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July 2009

Where Have We Heard This Before?

From the Cornell Chronicle:

Fuchs said the tough questions -- the ones that keep him up at night -- are about those crucial decisions that will change the nature of the university. "Some colleges are looking at dramatically changing the numbers of departments they have," he said, and added that even merging some colleges or schools are options that may be put on the table.

"It is important to stress that we're not just looking at things to save us money," said David Harris, deputy provost and project manager for the engagement with the outside consulting firm. "We're looking at things that will position us to be a stronger university, moving forward."

Matthew Nagowski | July 23, 2009 (#)

Your Move, Campus Life

One of the arguments frequently made in defense of the continuous existence of ethnic-themed housing arrangements at Cornell is that they promote intercultural interactions and provide a "safe space" for minorities on campus. But what if social science research suggested the opposite? What if common sense were correct in dictating that sustained interactions between students of different backgrounds could, in many cases, improve interracial relations and promote tolerance?

From The New York Times:

Several recent studies, at Ohio State and elsewhere, have found that having a roommate of a different race can reduce prejudice, diversify friendships and even boost black students’ academic performance. But, the research found, such relationships are more stressful and more likely to break up than same-race pairings.

Of course, "diversity" per se is no panacea:

Several studies have shown that living with a roommate of a different race changes students’ attitudes. One, from the University of California at Los Angeles, generally found decreased prejudice among students with different-race roommates — but those who roomed with Asian-Americans, the group that scored the highest on measures of prejudice, became more prejudiced themselves.

But what can you do. Students are frequently urged to "leave their comfort zone" in daily social interactions. That strategy can pay dividends or, as the article suggests, leave people more jaded and prejudiced than they were before. Kind of like real life.

Anyway, I don't mean to belabor the point. The social forces being studied here are complex. But it seems clear that defenders of the residential status quo on North Campus have yet more explaining to do.

Andy Guess | July 09, 2009 (#)

CALS Dean: Faculty, Department Declines Imminent

While MetaEzra has been decidedly dormant for the last three months, save for Andy's Romanian-based insight into a Kiwi Killer, luckily the Cornell administration has not been sitting on their heels in the face of the largest financial and economic crisis in generations.

For starters, Provost Fuchs has begun to press the Deans to "reimagine Cornell" (hmmm... where have we heard this before?) while Skorton lectures the Cornell community on cost-saving techniques every chance that he gets.

But to fully comprehend the challenge at hand, I think the following passage, taken from a letter by CALS Dean Susan Henry to all department and units heads in the Ag School is useful:

Based upon the possible budget reductions, it is clear that CALS needs to restructure, reducing the number of academic departments and refocusing their efforts. We must, thereby, develop a new departmental structure that will be strategically positioned to best achieve our future goals within the projected budget constraints (see attached mission, vision and goals statement). Since 1982, CALS has decreased in size from approximately 440 faculty and 28 departments, to 370 faculty and 26 departments currently. We anticipate, based on budget projections, a likely equilibrium size of 330 faculty after the projected budget reductions have been fully absorbed.

Any such reduction in faculty numbers must be achieved by curtailing faculty hiring in the next several years. This future reduction in faculty numbers will be necessary to enable the College to provide the support needed to maintain excellent programs in teaching, extension, and research. We recognize that support activities within departments and programs have been hit hard by the recent budget cuts. With a proposed "ideal" department size of 25-35 professorial faculty (more or less -- there will certainly be exceptions), this implies a likely future number of departments in the 14-16 range for CALS. Concurrent with an operational imperative to reduce the number of departments is the need to consider programmatic strengths and future strategic directions.

What disappoints me is that there is little to no discussion about what can happen across college/unit lines. Why wouldn't it make sense for AEM to work more fully with the Johnson School, ILR, or the Hotel School? Or why not consider consolidating the rural sociology or education programs with PAM? But you have heard this argument from me before.

It's also important to note that Henry thinks that the reduction in faculty/departments can be achieved through attrition, e.g. not replacing retiring faculty.

We'll see. We certainly live in interesting times.

And on that note, hopefully this site won't be so inactive going forward. Curtailing my post schedule wasn't exactly a planned event, it just sort of happened. Lots of weekend travel for (Cornellian) weddings can do that to you. Of course, it's not like Andy and I are getting paid for this, either in cash or Ivy Room Dijon Burgers -- the blog is actually a money losing operation for me -- although sometimes I do wonder what the true economic value of this blog might be.

Luckily some students have been picking up the slack a bit.

Matthew Nagowski | July 07, 2009 (#)

I Knew His Name Sounded Familiar

What's it like to look into the eyes of a future accused killer?

Apparently, pretty much the same as any typical campus interaction. As I finally got around to reading news of the former Cornell graduate student charged last month with the second-degree murder of his wife, it dawned on me that I'd known him. Blazej Kot, seen most recently on local news being led around in an orange jumpsuit, had been my teaching assistant.

And I have the e-mails to prove it! In fall 2005, I took CS 430: Information Retrieval, and, looking back, our exchanges were about as mundane and task-specific as you could imagine: Which version of this algorithm should I use? What type of file input is best? Why isn't this compiling?

Which is all to say that in three and a half years, a successful and happily married (and diligently helpful) graduate student allegedly got to the point where he killed his wife, set the house on fire to cover it up and led police on a five-mile high-speed chase before trying to slit his own throat.

I have no idea whether this was a one-time domestic dispute that somehow escalated beyond control, or if there were more fundamental underlying disturbances. Either possibility is terrifying: That an unbalanced individual could maintain a steady facade to his wife, his family, and his departmental colleagues for so long; or that someone could be perfectly normal and happy, only for an unlikely sequence of actions and reactions to undo it all in a single day.

(N.B. Nagowski has asked me to convey his apologies for not updating the site in approximately forever. On behalf of all of you, I accept.)

Andy Guess | July 04, 2009 (#)

Other Recent Posts

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-- 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)

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-- Showing Off Your School Spirit (Nagowski)

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-- 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)

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