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October 2008

The President's Sunset Park House - - For Sale?

Update: It's been suggested by reader EB that this actually isn't the President's house. Which means we were led to believe incorrectly all these years. But the verdict's still out... and we would like to know.

Later Update: Yeah. We were completely off on this one.

East Hill joggers know Sunset Park well. The idyllic location just off of Stewart Avenue in Cayuga Heights offers breathtaking views of Cayuga Lake and bustling Ithaca below.

Sunset Park also happens to be the residence of the University President. Hunter Rawlings lived there. Jeff Lehman lived there, and as far as I know David Skorton and his wife lived there -- 200 Sunset Park.

Somebody lived there, and now they are selling it.

So that's why it is so interesting to see the house for sale. The asking price? $1.7 million dollars. But Zillow only thinks it is worth $1.3 million per comparable properties in the neighborhood.

Matthew Nagowski | October 23, 2008 (#)

David Skorton on Cornell

Here's a great quote from the President of Cornell University:

"I am constantly surprised at how decentralized Cornell is administratively. Now it’s hard to argue with success – Cornell is hugely successful – it’s the best school I’ve ever been at and so I am in awe of the way things have developed. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t operate more efficiently. It doesn’t mean that there has to be every administrator function, every communication function, every IT function does not necessarily have to be distributed equally throughout all administrative units."

Will the recession help to cut through the Big Red tape?

Matthew Nagowski | October 23, 2008 (#)

The Meaning of Selectivity

With the early decision cycle only ten days away, there is undoubtedly a lot of chatter about the selective universities and what it means to be selective. Unfortunately, the dialogue is typically focused around acceptance rates and SAT scores, when the topic is a lot more complicated than that.

First, can we agree that acceptance rates as published tell you nothing? A much more meaningful statistic would be the percentage of student acceptances relative to the total population of applicants whom the school would deem fit to enroll were space not a problem. If one out of every five applicants to Harvard is doing it as a lark and they have absolutely no shot at getting accepted, what does Harvard's acceptance rate tell you about selectivity? Nothing really.

Similarly, a lot of schools are now engaging in pretty... interesting... behavior to tailor their entering classes as they see fit, which can affect the acceptance rates in odd ways. Penn is enrolling 50 percent of its class early decision, way beyond the norm for any of its peer schools. And WashU has been known to purposeful reject candidates considered to be overqualified.

So acceptance rates tell you nothing.

That said, in my mind, there are two underlying qualities that colleges look for when they accept students -- academic qualifications and what I will call extramural qualifications. These comprise the basis of what it is meant to be "selective". Often two students may have the same academic qualifications but differ extramurally, and those factors will make all of the difference.

Now, it is impossible to quantify these extramural factors in any meaning form, so good luck with that.

But there is also a lively discussion to be had about academic qualifications...

Matthew Nagowski | October 22, 2008 (#)

Columbia To Erect Fence Around Campus

No. Not really. That would be a little bit silly now, wouldn't it?

Seven Students Assaulted Near Campus | Columbia Spectator :: Seven Columbia students were assaulted in a series of five incidents near the Morningside Heights campus early Sunday morning.

The string of attacks took place between 12:15 a.m. and 12:30 a.m. Sunday morning, all within one block of the main campus. Police said victims were punched in the face or thrown to the ground, though property was removed only in one incident, according to the Columbia Department of Public Safety. Two students received stitches at St. Luke's Hospital.

Almost as silly as this.

Matthew Nagowski | October 18, 2008 (#)

Engineering Dean, Fuchs, Named Provost

So Skorton named engineering dean Kent Fuchs the fifteenth provost of the University today:

At Fuchs' reappointment to a second term as engineering dean in 2006, Martin praised him for "strong and effective leadership"; calling him "a spectacular administrator [who] has made significant contributions to the quality and vitality of the college."

Under Fuchs' guidance, the College of Engineering initiated a collaborative strategic planning process to place the college in a position of international leadership. The plan led to the formation of a new Department of Biomedical Engineering, a revision of the undergraduate curriculum with new undergraduate majors in environmental engineering and -- in concert with the Faculty of Computing and Information Science -- in information science, systems and technology, and new graduate programs in engineering management and systems engineering. It also led to the creation of a teaching excellence institute and the completion of a comprehensive facilities master plan. Under Fuchs' deanship, the college also established a financial engineering master's program in Manhattan, a co-terminal degree program in France, and research and educational partnerships in China, India and Europe.

It's not altogether surprising. And I'm not entirely qualified to comment on Fuch's qualifications for the job, suffice to say that he was re-appointed for the Engineering deanship and Martin thought highly of him.

Even so, there are a couple of things to note:

-- Fuchs will be the first non-humanist as Cornell's provost in quite some time. Biddy Martin was a humanist in the German and Women's Studies departments. And Don Randel was in the Music Department as provost before Biddy, before he left for the presidency at the University of Chicago. I doubt this means anything, however. What's most important is that the provost can build bridges and get everybody in the University on the same boat.

-- Yet another member of Day Hall will come from the endowed side of Cornell. While vice-provost Ron Seeber obviously manages a lot of the University's relations with Albany, it may take Fuchs some getting used to dealing with a non-private source of funding. While he was previously head of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue which had some interaction with government, Cornell and dealing with New York State's dysfunctional government during a time of fiscal crisis is another beast altogether.

-- Fuchs has a degree in divinity from the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. What has become of Ezra's godless University?

-- P.S. What an interesting surname. The undergrads are going to have a field day mispronouncing that one. Update: Reader KB writes in to say that Fuchs is pronounced as if it was spelled "Fox".

Matthew Nagowski | October 17, 2008 (#)

Taking the Ag out of the Ag School?

Corresponding with the dedication of Weill Hall, the building for the advanced life sciences, the Daily Sun is running a great investigative article on how CALS is shutting down a couple of extremely popular classes in metal fabrication and wood construction techniques.

Prof. Thomas Cook, BEE, has taught BEE 1130: Introduction to Metal Fabrication Techniques, BEE 1140: Introduction to Wood Construction and BEE 1150: Advanced Metal Fabrication Techniques, for almost 24 years. The three classes enroll about 100 students per year from CALS and across the University.

According to Cook, “These courses have been on rocky ground for a long while; because they are not required by any one major on campus [anymore], they are called accessory classes. We got support for a long time from the dean’s office.”

The money quotes:

“There is not a real way to quantify the value in manual labor and engineering skills that can be brought about in a course like this, but offering them is one way that Cornell can remain the best Ivy institution, grounded in real life practical applications of things we as students and practitioners study in theory or policy every day,” wrote Sarah Bellos ’04 on the petition’s website.

Jordan Cole ’09 echoed Bellos’s sentiment in the petition.

“The summer after I took BEE 110, my father and I were harvesting hay on my farm when we suffered a major machinery failure in which $20,000 worth of harvesting equipment was damaged …The hay had to be harvested that day or else we would’ve lost everything and suffered thousands of dollars in lost profits. Using the knowledge I acquired in BEE 110, I successfully repaired the broken parts on the harvester in three hours.”

It would be like taking Intro to Wines away from the Hotelies, only metal fabrication seems to be, you know, useful for building things and getting food to people and things like that. As the credit crisis unfolds into a devastating recession (or what I have called, the Great Devastation) one would think that courses that focus on actually constructing, building, and repairing tangible goods would be a worthwhile endeavor for a University to pursue.

Of course, however, the credit crisis is to blame for the cutback:

“We have other majors that require resources; we are doing new things and we don’t have unlimited resources. Our college is having a substantial budget deficit and we are anticipating it for the next few years,” said Prof. Barbara Knuth, natural resources, senior associate dean of CALS.

That said, students still interested in such worthwhile endeavors can find similar instruction elsewhere in Tompkins County:

In order to address the fact that CALS will no longer offer metal or woodworking classes, the administration suggests looking into similar classes offered at Tompkins, Seneca, Tioga, Broome-Tioga Board of Cooperative Educational Services or at Tompkins Courtland Community College. BOCES offers adult level classes in welding and construction trades; TCC offers a class in materials science, but the college’s 20-minute drive from North Campus may make it difficult for students to manage the trip.

At the very least, Cornell should honor credit for these classes.

Matthew Nagowski | October 17, 2008 (#)

A Good Ivy Joke

The eight institutions of the Ivy League found themselves all marooned on a desert island... in personified form, strangely enough. And so they went about their business.

Harvard appointed himself the president for life and set out to get everyone else to bow to him. Columbia started a newspaper for the residents of the island. Yale set up a stage and put on a show every night. Dartmouth distilled the juice from the island fruits and set up a bar. Princeton set up an exclusive eating club and invited the others to apply for membership, even though they had no idea how to cook food. Ever shrewd, Penn tried to get the others to trade between themselves and skim off a commission for himself. And humble Cornell went about its own business, planting a garden to grow food and building a water-tight boat to get off the island as soon as possible.

Cornell's garden yielded bountiful food and soon the Big Red Boat was ready to set sail with ample provisions. As they all climbed onto the boat, Dartmouth looked around the island one last time and belched, saying, "Funny how we haven't missed Brown at all."

Matthew Nagowski | October 13, 2008 (#)

Cornell’s Upstate-Downstate Divide

Any Cornell student or alum will be more than familiar with the notion that the land-grant institution for New York State actually comprises the student population from two different states – Downstate... and Upstate New York.

And you don’t have to go very far to run into some stereotypes about the two states. Upstaters will tell you that the Downstaters are all vain, impolite Long Islanders who bemoan the fact that they were rejected at Harvard. And Downstaters will tell you that Upstaters are a bunch of hick farm boys and girls who have no sense of culture and need to shower more than once a week.

I might be exaggerating a bit, but you get the point. From either perspective, you can often find yourself asking, “Where do these people come from?”

With that question in mind, publicly available data from Cornell allows us to discern just where in New York State Cornell’s student body comes from. And the answer shouldn’t be surprising: Long Island and the Hudson Valley are over-represented relative to most other areas in New York State. The major Upstate cities all send about the same percentage of students to Cornell, save for Buffalo which is curiously under-represented. And while New York City (and the urban poor it represents) is grossly under-represented, Ithaca and Cortland are vastly over-represented, thanks to the number of faculty brats and townie scholarships.

Using Census data, the table below details the number of Cornell students from each geographic area relative to the number of individuals of high school age (e.g. 14-17) in their area. So, for instance, for every 1,000 high school students in the Ithaca-Cortland area, 48 end up enrolling at Cornell. On the opposite end of the spectrum, for every 1,000 high school students in the Buffalo-Niagara metro, only 2.7 students end up at Cornell.

On average, for every 1,000 high school students in New York State, Cornell enrolls 4.4 of them.

So we can also see the share of total Cornell students from a certain location in New York. And while certain Collegetown bars may suggest that 50 percent of all Cornell students are from Long Island the reality is that it is closer to…

[The answer, another table and more analysis after the jump.]

Matthew Nagowski | October 06, 2008 (#)

Win the game and then ring a bell!

For the third week in a row, the Big Red are victorious in the final seconds of the football game. But this win takes the cake -- a winning touchdown pass thrown as time expired:

It is these types of "character" wins that will set the stage for further Ivy play down the road. The Ancient Eight appears to be a toss-up this year after early losses for Harvard and Yale.

So next week, the Red takes the fight to Allston, where they will face-off against the Crimson in a nationally televised game on Versus. The Big Red Marching Band (the only marching band in the Ivy League!) will even be hosting a special pre-game concert at Quincy Market the night before.

Matthew Nagowski | October 05, 2008 (#)

I Always Wanted To Be Quoted in the Review

Hopefully nobody will burn copies on account of this article:

Among the most vocal critics of the fencing off of the Fall Creek Gorge is Matthew Nagowski ‘05, editor of the MetaEzra.com alumni blog. In addition to keeping a running counter of how long the fence has been in place at the top of the MetaEzra homepage, Nagowski has written continuous rebuttals to each of CUPD’s points in a personal crusade of sorts. Commenting to The Review, Nagowski made clear his feelings regarding Zoner’s claim that the trail “served no purpose”, declaring that “the fence prohibits the safe and legal use of one of the University's most treasured natural places, a place that has enduring educational and spiritual value.” Whether as a spot for quiet rumination, as a means of getting a little exercise through hiking, or as a place to study nature up close, the gorges have some kind of meaning for every student. Removing access to certain paths, according to Nagowski, amounts to deprivation of what is a simple, safe joy in which all students should be able to share.

Furthermore, Nagowski asserts, Cornell is by no means the only university situated in or near a potentially dangerous environment. He likens the sealing off of the gorge “to Northwestern building a cement wall blocking access to the Lake Michigan shore, or Columbia prohibiting students from going out into New York City at night, for fear of being mugged.” The possibility of harm exists in one form or another on virtually every campus, and the gorges should remain open as a testament to “Cornell’s rugged and free-spirited nature,” of which the gorges are an “iconic symbol.”

Coincidentally, this might be the first time I have ever agreed with the Review. Funny, that.

Matthew Nagowski | October 03, 2008 (#)

Cornell and the Credit Crisis

In a lot of ways we covered the implications of the ongoing credit crisis for higher education last spring, and again over the summer here and here, but given the dramatic turn in recent events it behooves us to return to the topic. At the time we wrote:

The final twist is that the public -- taxpayers like you and me -- may end up paying for our fair share of higher education after all. As the major financial institutions see the writing on the wall -- that the second mortgages and student loans that they underwrote to finance the goal of higher education may not be as sound as an investment as they thought it was -- there will be increasing political pressure for the U.S. government to assume these liabilities. Privatize the reward but socialize the risk.

And as I write this, the U.S. Senate has just passed a sweeping plan designed to socialize the risk associated with all of the private reward that occurred in the upper echelons of Wall Street over the last decade.

So President Skorton went ahead an issued a prudent statement on Cornell's position amidst the country's financial crisis, and thankfully the University appears to be on top of the situation:

Now, however, we must carefully assess our ability to sustain these gains and set the stage to respond to future opportunities. For these reasons, I established earlier in September an ad hoc working group of vice presidents, deans and a vice provost to suggest how we should deal with these budget issues.

In my mind, there are three important things to watch out for as this Great Devastation (if I may coin such a phrase?) unfolds:

The University's Revenue Stream

While Cornell enjoys a multifaceted funding model, supported by student tuition and loans, government funding, endowment returns, and private gifts/grants, all four will come under significant pressure in the years ahead. On the tuition front, not only will household budgets be hit, leading less students to consider an expensive education, but the private loan industry is drying up. At Cornell over 1,000 undergraduates have taken out private-label loans, to say nothing of professional students.

Next, government funding -- from both federal and state sources -- is also going to dry up significantly, and we know how important state appropriations are to Cornell's mission.

And, finally, it doesn't take somebody with a college degree to understand that both private giving and positive endowment returns will be a challenge in the current market going forward. The capital campaign will be lucky to reach $3 billion by 2010, and let's just hope that the endowment didn't invest in any private-label mortgage backed securities.

Operating Priorities and Initiatives

All said, from my perspective it will be a blessing if Cornell can survive the next couple of years with only a ten to fifteen percent drop in it's operating revenue. If my concerns are warranted, that would constitute a significant chunk of change for a not for profit like Cornell -- $200 to $300 million dollars -- and push may have to come to shove for some of the University's priorities, such as the Milstein Hall or even the much hyped financial aid initiative.

What should we expect? Well, the first thing to occur would be a non-academic hiring freeze, as occurred during the last recession, which we might expect pretty soon. Then it would be interesting to see if the University would go without non-essential programs (e.g. some student and faculty services) before turning to any sort of general budget freeze, or worse yet, an academic-hiring freeze. The later is particularly worrisome, as the faculty Cornell is recruiting now will help to build our Cornell for decades to come. Luckily, the University just received some funding to help in this regard.

Long-Term Structure of the University

With the possibility of such looming budget challenges ahead, one can't help but wonder if the current downturn will be an opportunity for Cornell to do some soul-searching and consolidate some inefficiencies and over-lapping conflicts of interest across the campus's different budget units. This is especially true in the contract colleges, and with a little bit of imagination one could possibly see parts of AEM moving to fall under the guise of the Johnson School or DEA and Textile Design moving into an expanded AAP, or even a school that consolidates all of the applied social sciences into one place. And while the institutional inertia may be resistant to such change, the University's budget may ultimately provide the biggest incentive.

Matthew Nagowski | October 01, 2008 (#)

The Honorary Degree Debate

Back in May, the news was announced that the Faculty Senate affirmed the University's stance on the awarding of honorary degrees; Weill Cornell Medical College would not be allowed to grant honorary degrees -- not to the Chairman of Citigroup, nor the Princess of Qatar.

The decision was a while back, but we ran into some of the discussion surrounding the issue, and felt it would be interesting to demonstrate just how vehemently Cornell faculty felt about this issue. Some choice quotes may be found below.

Vice Provost and Dean Hajjar: (Weill Cornell): "What we were thinking about is an accolade that basically would honor real distinct individuals that have gone beyond the call of duty to support the biomedical sciences. This was basically in the back of our minds. We have all sorts of other academic-style vehicles on the medical school campus, but we felt that this would be something special. And that’s why we wanted to consider something special.”

Professor Terrence Fine, Electrical and Computer Engineering: "I think we have maintained a fairly good tradition that has not let us astray.And I would not like to be led astray at this point by a proposal that could in fact end up in awarding degrees to just about anybody who had enough clout to make it worth somebody’s while.”

Vice Provost and Dean Hajjar: "Many of the major top universities in the country they do give a variety of honorary degrees. They do letters. They do a doctorate of arts. A whole variety of degrees are given. We focused on the medical school and not other academic units. We can work together as a team, or we can basically mind our own business and present to you what we think should be done in the medical school.”

Professor Abby Cohn, Linguistics: “But we are different. We have never given honorary degrees before at Cornell. So don’t follow [other examples]. Make your own justifications for why you want to do it.”

Professor Phoebe Sengers, Science and Technology Studies: " My fellow faculty members believe that there are no grounds by which the medical college should be treated differently from all the other disciplines that are seen at Cornell. If you have any arguments to make against it, that might be a good thing to know.”

But our favorite came from Jack Barchas, Chair of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell, who spoke in favor of the proposal:

And I will tell you it is a wonderful process. It’s a wonderful process for the recipient. It’s great fun for the trailing spouse. We eat very well.

Well, in that case...more debate after the jump.

Matthew Nagowski | October 01, 2008 (#)

Other Recent Posts

-- WSJ: Cornell Wins NYC Tech Campus Bid (EBilmes)

-- Barrier Update: City Approves Nets (DJost)

-- Big Red Cymbal Guy (Nagowski)

-- New York Times Survey on Campus Recruiting is Flawed (KScott)

-- Barrier Update: Legal precedent suggests City of Ithaca will not be held liable for gorge suicide (DJost)

-- Despite MSG Loss, Big Potential for Big Red Hockey (EBilmes)

-- City Council Will Vote on Suicide Nets (DJost)

-- An Encounter on the Upper East Side (Nagowski)

-- Showing Off Your School Spirit (Nagowski)

-- Chipotle Ithaca? (KScott)

-- Cornell at the ING NYC Marathon (KScott)

-- Crossing Over a Fine Line: Commercial Activity on Campus (KScott)

-- Milstein's Downfall (Nagowski)

-- Can any Cornell-associated organization really be independent of the University? (Nagowski)

-- Slope Media Revisited (EBilmes)

-- Slope Media Group Approved for Byline Funding (KScott)

-- Occupy AEM? (KScott)

-- New campus pub to be good for both Greeks and non-Greeks (Nagowski)

-- Gagging the Election (Nagowski)

-- The Changing Structure of Rush Week (Nagowski)

-- Ivy League Humility in the Midwest (EBilmes)

-- Of Median Grades and Economics Minors (Nagowski)

-- Homecoming Recap (Nagowski)

-- My Cornell Bookshelf (Nagowski)

-- The Sun's Opinion Section Has Suddenly Gotten Good (Nagowski)

-- Remembering the 11th (Nagowski)

-- Cornellian Tapped as Top Economic Advisor (Nagowski)

-- Cutting Pledging, and the Good Which Comes With It (EBilmes)

-- Why Cornell Should Not Close Fall Creek Gorge (Nagowski)

-- Welcome to the Class of 2015 (Nagowski)