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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 | Posted on April 09, 2009 (#)

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