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The Swan Song of Rob Fishman

Over the last two years, no writer for the Sun has captured the spirit and purpose of Cornell's educational mission better than Rob Fishman '08. From the collapse of Wall Street's luster to the skillfull dissecting of the Asian-American label, his routinely provocative opinion pieces have continued to add a research oriented slant to the Sun that is, to be blunt, sorely missing in the Sun's News department.

We have already sung his praises before, but with his assumed graduation now just a short month away, he will be surely missed next year. And the opinion piece that he leaves us with is quite the dandy:

At Cornell, the number of low-income students receiving federal Pell Grants has declined 25 percent, even as the number of high school students in the nation who are eligible for the program has increased by 40 percent since 2000. Students receiving financial aid from the University have also fallen steadily in the past few years, from 8,659 in 2005, to 8,132 in 2007. At the same time, the price of a Cornell education rose 5.5 percent from last year’s levels, and over 207 percent since 1987.

And what of “any study,” the intended curriculum for our great university?

Much like their commercialized hosts, students at elite schools these days are increasingly bent only on making a buck. According to the 2007 Postgraduate Report, over 40 percent of Cornell grads took jobs in finance or consulting last year, while 6 of the 10 employers hiring the most Cornellians were investment banks.

All this comes at a time when colleges and universities are distancing themselves from the traditional tenets of a liberal arts education. Like some of our peer schools, Cornell has abandoned a core curriculum, and in the words of Anthony Kronman, a professor of law at Yale, “betrayed their students” by depriving them of the chance to study fundamental questions like the meaning of life “before they are caught up in their careers and preoccupied with the urgent business of living itself.”

Quibbles? Of course I have some. Fishman's emphasis on the need for a core curriculum is unwarranted, and in many ways antithetical to the principles in which the University was founded. Students interested in subjects like architecture, food science, horticulture, or engineering should be free to pursue those subjects at Ezra's University, free of spoon fed Dante and Chaucer. That said, I am in agreement that the distribution requirements for all majors should be a bit more demanding: arts majors should have to take Calculus and engineers should have to read serious works of fiction and history.

But in many respects, Fishman has touched on a vein of thought over the last two years that I think will be prescient in the years to come. Too many students at Cornell -- from AEM to ILR, PAM to ORIE have become blindly pre-business in a way that will only hurt our generation's ability to imagine and engineer the solutions to the challenges that we face in the 21st century.

As the direness of our current national and global situation reveals itself in full, Cornell will find itself endlessly attempting to educate tomorrow's leaders and imparting knowledge into the world. Much as it reads above Eddy Gate:

'So enter that daily thou mayest become more learned and thoughtful; So depart that daily thou mayest become more useful to thy country and to mankind.'

And that's a cause always worth considering and critiquing, much as Fishman has done with his tenure at the Sun.

He will be missed.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on April 30, 2008 (#)

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