. In terms of percentage increases, Cornell falls right in the middle of the pack, ahead of peers like Duke, Penn, Columbia and Virginia, but behind places like Harvard, Amherst, and Northwestern.

Cornell's own Doris Davis is also quoted in the article regarding the source of Cornell's applicants:

The reasons for the swelling numbers — not all colleges have reported yet — go beyond the growth in the college age population and the preoccupation with name-brand schools. Recruiting by elite colleges among low- and middle-income students and in new regions are bringing in more applications.

California, for example, has become a bigger source of applicants for Cornell since the upstate New York university created a West Coast regional office in Los Angeles several years ago.

“Ten years ago, California was not among our top eight feeder states,” said Doris Davis, an associate provost at Cornell. “Now it is among our top five.” Cornell applications rose 8 percent.

Matthew Nagowski | January 16, 2008 (#)

It's ILR Week In The News!

The University's ILR School is lighting up the newswires this week. Just a couple days after ILR Professor and Vice-Provost for Land-Grant Affairs Ron Seeber crossed the picket lines to be a guest on Jon Stewart's Daily Show, causing much controversy across ILR-circles, now the Wall Street Journal is running an article about Starbucks' somewhat ambiguous anti-union practices. Apparently Starbucks has been checking to see if any of their employees "partners" are graduates of Cornell to determine whether or not they might have pro-union sympathies.

Starbucks Emails Describe Efforts to Stop Unionization - WSJ.com :: The Industrial Workers of the World, or IWW, has been trying to organize workers at Starbucks since 2004 and has been able to organize only several dozen at a handful of stores in New York and a few other cities.

According to several emails, in early 2006, Starbucks managers discovered that two pro-union employees in New York were graduates of a Cornell University labor program. According to an email, managers took the names of graduates from an online Cornell discussion group and the school's Web site and cross-checked them with employee lists nationwide. They found that three employees in California, Michigan and Illinois were graduates of the program and recommended that local managers be informed.

We're not certain if this is good news or bad news here at MetaEzra. On one hand, it makes Cornell alums look like active, engaged citizens fighting for their rights. But on the other hand, it may make people think that Cornell grads can only get barrista jobs at Starbucks after graduating.

Of course, what the Wall Street Journal fails to mention is that the Starbucks executives fighting the union are also Cornell ILR alums. Funny how that works.

Matthew Nagowski | January 10, 2008 (#)

Cornell's ED Numbers Remain Steady

Over at the Cornell Daily Sun, Julie Geng has got her hand on the first statistics to be released regarding Cornell's Early Decision applicants. Kudos to the Sun for reporting on the topic as soon as information became available, and not waiting until the semester started.

For the Class of 2012, 3,110 students applied for early decision, of which 36.6 percent, or 1,139 students, were granted admission under the binding program. Overall, early decision applications were up a modest 3 percent over the 3,015 students who applied for the Class of 2011, but the acceptance rate remained unchanged.

What this suggests is that Cornell's Early Decision program wasn't appreciably affected by the recent decisions by Harvard and Princeton to forego an early admissions program. This makes sense, as presumably there is little overlap between Harvard and Princeton's former early applicant pools and Cornell's, and few of these students would want to commit to Cornell's binding program without rolling the dice at Harvard and Princeton. But we should expect these students to also be applying to Cornell's regular decision program, resulting in the boost in regular decision applications we have already documented.

Among other top private institutions, early decision trends have been mixed. Columbia and Dartmouth have posted modest gains of 5 and 8 percent, respectively, and in absolute numbers experienced about the same increase in applications as Cornell did -- around 100 each. But at UPenn, early decision applications actually declined by 2 percent, despite strong efforts by the Quakers to expand no-loan financial aid policies.

The real story has been the growth in non-binding early admissions programs after Harvard and Princeton stepped aside. As would be expected, Yale seems to have benefited the most from Harvard and Princeton's decision, experiencing a 36 percent rise in early applications. But other schools experienced a windfall as well: Georgetown University was up by 31 percent, and at the University of Chicago by 42 percent.

But back to Cornell: The University has now filled 38 percent of the incoming Class of 2012 through the early decision program -- a slightly higher percentage than last year, but still far below some of its peers. Both Penn and Columbia tend to fill upwards of 45 percent of their incoming class through early decision programs. But with an all-time record number of regular decision applications this year, we can expect Cornell to post yet another record-low admissions rate.

There's one other feature of Cornell's admissions program to consider: Starting this year students are able to apply to both 'primary' and 'alternate' colleges at Cornell. But more about that later.

Matthew Nagowski | January 06, 2008 (#)

Another Record Breaking Admissions Year

The word on the street is that the University's undergraduate admissions office has already received more applications than last year's record number of 30,383, and applications are still being processed. This indicates that the acceptance rate will almost certainly decline again in 2008.

Of course, whether or not the University will be able to sustain such high records of applicants after the echo boom college-applying population peaks next year remains to be seen. I doubt it.

Still no word on early decision numbers. But once the figures are released, you can rest assured that MetaEzra will cover them.

Matthew Nagowski | January 04, 2008 (#)

Cornell Needs A Winter Carnival

As a more general follow-up to the earlier Ice Bowl post, with a locale in a cold-weather climate such as Ithaca, it always struck me that Cornell needs to take more advantage of the winter weather and the collective fun it can bring. Dartmouth has an extremely popular (and fun!) winter carnival to warm student’s hearts during the coldest months of the school year, but spring semester at Cornell is oft considered a long, cold, uphill trudge in the snow until Slope Day.

During my sophomore year at Cornell, I was involved in a student led effort to bring a ‘Blizzard Bash’ to the Slope during the month of February. The Cornell Ski Club and CUTonight had plans to have Greek Peak build a ski jump on the Slope, host an ice-sculpture contest, and feature live music, food, and copious amounts of hot chocolate under a heated tent at the base of the Slope.

A cursory search through the Daily Sun archives would indicate that such an event would not be without precedent – a winter festival used to be held on the icy confines of Beebee Lake every year. But sadly, Cornell’s lawyers put an end to our plans—even though our suggested event seemed a lot less risky than Dartmouth’s or Harvard’s annual Polar Bear Swim.

With all of the recent focus that the University has placed on its student’s mental health, what with snooping janitors and mandatory leaves of absences, I can’t help but think that Cornell should also be more proactive in its approach to student well-being. I’ve written about this before. Some sort of community-building winter carnival—with ice sculpture contests, snow-shoeing races, alumni activities, a bonfire by Beebee Lake, a formal dance, and a marquee sporting event or two—might be just what the doctor ordered during the dark, cold days of winter.

Somewhere on East Hill there just might be a couple of industrious undergraduates willing and eager to get these plans rolling.

Matthew Nagowski | January 01, 2008 (#)

An Ice Bowl at Schoelkopf?

Here in Buffalo, as well as in other hockey-loving towns across the continent, there has been a lot of hoopla amidst the New Year’s Day Ice Bowl – a ‘Winter Classic’ NHL hockey game between the Buffalo Sabres and the Pittsburgh Penguins played outdoors in front of 73,000 screaming fans.

Given Cornell’s reputation as a hockey school, and the recent success of the sold-out BU game in Madison Square Garden, could a similar outdoor hockey game feature the Carnelian and White against an ECAC foe? Clarkson? Or Harvard? Long-time Big Red hockey fans may remember the pre-Lynah age when games were played on Beebee Lake:

Skeptical? It’s been done in NCAA hockey before. In 2001, Michigan and Michigan State faced off in the Cold War. And in 2006, Wisconsin hosted Ohio State on the Frozen Trundra of Lambeau Field.

So could Cornell host an outdoor hockey game in front of 40,000 fans at Schoelkopf? Anything is feasible if students, alumni, and the administration put their hearts behind it. It would certainly bring a little bit more of a Big 10 atmosphere to East Hill—something that MetaEzra certainly wouldn’t mind seeing more of.

Matthew Nagowski | January 01, 2008 (#)

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