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August 2009

Charge of the Decade?

Each of the task forces created as part of the Reimagining Cornell initiative ends with an excellent paragraph. My emphasis has been added:

It will be critical that the task force structure its work in a way that allows for input from, consultation with, or participation by, all relevant constituencies. This need for transparency must be balanced against the need to be expeditious, efficient, and capable of making hard decisions. It is inevitable that some recommendations will be unpopular with some constituencies... this task force cannot allow a desire to avoid conflict deter it from making bold recommendations.

I can see one unintended benefit of the University proposing a lot of bold and potentially unpopular changes -- some alums who previously may have been less engaged with the University may wake-up one day to hear that their beloved program is being considered for reorganization. This might motivate them to open up their wallets for the first time.

I also think it is worth noting that the 'management sciences' task force is headed by Ron Seeber, the vice-provost for land grant affairs. Any shake-up in this field would require working with the State of New York given the role that the contract colleges play.

And given that the management sciences are currently the most decentralized at Cornell (found in the Johnson School, all three of the contract colleges, and the Hotel and Engineering schools) this might be where we see the most amount of organizational movement.

Finally, the timing of the task force reports is also somewhat indicative of what is going on behind the scenes. Most of the reports for the academic units are due on September 15th. But the report for the budget is not due until December 15th. This means that budget task force will be able to play around with all of the different ideas proposed by the academic task-forces, including unit restructuring or mergers. The budget task force, after all, is responsible to:

Identify and document stewardship requirements, particularly for New York State appropriations but including all major fund sources. Develop alternative budget model scenarios that meet NYS stewardship requirements and achieve the intended outcomes. Identify any issues that warrant change through appropriate NYS or SUNY legislative or procedural action.

Matthew Nagowski | August 31, 2009 (#)

Quotable Quotes on Budget Cuts

The Sun is running an interesting article where they have interviewed a bunch of commentators about the University's efforts to 'Reimagine Cornell'.

Ted Lowi thinks that reimagine sounds too touchy-feely:

“I really don’t like the term ‘reimagining’,” said Prof. Theodore Lowi, government, who has taught at Cornell for exactly 50 years. “It’s a soft, superficial, public relations term that says ‘let’s take a look’ when it really should be ‘reconstitute’ or ‘rebuild’.”

While the President of the Student Assembly complains about $11 forks. (If you ask me, forks probably shouldn't cost more than a dollar.)

Salem would also like to see more fiscal transparency, which would help the administration save money by effectively identifying expenses that are not necessary, such as dining hall forks that cost $11 each.

And Ron Ehrenberg is optimistic for the changes but Kent Hubbell thinks that it will be impossible not to sacrifice some student services:

“I am optimistic about the efforts but it would be overly optimistic to say that we will not [see an] impact on research and education. We will have to do some things in a different manner,” Prof. Ronald Ehrenberg, who has been teaching at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations for more than three decades, stated in an email.

“We are hopeful that [after the projected nine months] the University could move to a more routine mode of operation, but some [negative outcomes of the cutbacks] could be fundamental,” said Kent Hubbell ‘67, Dean of Students and a member of the Student and Academic Services Task Force. “Some of the [proposed] cuts might be permanent with no repairs possible.”

I'm also quoted a bit. OK, well more than a bit:

“The leadership I have seen from [President David] Skorton, [Provost Kent] Fuchs, and [Deputy Provost David] Harris to date leaves no doubt in my mind that the fundamentals of a Cornell education are being upheld,” Matt Nagowski ’05, president of the Cornell Club of Buffalo and editor of the alumni blog Meta Ezra, stated in an e-mail.

Even though it has been almost one year since Cornell began experiencing fiscal difficulties, Nagowski still believes the timing of this self-examination effort is reasonable given its circumstances, and expressed understanding for the confidential nature of the planning process.

“Any attempt to streamline and rethink a large bureaucracy’s operation is welcome,” Nagowski said. “Unfortunately, sometimes budget crises are the only times these types of opportunities become available.”

“The gravity of the situation and the type of proposals being considered dictates that there needs to be a certain level of privacy, so that the administration can foster the necessary trust and goodwill among the colleges, department chairs, and trustees,” Nagowski explained.

Matthew Nagowski | August 31, 2009 (#)

Some Questions for Chris Marshall

Last winter we asked some questions of Chris Marshall, Cornell's Associate Vice President for Alumni Affairs. Well, he finally responded at the end of May, and we finally got around to posting them at the end of August. I should add that I recently assumed the Presidency of the Cornell Club of Greater Buffalo, so I now have even more interest in these questions than when they were first posed.

We'll post some Q&A today, and then a bit more later. But, as they say, better late than never:

You have been at Cornell for over half a year now. Are you beginning to feel like a local Ithacan? Have you been a quick study as to Cornelliana and all of our acronyms? CAAAN? Lynah Faithful? ILR? Dragon Day? PCCW? CIFAD? The Alma Mater?

My one year anniversary is June 1st. I have been telling alumni groups that I now proudly bleed Big Red!!! I’m slowly learning all the acronyms and traditions. Of the ones you mention I know all of them except for CIFAD.

Matthew Nagowski | August 30, 2009 (#)

Impressive Sun Columnist on the Horizon?

Color us impressed by Andrew Daines who has appeared on the pages of the often trite, petty, and/or dull op-ed pages of the Sun::

If the clothes make the man, consider me a pinup for fits and starts. I spent two years in Dress Whites as a Midshipman at the US Naval Academy. While there, a lot of my time was devoted to eating meals at attention and convincing girls in town that they had “lost that loving feeling.” Despite the toll it would take on my bizarre social agenda, I decided to take off the uniform for the final time in 2006.

The dark suit of an American missionary in Borneo then became my screen against the equatorial sun, my sweat rag and a walking invitation to armed robbery. And even though for two straight years abroad I maintained a busy schedule of preaching, learning obscure languages and trying not to stare at breastfeeding natives, I managed to apply and get accepted to study philosophy in the College of Arts and Sciences at our fair Cornell.

Now, if you care to look, you’ll find me at Goldwin Smith in jeans, one of several welcome-home sweaters and what I am sure will one day become a very serious beard.

Matthew Nagowski | August 28, 2009 (#)

Nope, I Didn't Ghost Write This For The Sun

But it is a well-written piece:

Currently, Cornell’s undergraduate colleges operate independently from one another financially. Individual colleges manage their own budgets, each of which contribute a portion of their revenue to the University to cover central administrative costs. Though this method may put pressure on each college to lower internal spending, it has in turn permitted administrative costs to soar.

The system — which divvies up spending on things like maintenance, student services and libraries — provides few incentives to keep costs down, as any increases in budgets are only felt marginally after being divided across the University. It is this lack of central fiscal responsibility that allowed the Office of the Provost to triple in size in recent years, before it shrank this summer in the wake of a budget shortfall. A more unified approach to central spending across the undergraduate colleges would make for less leniency in excessive spending in the future.

A more obvious result of the detached college system, however, is seen in its effect on undergraduate study as a result of a confusing overlap of departments. Take a course like financial accounting, which is taught both in the Department of Applied Economics and Management and the College of Hotel Administration. Or marketing, which is taught in the Hotel School as well as in AEM. And then there is microeconomics, which can be taken in the Department of Economics or in AEM.

The overlap of such departments and colleges is a result of Cornell’s historic past — a past that our University has outgrown. Both AEM, which until 2002 was called the Department of Agricultural Economics, as well as the Department of Communication are today out of place in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and would benefit from being integrated into another college with a focus on the social sciences.

Now is a more apt time than ever for Cornell to reconsider its undergraduate college system. In recent decades, the successes of the University both financially and academically diverted the administration’s attention away from the inefficiencies of its archaic infrastructure. We hope the University sees the opportunity presented by these budgetary restraints to emerge as a more unified and efficient Cornell.

Matthew Nagowski | August 27, 2009 (#)

Grapes of Wrath - Not Engaging?

I always enjoy reading about the First Year's complain about their summer-reading project. Without fail. This year, they had to read The Grapes of Wrath, which I read on my own when I was 15, finding it to be a pretty damn good book. But opinions differ:

Some students expressed strong opposition to this year's pick, saying they had difficulty finishing it.

"Most of us are interested in reading books, and I think they should pick something that students on their own would go pick up -- something more engaging," said Katerina Athanasiou '13, who suggested that next year's pick should be a contemporary novel, such as Jeffrey Eugenedes' "Middlesex."

Ha. She didn't have to read the mind-numbing Lincoln at Gettysburg last year. But some of us did.

But I find it hard not to call the opening scene in Steinbeck's masterpiece engaging. It just sucks you in:

"Houses were shut tight, and cloth wedged around doors and windows, but the dust came in so thinly that it could not be seen in the air, and it settled like pollen on the chairs and tables, on the dishes."

Matthew Nagowski | August 26, 2009 (#)

Who Was That Mystery Donor?

Back in February, in speaking to the Faculty Senate, Provost Fuchs remarked:

The way I think of it from the Provost’s perspective, and you probably have not heard this before is there have been, for 25 years, philanthropic gifts in particular from one special friend of the university. These gifts have represented $25-50M per year. Much of that has been at the discretion of the Provost, and so for about 25 years we have had a process where we have had a mechanism to fund initiatives that we have created, and we have all benefited. The beneficiaries ranged from students, to faculty, to departments, to colleges. But those gifts are no longer here.

They ended a few years ago and we no longer have $25-50M discretionary funds in the Provost’s Office that we used to have. I had lunch with Mel Nesheim, and he said that when he was Provost many years ago he always dreaded the time in the Provost Office when those funds would go away. Well, they’re gone, and we have to adjust our expectations in our budgeting around the loss of those funds.

So on top of the 30 percent decline in the endowment, the University has also seen a decline in annual giving from one individual equal to 1-2 percent of Ithaca's budget.

Matthew Nagowski | August 25, 2009 (#)

Cornell Over-Enrolls Again; Yield at 49 Percent for Class of 2013

Back in March, I wrote that, "this year, with a target of 3,150 students, it would be awfully convenient for the University's budget to enroll 3,250 students."

Well, guess what?

This year’s freshman class is the the largest in recent history. With 3,221 student declaring their intent to enroll, the class is larger than all others in recent history. Last year’s entering freshman class was made up of 3,139 students, according to data released by the department of budget and planning.

Due to budget concerns, the University announced that it would raise its enrollment goal from last year's 3,050 students to 3,150 students, the first increase since Cornell added 50 students to its enrollment benchmark in the fall of 2003. As of now, the Class of 2013 is overenrolled by 70 students.

This group of freshmen is also one of the most diverse classes to ever enroll in the University. Seven percent of entering freshmen are African American, which is up from about 4.5 percent of the Class of 2012, a recruitment statistic that many administrators found disappointing last year. Sixteen percent are Asian American, seven percent are Hispanic American and 43 percent are Caucasian. Eleven percent of students are from outside the United States.

Native New Yorkers made up 28 percent of the entering class, 11 percent came from New England and 21 percent came from the Middle Atlantic. 88 percent of students were in the top 10 percent of their class.

Assuming that each of the 70 'over-enrolled' students paid half tuition, that is additional $1.5MM dollars in badly needed revenue for the University.

Coincidentally, the overall yield rate for the Class of 2013 stands at 49 percent, one percentage point over what I predicted back in March, with a 37 percent regular decision yield.

What is interesting is that I haven't heard any stories yet of over-crowded triples and quads on North Campus. I wonder if declining upperclassmen interest in some of the North Campus program houses has increased Campus Life's abillity to house freshmen.

Matthew Nagowski | August 24, 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)