Any person.
Any study.
Any Cornelliana.

An alumni
blog about Ezra's
University. (more)


Suggestions? Tips?




[+] Cornell News

[+] Higher Ed News

[+] Campus Pubs

[+] Alumni Interest

[+] Diversions

[+] Blogs

[+] Sports

[+] Other Places


[+] By Month

[+] By Author

April 2009

Ivy League Dustup

Cornell and Princeton didn't just square-off on the lacrosse field last weekend (a fantastic win for Cornell, I was there!). They also met in the Stanley Cup playoffs when Cornell's Douglas Murray and Princeton's George Parros decided to take matters into their own hands:

Parros does seem to fit more of the Ivy League stereotype:

If such sweat equity belies their Ivy League pedigree, there is no such incongruity off the ice.

Parros earned his degree in economics with a paper that examined the implications of the 2002 West Coast longshoreman strike on the national economy, and he can converse in Greek and Spanish. More importantly, he routinely trounces teammates Rob Niedermayer, Drew Miller, Ryan Carter and Ryan on the USA Today crossword puzzle.

"They're always asking George if their answers are right," said teammate Andrew Ebbett. "Most of them can't do the crossword -- they're more puzzle guys."

Murray earned his bachelor's in hotel administration, a program for which Cornell is renowned. He has put his education -- in and out of the classroom -- to use when he and a pair of classmates invented and marketed a beer-keg tap that fills three glasses at once. Murray has left the business mostly to his partners, while he focuses on hockey.

"I love hockey," Murray said. "But I couldn't have a better insurance policy."

Matthew Nagowski | April 25, 2009 (#)

Academic Freedom and Nutrition

If these allegations are true -- and a provocative and popular course has been withheld due to political considerations -- then it might make sense for the Provost to conduct a full academic audit of the Division of Nutrition Sciences. As things stand right now, this doesn't quite pass the sniff test:

About a month ago, over 1,000 people first started signing a petition lobbying for the return of Nutritional Sciences 200: Vegetarian Nutrition, a former course taught by Prof. T. Colin Campbell, one of the world’s leading researchers in the field. The petition claims that Cornell’s abrupt removal of the course and refusal to disclose an explanation was “clearly a violation of academic freedom.”

The course was pulled back in 2005, and Campbell has spent the last few years attempting to settle the matter internally with the University.

“The course was terminated with no consultation with me … and without allowing me to seek the opinion of the curriculum committee who originally approved it on behalf of the faculty,” Campbell explained. “I did everything possible to resolve this from the inside.”

Still, he received no information. However, he does have some ideas as to the reasons behind the abrupt decision.

“The person who did this was a major consultant to the dairy industry … and the direction of my research for the past four decades has many unfavorable implications for a number of industries.”

The “person” Campbell is referring to is Cutberto Garza, the director of the Division of Nutritional Sciences when the course was canceled but has since moved to Boston College as academic vice president. According to Alan Mathios, dean of the College of Human Ecology, course catalogue decisions ultimately lay in the hands of department directors — in this case, Garza. Garza has been a consultant for a number of companies, including the Dannon Institute, one of the world’s most prominent dairy lobbying groups.

Although Garza could not be reached for comments, the current Division of Nutritional Sciences Director Patrick Stover said, “The decision to no longer offer the course was made for educational reasons and has absolutely nothing to do with the division’s alleged ties to the dairy industry.”

Full disclosure: I consume dairy and meat products, although I mostly enjoy meat from the farmer who lives in my town.

Matthew Nagowski | April 16, 2009 (#)

My First Foray Onto the Sun Op-Ed Page

As an undergraduate I mostly busied my free time with research for the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute. But I also found some spare time to write some movie, music, and book reviews for the Sun's Red Letter Daze. And at a certain point, I even considered becoming an opinion writer for the Sun. That never happened. Until today, when Sammy Perlmutter '10 graciously agreed to run a piece that had been kicking around my head for a long time.

Longtime readers of this website will not find the topic -- the possible reorganization of the undergraduate colleges to both improve the academic experience and streamline the budget-- a new one. It's something that I have been hinting at and nibbling around the edges with for awhile, especially as the TAM consolidation has foreshadowed future academic changes on campus.

Space was a concern, though. And for every idea that made it into the article, two more ended up on the editing block, and I could have really used some more examples to demonstrate my point. I'll be following up over the weekend with some more thoughts. But until then, I would love to read any feedback, either via my own email or the Sun's website.

In the face of the current economic downturn and New York’s fiscal woes, President Skorton recently asserted the need to “reconfigure” our beloved Cornell. The time is opportune to rethink how departments and colleges are positioned across East Hill. By doing so, we can not only streamline the University’s budget and cut through the Big Red Tape, but also improve the undergraduate experience and strengthen Cornell’s role as a land-grant institution.

Nowhere is this need greater than in the applied social sciences. Today, applied programs featuring faculty in the fields of economics, psychology, government, business and sociology are found in all three of the undergraduate contract colleges in an inefficient mix of departments and students.

While good historical reasons exist for the current arrangement, the simple truth is that many of Cornell’s departmental and college-level distinctions puzzle prospective students, faculty recruits and outside observers alike. Not only do they dilute the academic experience for many Cornellians, but they can also foster unhealthy budgetary and programmatic competition between the colleges.

The rest is on the Sun's website.

Matthew Nagowski | April 10, 2009 (#)

Svenska and Slope Day

In what may be an even more flawed decision process than the choice of some no-name Obama staffer as Convocation speaker, the Slope Day Steering Committee has decided to use their considerable budget to pay some no-talent pop groups to perform for a bunch of drunken college students.

The kicker is that the University (rightly) decided to limit funding for Slope Day this year, but the SA chose to redirect money originally earmarked to an endowment for student activities in order to save ‘Slope Day’. And President Skorton actually penned a letter saying that he “appreciated” the SA’s effort to “meet the needs of students”, although I think it is fair to say that he probably said it through clenched teeth.

Both a reader of Dear Uncle Ezra and the old man himself are not amused:

Dear Uncle Ezra, I know that the university faces an adverse economic climate where it has to make difficult choices with the budget. However, it seems completely unjustifiable to me to eliminate a library (Physical Sciences) that serves the physicists and chemists, while funding Slope Day, a non-academic pursuit. No one will lose a job if we skipped Slope Day for a year, but jobs are being eliminated with the library. What is the university's rationale in keeping Slope Day going?

Dear Student,
I totally agree with you and I am not happy at all that a huge amount of money is going to an event focused on watching scantily dressed young women gyrate on stage. But this is what the students wanted and much of the money is coming from the Student Activity Fee, which is the students' money to spend…

There were many options including low budget, highly talented local artists for Slope Day, but the committee thought a "big name" was important. I hope that in retrospect everyone will see that we are all in this financial crisis together and that sometimes we need to work together to change our priorities to fit with the times.

I would add that another option would have been doing away with the need for a musical act altogether and returning Slope Day to its roots: hauling a couple of couches and kegs to hang out on Libe Slope. Like the way it was done my freshman year. But somehow I don’t think that the University’s lawyers would agree.

Consider this: Between the regular S.A. charge and this year’s additional payment-in-lieu-of-endowment, Slope Day is funded to the tune of $20 per student -- or over a quarter of a million dollars.

Now, all of this comes in light of the fact that the University has announced plans to disband its programs in Swedish and Dutch languages beginning in the fall of 2010. Consolidation of Mechanics into Mechanical Engineering or streamlining libraries for under-utilized services is one thing, but the full-scale dismantlement of viable academic programs falls into another category altogether.

Especially when a program has exactly one person on staff.

I’m obviously not privy to the finances of these particular programs, but with only one lecturer each, shared administrative functions with larger departments, and not a whole lot of demand for office or classroom space on campus, I can’t see the combined cost of these programs costing more than a quarter of a million dollars a year, if not a bit less.

Which is about the cost of Slope Day.

Moreover, it appears that the Swedish program, in particular, has brought considerable reputational and funding benefits to the University. A recent alumna of the program, KD, writes:

I think the Swedish program offers a lot to the University. It brings in grad students, it interfaces well with linguistics, it acts as a cheap way for Cornell to acclimate the 40-65 Swedes arriving to study on campus annually, and it opens up all sorts of grants to students. The Swedish government is just dying for people to learn its language, and offers travel and research grants for which Cornell puts up by far the most competition.

For instance, we attract a lot of attention with that program from Sweden's Agriculture University and Uppsala University. The University gets a lot of exchange students that the professor organizes and acclimates to live in Ithaca. Since we have two official two-way exchange programs with two different Swedish universities, cutting the one professor that comprises the whole department may be more than made up for in administrative costs to the University in managing those exchange students.

In the political calculus of University budgets, a day of drunken debauchery is prized over a program that provides meaningful engagement with our international peers.

Matthew Nagowski | April 09, 2009 (#)

Mrs. Gillibrand Comes to Ithaca

As she is a Dartmouth alumna, I don't know if Senator Gillibrand has a strong opinion of Cornell one way or another, but I do know that I am especially encouraged to hear her talk about the need for more science, technology, and math majors in American higher education.

Gillibrand said she sees a lack of American students studying life sciences in college and noted that other occupations, such as nursing and engineering, have also been affected by shortages.

She has proposed a bill that would provide federally funded tuition for juniors and seniors majoring in science, math and technology. The senator will also encourage Gov. David Paterson to enact loan forgiveness for medical students who choose to practice primary care, as opposed to a more lucrative specialty.

Her proposal is exciting because it recognizes the fact that there are significant public benefits to educating students in the sciences, and that the current costs to such a degree may be restricting the pool of interested students. Who could pass up a half-price degree from CALS or Engineering?

Where I am worried, though, is that there is no mechanism to require that students actually pursue a career in the sciences. There has been an increasing tendency for students educated in the sciences to find themselves lured by the financial excesses of Wall Street. Nate Silver has blogged about this worrisome phenomenon, and I'm convinced that absent a rebuilding of the regulatory framework that has been dismantled so handily over the last thirty years, the underlying incentives to enter certain careers will not change.

What's striking is how we have reinvented so much of our economy over the last thirty years to replace work of actual productive value (e.g. producing machines, improving the health of children, and perfecting agricultural techniques) with work where the value is nebulous, on paper, and fleeting, at best (e.g. underwriting CDOs and coming up with financial arbitrage techniques in what is essentially a zero-sum game). Even more striking is how the barons of Wall Street justify their salaries by claiming to have actually added value to the nation's economy, when all they have done is joined a particularly well-connected club with a monopolistic stranglehold over the American economy.

So perhaps Gillibrand should first focus on keeping her downstate constituents in line.

Matthew Nagowski | April 08, 2009 (#)

Cornell Owns the Goldwater

Goldwater Scholarships -- fostering outstanding undergraduate work in the natural and engineering sciences -- were announced today, and Cornell absolutely owned the competition, along with MIT. Each university is allowed to nominate four students, and all four Cornell nominees were chosen for the honor.

Below, I've compiled a quick ranking of Goldwater Scholarships by school in 2009 for select schools:

Cornell 4
CalTech 3
Michigan 3
Northwestern 3
Princeton 3
Rice 3
Berkeley 2
Chicago 2
Dartmouth 2
Emory 2
Harvard 2
Vanderbilt 2
Yale 2
Johns Hopkins 1
Brown 0
Penn 0
Duke 0

'Tis a shame we couldn't have settled the score of the Bemidji State hockey game with Goldwater Scholarships on Sunday.

Matthew Nagowski | April 03, 2009 (#)

Hey! That's My Meme!

As the person who started the 'Cornell and the Big 10' notion three years ago, it's interesting to see how much the blogosphere has exploded in chatter about the idea ever since the Cornell Basketball Blog picked up the line of thought. Even IvyGate has jumped into the fray, while comments on the site have eagerly discussed the merits of adding Georgetown or MIT to the Ancient Eight.

Genius! By moving from the Ivy League to the Big 10/11, Cornell would improve their academic standing from the eighth-best in the conference to second-, third-, or fourth-best in the conference. But what about being competitive in athletics?

But seriously, now, I think everybody is missing my point.

It's not that Cornell would necessarily be better served in the Big 10. It won't. And it's not that Cornell's football or basketball teams could actually hope to play to the level of Michigan State or Wisconsin. They can't.

It's just that a certain subset of Cornellians happen to think that the school's Ivy League status actually means something to their personal sense of worth, when it doesn't. And pointing out that our school has a lot of similarities with a different athletic conference would merely help Cornell to better stand on its own merits, just like Stanford, Duke, Northwestern, Georgetown, or Rice.

Besides, I like Cornell's all-time winning record against Michigan football. And I think it might make sense to keep it that way.

Matthew Nagowski | April 02, 2009 (#)

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)