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November 2008

A Proposed Paycut for Skorton

So the Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting that Cornell President David Skorton earned $730,604 in total compensation last year, between pay and benefits.

In dear times like these, that strikes us as a bit high. Skorton should set out enough of his salary to support the full tuition of four undergraduates, say $150,000 a year. Because, really, what's an extra $100,000 or so? And the President's son has already graduated from Stanford so he doesn't have to worry about footing that tuition bill.

If this tone might strike you as a bit presumptuous, well, it shouldn't be. After all, other university presidents across the country are doing the exact same thing:

The chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis, Mark S. Wrighton, announced on Thursday that he would take a 5 percent cut from his base salary on Jan. 1 and another 5 percent reduction on July 1.

Mr. Wrighton, who announced his decision in an e-mail message to the university community, also pointed out that the university’s endowment had declined about 25 percent since July 1, that some capital projects were being delayed and that faculty salary increases would be lower than in past years.

Mr. Wrighton said he had a base salary of about $560,000 and a total compensation package of about $780,000. He also earns about $360,000 from serving on two corporate boards.

Matthew Nagowski | November 23, 2008 (#)

Mr. Skorton and Mr. Ahmadinejad

So the big news this week is that President Skorton is touring Iran with a bunch of other leaders from academe. And as the Chronicle reported, there would be no politics in the trip:

The group will not meet with Iranian government officials or engage in political talks, the participants emphasize. The Iranian government has been harshly criticized for its persecution of intellectuals. In mid-October Esha Momeni, an American-born graduate student at California State University at Northridge, was arrested in Tehran while researching Iran's women's movement. Momeni was released on bail Nov. 11.

But now comes a report that the group will meet with Ahmadinejad:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is likely to meet with the presidents of 6 US universities who are currently on a tour of Iran.

"We believe it is important to maintain and renew academic ties between our two countries as a means of laying the groundwork for greater understanding and rebuilding what was once a very healthy collaboration in science and higher education," said Robert Berdahl, the president of the Association of American Universities which organized the tour.

This is interesting and we wonder whether or not any of the Cornell Jewish groups will raise concern. But we must say we approve: like Richard Nixon we believe it is okay to talk to those who might be hostile to us without preconditions.

Update: The Sun is now reporting a 'categorical denial' of the report, and even gives us a shoutout in the process.

The American Association of Universities categorically denied yesterday an Iranian news report that stated the six U.S. university presidents currently visiting Iran, including Cornell President David Skorton, were likely to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“The report is inaccurate. That’s not happening,” said AAU spokesperson Barry Toiv.

The Iranian FARS News Agency reported earlier this week that Ahmadinejad was “likely to meet” with the university presidents.

The FARS news story was picked up by several Iranian websites and blogs as well as the MetaEzra blog, which is published by two Cornell alumni. A story on the CBS News website also reported for a brief period of time on Wednesday that Ahmadinejad was expected to meet with the university presidents, according to a Google cache of the page. The CBS story has since been changed.

Matthew Nagowski | November 19, 2008 (#)

Choice Quotes from David Harris

Last month we stumbled upon a wonderfully provocative quote from President Skorton on the challenge of organizational efficiencies at Cornell.

Today we bring four choice quotes from interim Provost David Harris on the challenge of admissions and financial aid at Cornell. They speak for themselves, and so we offer them with little comment.

On the bitter irony of educating more poor students:

Doing anything at Cornell costs a lot more than other schools and that’s a big part of our count – just more expensive. We’re victims, if you will, by the fact that we’ve been economically diverse much more so than some of our peers and we’re larger.

On how to recruit under-represented minorities to Cornell:

The overall approach here is that everything we do around underrepresented minorities we should think of them as students first, URMs second. We’re very concerned about the number of URMs. But I fear that we can turn off some kids off who may be thinking, “I want to come to Cornell because I love English; I want to be an English major” and if they feel that they’re not having those avenues open to them and they’re getting channeled more as a URM. We need worry about that kind of negative impact on our ability to recruit and so we want to think about a range of things that people see and feel.

On whether or not the other Ivy schools are adhering to a common policy regarding financial aid for athletes:

We’re less competitive because there has been a relative change in what we do for athletes – not an absolute change what we do for athletes. Harvard, Yale and Princeton and in particular Harvard, has gone way beyond in what it they can offer kids in terms of parent contributions and in terms of loans in terms of how much summer savings is expected – a whole range of things. There are a number of our peer institutions who are matching Harvard, Yale and Princeton on these terms in ways that are hard to reconcile with Ivy League rules in many cases.

And, finally, is it time to bring back the Image Committee?

The greatest policy in the world is of no use if no one knows about our policy. Has anybody been to our Admissions and Financial Aid websites lately? They’re not so good. They look like they’ve been around for quite a while and so we have to improve those at a minimum. We may not have policies that are as good as some places, but we have to at least sell ourselves as best we possibility can. We can create recruitment materials. Some of that can talk about financial aid... We can do a better job on that. We need to communicate better. I don’t think a lot of people even know the changes we made in January.

Late Update: For those who may be wondering, the quotes come from the Faculty Senate meeting this past October. And David Harris writes in to say that, "We recently revised the admissions and financial aid websites, so the comments about those sites are no longer relevant."

Matthew Nagowski | November 17, 2008 (#)

A Slippery Issue

So the Cornell Alumni Magazine has come out with their big article addressing the issue of the recent gorge drownings, gorge safety and gorge policy, and yours truly makes a guest appearance:

The task force's most visible action has been erecting a chain-link fence, about thirty feet long and eight feet high, blocking access to the pool via a steep stone staircase from the Phi Gamma Delta parking lot off McGraw Place. Simeon Moss '73, BA '82, Cornell's press relations director, calls the fence a short-term fix while a more effective safety campaign is worked out. Although some have welcomed the fence, others have criticized it as ineffectual.

Matthew Nagowski '05 calls it "draconian and naïve," and the homepage of his blog, MetaEzra.com, sports a banner calling on President David Skorton to take down the fence. "Is the University going to put up a fence around Cayuga Lake?" Nagowski asks. "It seems like the proper solution to this problem is education and enforcement, not forbidding people to enjoy one of the University's most treasured natural places." Professor emeritus of geological sciences Arthur Bloom agrees that restricting access is neither feasible nor desirable, pointing out that the gorges provide a valuable teaching tool. "There are all sorts of interesting phenomena, and you can literally get your nose right up against them.":

Well, I have at least one faculty member on my side.

Kelley's article features some rather grim quotes from the scuba diver who recovered Lowe's body. And in all, it's an excellent article, not in the least because I am quoted in it.

We learn, for instance, that not one fine has been issued for gorge swimming in a very long time:

Over the past few years, the Ithaca Police Department has stepped up its focus on the problem—although not the number of actual arrests. It issued four tickets for gorge swimming in 2004 and 2005; but from 2007 through June 2008, it issued twenty-eight warnings, in which offenders are identified but face no punishment. City and campus police departments are now exploring ways to collaborate on enforcing the code—and, if the University agrees, upping the punishment to include academic penalties. Many students would welcome more enforcement, says Student Assembly (SA) president Ryan Lavin '09. "If there's some enforcement—cite or ticket once in a while—it will deter the bulk from going in."

That said, I believe academic penalties would be a little bit harsh. But certainly ticketing gorge swimmers should be a higher priority for the police than ticketing house parties that nobody has bothered to call in about?

And we also get word that the University is also taking a proactive role, considering the creation of some outdoor swimming areas on campus:

The task force is also brainstorming alternatives to gorge swimming. They include providing free shuttles to nearby state parks where swimming is allowed, like Buttermilk Falls and Lower Treman; designating safe swimming areas in the city's natural waters (and amending the city code to make those areas legal); and building an outdoor pool on campus. Perhaps the most drastic option is filling the Fall Creek pool with boulders or other materials.

Does anybody else think that a regulated swimming hole in Beebe Lake might be the way to go?

But I would wager a bet that students will continue to enjoy the gorges for years to come, freely aware that they do so at their own peril.

N.B. Tomorrow will coincidentally be the 100th day of the banner beseeching Skorton to take the Fall Creek fence down. We'll retire it at that point.

Matthew Nagowski | November 17, 2008 (#)

Budget Cuts Roil Across Academia

Six weeks ago, before people started tossing around the word 'depression', we asserted that it would be a blessing if Cornell could survive the next two years with only a 10 to 15 percent cut in its budget.

Well, Cornell hasn't announced any firm plans for its budget (save for a costly new financial aid program) but other schools have started talking about their plans. Courtesy of Bloomberg News:

Dartmouth, the smallest school in the Ivy League, will freeze hiring, postpone new construction and consider cutting or merging departments as it slashes up to 10 percent, or $40 million, from its budget, according to a letter posted on the Hanover, New Hampshire, school's Web site yesterday. Stanford, in California, will cut 10 to 12 percent, or as much as $96 million, over the ``next few years,'' according to a letter to alumni.

Stanford and Dartmouth join a growing number of other private and public schools struggling with shriveling investments in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Among the Ivy League of eight elite private schools, Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York, and Brown University, in Providence, Rhode Island, also have announced hiring freezes. Princeton University in New Jersey said it may postpone new construction projects.

It's important to note some differences in the revenue structure between a school like Dartmouth and Cornell. At Dartmouth, which has an operating budget of about $400MM, a full third of the school's revenues comes from its endowment. So it is more sensitive to its investments. Meanwhile, Cornell's Ithaca campus is about five times as large -- a roughly $2 billion operation -- but its investments constitute less than fifteen percent of its budget.

Of course, Cornell also has state appropriations to worry about, which make up another ten percent of the University's budget, and upwards of twenty percent of the contract college's budgets.

It will be interesting to see what Cornell's endowment returns look like at the end of the year. While Cornell's endowment was up two percent through June 2008, artmouth's endowment was down 6 percent from June to October, while UVa found itself down a whopping 20 percent over the same time frame. Of course, it could be worse, as the S&P 500 was down around 25 percent over the same period.

Needless to say, this is only the beginning.

Matthew Nagowski | November 16, 2008 (#)

Cornell Eliminates Parental Contributions

This is big news.

We wonder where the money will come from. Maybe CIO James Walsh has been shorting the S&P 500?

"In the current volatile and difficult economic circumstances, many current and prospective college students and their families are concerned about the affordability of a university education. Particularly at this unsettling time, Cornell University must open its doors even wider," said President David J. Skorton.

"Our new policy will allow students, despite the current economic conditions, to be able to choose Cornell and to thrive here. With these enhancements, we will have the best chance each year to attract the strongest class," said Cornell Interim Provost David Harris.

The three components of the new financial aid initiative are:

1) Eliminate the parental contribution for students from families with incomes below $60,000 and assets below $100,000.

2) Cap need-based student loans at $7,500 annually for students who have financial need and whose families have annual incomes above $120,000.

3) Reduce the parental contribution for selected students who have financial need and whose families have annual incomes above $60,000.

Cornell already eliminates need-based student loans for family incomes below $60,000 (the income level will rise to $75,000 in Fall 2009), and annually caps need-based student loans at $3,000 for family incomes between $60,000 and $120,000.

Frankly, this is an interesting development. The conventional wisdom is that in an economic downturn a university would invest relatively more in faculty and facilities than in students, because whereas students are on campus for at most a couple of years, faculty and facilities can affect the stature of the institution for decades to come.

So color me surprised. I do like this little barb, though:

When considering how to enhance financial aid, Cornell has a unique set of challenges, Harris said. Not only is Cornell larger than many of its peers, it is also more socio-economically diverse. In fall 2007, Cornell had 1,863 undergraduates, or about 14 percent of its undergraduates, receiving federal Pell Grants, typically awarded to students whose family incomes are below $45,000. Harris pointed out that this is roughly the same number of Pell grant recipients as are enrolled at Yale, Princeton and Harvard combined.

This should get good press in the papers.

Matthew Nagowski | November 13, 2008 (#)

Damn Hoosiers

So the Great State of Indiana had to go and ruin my fun. Barack Hussein Obama (who we can now refer to by his full given name without fear of retribution from know-nothings) appears to be in the lead in Indiana, bringing the total electoral count of 364 to Obama, and not 353 as I predicted, assuming everything else holds.

Kurt Vonnegut, the consummate Cornellian and Hoosier, would be proud.

For the Cornell races in Congress, Kirk held his Republican seat in Illinois, and Schrader picked up his Democratic seat in Oregon, so it looks like there might be at least five Cornellians in the House come January. And there will be six if Myers ekes out a victory in New Jersey, which the Times is reporting has Myers ahead 50.3 to 49.7, but they have strangely called it for the incumbent Dem. We're really not certain who we should be rooting for on this one... Cornell vs. Harvard or Republican vs. Democrat.

Update: Looks like Myers lost in a hotly contested race.

And the New York State Senate is now Democratically controlled for the first time in forty years. One race that I forgot to mention earlier, featuring Don Tonello, a Cornell employee and current Mayor of Elmira, ended in defeat for him. Nozzolio kept his job, and Nachbar failed short. So there is still only one Cornellian in the State Senate.

P.S. Does anybody else think that we have a tremendous amount of work to do over the next eight years? Let's get to it.

Matthew Nagowski | November 05, 2008 (#)

All Politics Is Local

So while the rest of the country may be peeled to the Vigo County, IN results and the ensuing celebrations on Lake Michigan tonight, (yes, I just called it for Obama at 8:30 PM EST, for the win with 353 electoral votes), it might make sense to turn ourselves to New York State politics and how the election might affect Cornell during these very grim economic times.

(N.B. Before I dive into the subject matter, be sure to check out our other election day post on Cornellians running for national office.)

In the Executive Branch, I think nobody would deny that Governor Patterson has performed absolutely admirably over the last year since Spitzer disgraced himself in such shocking fashion. And he has taken to addressing the structural issues affecting the New York State budget in a direct and necessary fashion.

But for anybody who is the least bit acquainted with New York State politics and all of its dysfunctions, the Governor cannot move the State without being in step with the Assembly and the Senate, and the Senate has long stood as a Republican stalwart in contrast to the more moderate or liberal tendencies of the Assembly and the Governor's Mansion.

But tonight there is the very real possibility that the Senate will go Democratic as well, providing Paterson and the Assembly the impetus for needed reform.

It remains to be seen what this means for Cornell. The longstanding concern among Upstate politicos is that the NYS Democratic party is controlled by Downstate interests, and that the political calculus of pork and re-elections will mean even less money being funneled to needed projects Upstate... especially needed projects at a certain land grant university with an egalitarian history.

On the flip side is the argument that the Upstate Republicans have presided over what has been effectively the worst economy in the country over the last thirty years, and that the Democratic party might bring needed perspective and reform to Upstate's woes. So, if the Senate Dems could bring more investment in urban infrastructure, industry, and research dollars Upstate, there might be a reason to keep your fingers crossed.

From a larger world view, I'll note that the challenges facing New York State's government in this economic downturn, particular its institutions of public finance and its governmental structure,are so grave and so immense that one can only hope that real, substantial change takes place over the next year or two. What type of change am I thinking of? Well, anything that might allow Upstate to effectively becomes its own administrative district with a separate tax, mandate, and regulatory climate from Downstate's needs would go a long way to jump starting Upstate's economy.

At any rate, if I step off my soap box, I'll just point to some interesting NYS Senate races with some Cornell connections.

Curiously, for being such a large force in the state, Cornell only has one alum in the NYS Senate -- Michael Nozzolio -- an ILRie out of Seneca Falls who also earned a graduate degree from Cornell and serves on the Cornell University Council.

Nozzolio is an Upstate Republican who faces a fresh-faced candidate in Paloma Capanna. And in an election year where every Republican is playing defense, we will not know the outcome until every vote is tabulated tonight.

The other interesting state Senate race featuring a Cornellian is in the 55th district in the Rochester suburbs, where another ILRie, David Nachbar '84, is running as a Democrat against a Republican. Nachbar is a former HR executive at Bausch and Lomb, and is running a competitive race.

Currently the Republicans have a two-seat majority in the Senate, but with a little bit of hope, anything can happen. And there is nothing false about hope.

Matthew Nagowski | November 04, 2008 (#)

Vote for Cornell

We will leave it to our readers to hazard a guess as to who Andy and myself are voting for in this election. Needless to say, we have known to hold some paradoxical views, being quoted approvingly in The Cornell Review while also making fun of Ann Coulter '84.

That said, there probably are some Cornellians you should consider voting for today...

On the Presidential ballot, way down on the bottom, you will find the Green Party candidates of Cynthia Mckinney and Rosa Clemente. McKinney was a former Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of '56 University Professor at Cornell. And Clemente earned her MPS at Cornell in 2002. Her Wikipedia article lists her as a community organizer and Hip-Hop activist, so it looks like Barack has another community organizer to keep him company on the ballot this year.

A cursory search didn't indicate any major party Cornellian candidates for U.S. Senate (nor are they any current sitting Senators from Cornell), but if I missed any candidates, please do let me know.

In the House of Representatives is where things get interesting. Cornell currently has four alums serving as current Congressman -- Ron Andrews JD '82 (D, NJ-1), Bob Filner '63 (D, CA-51), Mark Kirk '81 (R, IL-10), and Gabriell Giffords MRP '96 (D, AZ-8). So roughly 1 percent of all U.S. Congressman are Cornellians, which isn't too shabby. But as our Achilles heal, we've never had a President or Governor of New York State.

Giffords, Andrews, and Filner appear all to be sitting in relatively safe seats this year, although Filner does appear to have a reputation for being a little bit "pushy". Giffords was thought to have a competitive race against the current President of the Arizona Senate, but the latest polls out put her at a comfortable lead.

That leaves Kirk, who made the unfortunate slight of saying, "If we see Obama there's a shoot-on-sight order." over the summer. Needless to say, the race has gotten competitive for this Republican in a state that is looking to usher in its first U.S. President since the days of Grant and Lincoln, and his competitor Dan Seals has made the race competitive this year, thanks, of course, to a general anti-Republican sentiment sweeping the nation this election season.

Now, there may be more, but the only other Congressional candidate I could find with Cornellian roots is Chris Myers MPA '96 who is running as a Republican against incumbent Democrat John Adler in New Jersey's third congressional district. I would categorize it as a lean Dem. (And coincidentally, Adler is a Harvard alum.)

Update: Reader CE writes in with more races that we failed to note the first time around. In the race for the Governorship of Vermont, Democrat Gaye Symington MBA '83, is facing an uphill battle again incumbent Jim Douglas to the right and 'Independent Progressive' (where else but in Vermont?) Anthony Pollina to the left. While Symington is a long shot, we would be amiss not to point out that Cornellian Philipi Hoff JD '51 was governor of Vermont in the 60s, and curiously, attended Williams before heading to graduate school at Cornell, just like Symington.

And there's apparently another congressional race that we missed which has a good chance of ushering in a Cornellian to the U.S. House of Representatives. Kurt Schrader '73 has the Democratic endorsement for the 5th Congressional district in Oregon. At this point, he looks like the favorite, with Pollster giving him a 20 point spread. Oregon likes it Democrats, apparently.

So maybe Cornell will only have three still have four representatives in Congress come January, even if Kirk loses, Schrader will help to balance things up for the Carnelian and White.

Matthew Nagowski | November 04, 2008 (#)

Cornell's Image -- on NBC

One of the funniest (and sometimes, most painful) running gags on NBC's The Office is Andy Bernard's insistence on dropping Cornell references at every possible opportunity. Sure, to many of the employees at Dunder Mifflin's Scranton branch, Cornell is the big Ivy League university an hour and a half's drive up Route 81. But they also must be wondering: If Cornell is so hot, what's he doing here?

That about sums up Andy's character: inflated self-regard combined with a raging inferiority complex. Sound familiar? To many of us, Andy Bernard is a little too much like a certain type of Cornellian. Which is why last week's episode, which featured a Cornell admissions interview run amok, was so priceless. Of course Andy volunteers for CAAAN interviews! And of course Dwight would make the perfect applicant to the Ag School! (For the record, none of my interviewees have turned the tables on me in quite the same way.)

Watch it all in its beet-biting glory here.

As Matt theorized, this is likely a case of the writing team (which did its homework for this episode -- Comstock Hall indeed) poking fun (or thumbing its nose) at its bigger, younger Ivy League cousin. My own attempt to cross-reference the show's writers and producers with the alumni directory yielded several Harvard grads and a Dartmouth grad, but no one from Cornell. I wouldn't be surprised if the Big Red sent over an intern or two, though.

Update by MPN: We're now told that Kevin Reilly '84, former President of Entertainment at NBC and now President of Entertainment at FOX, is actually the inspiration for Andy Bernard, as he was the one who kept The Office on the air after its low-rated first season. So the writers paid tribute to him. Here's an interesting interview with Reilly that the Sun ran last year:

Sun: Was Andy Bernard, the Cornellian on The Office, anything to do with you?

K.R.: I actually — Greg Daniels who created the show, I don’t know how much of that was coincidence or not but he was kind of making fun of me. I actually did a scene with [Andy Bernard]. I did a cameo on The Office last year. I was giving Greg a hard time because he cut my scene out with him. But I was laughing because we did a whole riff on Cornell that ended up on the cutting room floor.

Later Update: Here's the Cornell plot line of the Office episode in question:

Andy Guess | November 02, 2008 (#)

University Implements Hiring Freeze, Building Pause

So as we speculated a month ago, the first step for the University in the Great Panic of 2008-? (or as I call it, the Great Devastation) is to institute a hiring freeze.

The Sun reports:

Though it appears likely that some employees will be laid off, Bruce underscored the University’s commitment to minimize any firings. “We are going to slow down our hiring such that we keep positions open, so it will generate savings this year in order to offset any pressure that might be on our human resources,” he said. “The president made very clear that we have no intention of addressing the challenges that the recent economic crisis has created by doing it ‘on the backs of our people.’”

In addition, construction projects in early phases will be put on a 90-day hold to allow administrators to reassess projects, determine how much of a priority they are and how they fit in the University budget. As such, all projects that do not have construction contracts will be postponed, those currently in the design phase will be allowed to complete the phase and then be put on hold, while those which have not yet progressed to the design stage will be reviewed before any further actions. Furthermore, physical infrastructure projects, information technology capital investment projects and local transportation and housing projects, which have not yet been initiated, will also be delayed.

The key takeaway is that it has only been implemented for 'non-professorial' openings, meaning that faculty are still being courted. And depending on the depths of the recession, it will be interesting to see how the University might approach academic hiring in a stressed environment.

We also found this proposed idea intriguing. Just think about how many full scholarships could be offered if the President, the Provost, and the CIO all took a ten percent pay cut...

Milstein Hall, though, is still going full speed ahead.

Matthew Nagowski | November 02, 2008 (#)

Other Recent Posts

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

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-- Showing Off Your School Spirit (Nagowski)

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-- Milstein's Downfall (Nagowski)

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

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