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

March 2011

Class of 2015 Acceptance Rate Stable

Cornell applicants received their decisions yesterday, and the Daily Sun has reported that the acceptance rate for the Class of 2015 has dropped, but with a move from 18.4 percent to 18 percent, it's really just a question of rounding.

In absolute numbers, the total number of acceptances to the University declined by 119, from 6,673 last year to 6,534 this year, while the total number of applicants barely increased from 33,338 to 36,392. Most of the decline in acceptances can be explained by the fact that the university accepted roughly 50 more students early decision, which means they don't have to accept roughly twice that number in the regular decision round due to a much lower expected yield.

The rough rule of thumb is that for every 50 additional students Cornell accepts early decision, it can reject an additional 140 student regular decision. That means that if Cornell had accepted an additional 150 students early decision, it would have had a 17 percent acceptance rate. Or if Cornell was like Penn and accepted half of its freshmen class using early decision, its acceptance rate would be below 16 percent.

Based on an expected entering class size of 3,150, MetaEzra calculates an expected yield of 48 percent, with a 37 percent yield for regular decision acceptances. That's inline with last year, assuming no wait list use. Last year no students were admitted off of Cornell's wait list.

The New York Times is reporting admissions statistics for a whole host of schools -- Penn and WashU have posted some eyebrow-raising drops. But as longtime MetaEzra readers know, acceptance rates aren't very useful on their own; conditional acceptance rates by metrics like SAT scores are much more valuable, and selective higher education institutions need to rethink the admissions game entirely.

Matthew Nagowski | March 31, 2011 (#)

Collegetown Is Upstate's Densest Neighborhood

Brian over at Ithacating in Cornell Heights has done an excellent job of summarizing the results of Census 2010: Tompkins County population is up by 5 percent, while the City of Ithaca increased a bit and now is a larger city than Elmira. Meanwhile most other Upstate metros grew in the 1-4 percent range, save for my own Buffalo Niagara region, which has continued to lose population with its fellow rust belt brethren of Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

The New York Times has put together a handy interactive map that actually allows all sorts of detailed statistics by census tract, and it's interesting to drill into the Ithaca data by neighborhood. We see that the area commonly referred to as Collegetown, bordered by the Commons to the west, Delaware Avenue to the east, State Street to the south, and Cascadilla Gorge to the north, boasted 5600 residents in 2010, a 22 percent increase (or ~1000 additional residents) since 2000. No doubt most of the residents have been added in the increasingly dense apartment buildings being built between Dryden, College, and Eddy.

What's more, the Times data shows that the population density for the Collegetown census tract is actually 33,000 residents per square mile, a density that far surpasses any other Upstate urbanized areas. For comparison, Albany's Lark Street neighborhood and Buffalo's Elmwood Village (the other two most urbanized, walkable neighborhoods in Upstate New York) feature a density typically in the 15 to 20,000 residents per square mile range. And no doubt there is a lot more disposable income in Collegetown than in those poorer areas of Upstate.

How does Collegetown compare to other college neighborhoods across the country? The Central Square area of Cambridge, smack between Harvard and MIT, averages around 35,000 residents per square mile, while the areas around Berkeley's and UW-Madisons's campuses feature 50,000 residents per square mile. Of course, none of these areas can hold a candle to Columbia's Morningside Heights, which boasts a density of over 100,000 per square mile, over a much larger footprint.

Not all square miles are created equal, however, and any Cornellian can attest to the fact that a walk up Ithaca's East Hill to campus is a mile unlike any other, which unfortunately makes the land just off of campus on College Ave. all that much more valuable. That's why we've continued to see development cluster around the intersection of Dryden and and College Ave. In fact, MetaEzra has started to hear rumors that the historic Collegetown Bagel's patio location is now being considered for an expanded apartment building.

Matthew Nagowski | March 28, 2011 (#)

McEuen Spirals a Web of Cornelliana

I tend to prefer literary fiction to page-turning thrillers, but I eagerly scooped up Cornell physics professor Paul McEuen's much-hyped Spiral this week. I was motivated by both the good review the book received in the Times (which gushed over McEuen's science-literate plot) and the fact that a large portion of the book's plot actually takes place on Cornell's campus and in the surrounding Ithaca countryside.

As a page-turning thriller, the book doesn't disappoint. But that's if you enjoy four page chapters, three word sentences, and two-dimensional characterization that guiltily encourage you into an afternoon of reading, complete with some plot stretches and uneven story telling. It's not entirely my cup of tea, but that's why I wouldn't hesitate to say that 'Spiral' it's the best page-turner I've read since The Da Vinci Code. Dan Brown's mega bestseller from seven years ago being the last thriller that I've read...

And while I enjoyed the science behind McEuen's plot -- a brilliant mix of nanotechnology and biology, complete with a Nobel Prize winning Cornell biologist who has spent his lifetime studying the genetics of fungi, a character who seems inspired by the recently deceased Tom Eisner -- it lacked the inspiration of wonder that one can find in the writings of Carl Sagan.

But where Spiral really shines in this alumnus's mind is in its vivid portrayal and characterization of the Cornell and Ithaca experience.

Matthew Nagowski | March 27, 2011 (#)

Professor Davies Obviously Unaware of Motto

There was a rather awful gaff to come out of Professor Peter Davies' mouth last night at a faculty forum in which the Ag School faculty discussed the future of their college in light of the State's drastic budget cuts:

The Sun reports:

Prof. Peter Davies, plant biology, questioned whether CALS could increase enrollment and reconsider financial aid as a means of balancing the budget.

“Has there been any discussion on revising the policy on 100-percent financial aid?” for need-blind admission Davies said. “Maybe this is the point to look at possibly, admitting more students that can pay their full way.”

CALS will reconsider enlarging its total enrollment size, according to Boor. She explained that Provost Kent Fuchs “will charge a committee to do a financial evaluation that will include … the number of students admitted to CALS.”

But Boor insisted need-blind admission will remain a “critical priority” for the agriculture college.

“Our present financial aid policy ensures that we do not accidentally change the socioeconomic profile of our students,” Boor said.

Davies, a professor of plant biology and apparently a British national is apparently unaware of his employer's motto.

Simply awful.

Matthew Nagowski | March 15, 2011 (#)

March Madness

With the men's hockey team lacing up to sweep Quinnipiac tonight, the lacrosse team playing in a nationally televised game against Virginia on ESPNU (of which the Red are winning 5-4 at the half), and the women's hockey team currently beating Dartmouth 4-1 in the first round of the NCAAs, it's a classic Big Red March Madness weekend (sans basketball team, of course, as Elie presciently predicted).

Of course, who could forget about the wrestling team? Longtime MetaEzra reader GK writes in to set the stage for how this could be the year they finally win it all:

Avenging an upset loss to Lehigh back in January, the Big Red wrestling team showed they are the class of the east with a dominating EIWA championship performance over last weekend. They easily beat second place Lehigh 173-119 and put six of their ten wrestlers into the finals, with four winning. Even better, as a result of the tournament, at least eight, and possibly all ten of the big ten wrestlers will move on the NCAA championships. Winning the EIWAs is an accomplishment in its own right, and something Cornell rarely accomplished in wrestling save for the past 5 seasons.

What is remarkable has been the growth of the program over the past decade. Boosted by the generous support of alumni, the construction of the Friedman Wrestling Center, and the excellent leadership of Rob Koll, Cornell wrestling has evolved from an also-ran Ivy League wrestling program to one of the elite programs nationwide. Between 1994 and 2001, the program had one single all-American. Since 2002, they have had thirty-two, in addition to five NCAA champions. Now they stand on the precipice of the ultimate prize of them all, a team NCAA championship.

Looking ahead to the NCAA championship meet taking place over the weekend of March 17-19, Cornell will be the favorite to take home their first NCAA wrestling title and the first for a school from the east since 1953. All eyes in the wrestling world will be on Philadelphia, PA for the three-day meet, and the big story will be the Big Red’s pursuit of the title. In all likelihood, the team title will be a closely contested affair between Cornell, defending NCAA champion Iowa, and Big Ten 2011Champion Penn State. Iowa and Cornell going head-to-head will be an epic battle between the historically dominant Hawkeyes and the emerging Big Red. As is usually the case, the meet will come down to a few matches that swing one way or another, so Rob Koll’s men will have to bring their A game.

I highly encourage those in the Philadelphia area consider attending the meet in person. For the rest of us, the meet will be televised on the ESPN family of networks with the finals live on ESPN on March 19 at 7:30PM. Those without any wrestling knowledge might need a short primer, but once the basic rules are understood it is an exciting sport to watch. If things go well, Cornell might pick up its first NCAA team championship since 1971. If they don’t, there is always the woman’s hockey team and the NCAA woman’s hockey final scheduled for the 20th. Go Big Red!

Let's Go Red!

Matthew Nagowski | March 12, 2011 (#)

The End of An Era

With the exciting announcement that Robert Harrison '76 has been elected Chairman of the University's Board of Trustees, it's important to note that the Board is coming to the end of an era. You see, Harrison was not on the Executive Committee at the time Lehman was asked to resign by Meinig and company in the spring of 2005:

Harrison chairs the board's Executive Committee, having served as a committee member since 2005. He has been a member of Cornell's board since 2002 and served as vice chair 2006-09. Harrison served as a student trustee on the board from 1975 to 1976, and becomes the first chair to have served in this capacity. He was college scholar at Cornell, creating a multidisciplinary academic program in government. He received a B.A./M.A. in politics, philosophy and economics in 1978 from the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes scholar, and a J.D. in 1981 from Yale Law School.

So the Board will no longer be directed by a man associated with perhaps Cornell's most 'scandalous' incident in the recent history of the University's administration. And for those younger readers who are unfamiliar with the Lehman incident, the alumni magazine offers an excellent re-cap of the schism between Lehman and Meinig's Board.

It's also worth pointing out that with Harrison, the University now has an unabashed Democrat at the helm of the Trustees. Harrison has been an advisor to Wesley Clark and John Kerry, and currently serves as the President of the Clinton Global Initiative. The only thing that raises eyebrows there is Wesley Clark, who gave a horrendous convocation address to my graduating class of 2005. Meinig, meanwhile, was an unabashed Republican inexplicably supporting an incompetent McCain campaign in 2008. That money would have been better spent at Cornell, Peter.

Matthew Nagowski | March 11, 2011 (#)

Barriers: More Bad Information from Cornell

My "Barrier Update" on Sunday did not mention one of the most striking claims made by Cornell in the past week. Tim Marchell, Gannett’s director of Mental Health Initiatives, told The Cornell Daily Sun that the barriers have already helped to save two lives. The Sun's story linked to two articles from the Ithaca Journal's archives that supposedly documented these cases (both behind a pay wall). Funny thing is, one of these cases occured before the barriers even went up! And in the other case, the barrier didn't seem to slow the guy down one bit. In fact, the barrier may have made it harder for police to rescue him.

When I contacted the Sun about this, they explained the links were provided by Marchell at the last minute via email and admitted they had not looked into them deeply. They encouraged me to write an op ed to correct the record. I was worried that the Sun would not accept my op ed if I had already reported about this for MetaEzra, and I felt it was more important that this information reach the Sun's readers, some of whom may have changed their mind about the barriers based on this bad information, than to report on it fast. Well my essay finally appeared in the Sun today and you can read it here.

I think that it is interesting that in both cases Marchell cites, the troubled people who were attempting suicide were saved by quick thinking police officers. That makes me wonder: What if the money they are spending on permanent bridge barriers was used to hire plainclothes police officers that patrol the bridges on foot or on a bicycle? Might that strategy actually save more lives than a barrier?

Dan Jost | March 09, 2011 (#)

Cornellians At Heart of NPR Controversy

There's late-breaking news this morning that NPR CEO Vivian Schiller has resigned amid the scandal around NPR's Chief Fundraiser, Ron Schiller calling Tea Partier's 'rascist'.

The news behind the news, however, is that both are Cornellians.Vivian Schiller is a Class of 1983 alumna. You can read her interview in the Cornell Alumni Magazine here. And Ron Schiller is an alumnus of the Class of 1986 and serves on the Glee Club's advisory council.

Coincidentally, the racist label is one I wouldn't strongly disagree with. But in our politically correct world, this is unfortunately the way things play out, especially for an organization that receives public funding. It's worth mentioning that the Tea Party movement would not be nearly as strong if a white man by the name of Mitt Romney implemented the Affordable Care Act, as opposed to a black man by the name of Barack Obama.

Late Update: Longtime MetaEzra reader MP who previously accused this website of jumping the shark, has written in to suggest that my earlier comments amounted to offering no argument, and just an ad hom attack calling all Tea Partiers racist. I didn't call the movement racist; all I was suggesting was that the movement has been strengthened by those who have reacted viscerally to Obama's presidency.

But don't take my word for it, take research out of the University of Washington that shows "support for the Tea Party increases the probability that individuals agree that it's okay to “racially profile someone on account of their race or religion” by approximately 27 percent."

Matthew Nagowski | March 09, 2011 (#)

Barrier Update

A lot has happened since I last wrote on the barrier situation for Meta Ezra. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the most interesting developments…

*Jeff Stein, a reporter with the Cornell Daily Sun has started to dig a little deeper into the science Cornell has used to support its argument for suicide barriers. In early February, Stein interviewed me and also Garrett Glasgow, a professor at U.C. Santa Barbara who argues that there is no scientific evidence that bridge barriers save lives. Glasgow has an article in press at the Journal of Social Science and Medicine that shows counties in the U.S. with unprotected “landmark bridges” do not have higher overall suicide rates than counties without landmark bridges. Tim Marchell, Gannett’s director of Mental Health Initiatives, argues that barriers may save lives without affecting the county’s overall suicide rate in a statistically significant way, due to the small percentage of suicides that typically involve jumping in the U.S. But Marchell also admitted that “no study has proven the efficacy of bridge barriers one way or another,” according to Stein, which would seem to be a major shift from the arguments that Cornell was making last summer.

*On Tuesday, the Cornell Daily Sun announced that Cornell would be increasing its budget for Gannett Health Services by $1 million for each of the next three years to address the rising demand for mental health counseling services. This welcome announcement follows on the heels of reporting last November that the university has been spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on the initial studies for barriers while it does not even have the staff necessary to provide counseling to students who need it.

Dan Jost | March 06, 2011 (#)

More Than a Slap on the Wrist

Whether the cause is H1N1 flu or suicides, Cornell has proven over the last couple of years that student deaths are not taken lightly. It seems logical to expect that the university will respond forcefully to the alcohol-related death last Friday of George Desdunes '13 at his fraternity house, Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

On Tuesday, Matt implied that Desdunes' death might have been prevented if Cornell had taken steps in previous decades to disband the Greek system, or at least limit its influence. Over at Ithacating, Brian drew a connection to the student death that led Ithaca College to ban Greek life. Matt and Brian expect that the Greek system at Cornell will endure, and I agree.

It is impossible to change the social culture of Cornell by disbanding the Greek system because the social culture of Cornell is the Greek system. Underage students at every university want to drink. Some colleges maintain a lax policy on alcohol in the residence halls that allows these students to drink together in the dorms. Other colleges are located in areas with bars that don't look too carefully at fake IDs. Rural institutions of higher learning are prime places for students to go into the woods, or the fields, to party. At Cornell, students go to fraternities.

This isn't such a bad thing. When organized well, a registered fraternity party is a relatively safe place to party. Brothers are posted at key points throughout the house. Security officers, hired by IFC, stop by to make sure that the proper procedures are in place. The fraternity knows that any major incident will result in unwanted attention and possibly even the closure of the house.

However, plenty of unregistered partying takes place at fraternities. "Closed" events like mixers, date nights, and formals are rarely registered. There are also nights when brothers simply decide that they are going to drink. For better or worse, this is part of the fraternity culture.

Although some will call for a ban on fraternity parties, Cornell cannot eradicate these types of high-risk activities without also destroying the major outlet for underage drinking. If fraternity parties go away, freshmen will look for new places to drink. Though an interesting idea, the proposed campus pub in Willard Straight will not replace Greek parties. More likely, underage students would engage in riskier activities in dorms, and fraternities would use Collegetown annexes to host the same types of parties.

The total shutdown of the Greek system is simply not feasible.

One point to consider is that this tragedy provides another example of a recurring paradox: the fraternities with the most influence to set the rules are the ones that are most likely to violate the rules.

Elie Bilmes | March 05, 2011 (#)

How To Make Money On Cornell

The grey lady reports that savvy investors could have made a decent amount on Cornell's bonds in recent weeks, as municipal bonds were indiscriminately discounted across the line:

Swept up in the price movements were some red-hot munis including those Cornell and Harvard bonds. (Although state and local governments, as well as water systems and sewer districts, are classic issuers of munis, universities may also offer them through various means.)Traders who bought a 30-year Cornell 5 percent bond in mid-January and sold it last week would have pocketed a quick 9.3 percent profit, he said. Trading the equivalent Harvard bond over the same short period would have produced a 6.3 percent gain.

"Individual investors looked at the pricing and the yields of these bonds, and came to their own conclusion: a place like Cornell is going to be good for the money, and when the smoke clears, this will be a real opportunity, said Thomas McLoughlin, managing director and head of municipal research at UBS.

Nice to know that some people think that Cornell's finances are stable. Wonder if any loyal alumnus bought up some bonds on the cheap and donated the profits back to the University.

Matthew Nagowski | March 05, 2011 (#)

Biddy Battles Ever Bigger Red Tape

It's been a while since we've heard from Cornell's former provost, Biddy Martin, now Chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But the Times is running an excellent article this morning on the changes that public higher education faces amidst state deficits across the country.

Cornellians like to joke about the Big Red Tape, but these types of headaches facing Biddy make Day Hall boondoggles look like paper cuts:

And in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker proposed on Tuesday to separate the main Madison campus from the rest of the state university system, and make it a public authority. Last week, Madison’s chancellor, Carolyn A. Martin, told the Wisconsin Board of Regents that she was hamstrung by state control.

“The accumulated layers of bureaucracy and the control of our mission from a distance make our institutions byzantine mazes, sometimes with no obvious exit,” she said. “It’s hard to be more responsible or more responsive if we spend all our time trying to comprehend and then follow 25 steps to get approval for one purchase.”

“There is a real tension between serving the public needs, on one hand, and doing what they have to do to ensure that their institution can compete in the marketplace,” said Jane Wellman, executive director of the Delta Cost Project.

Ms. Wellman is particularly critical of the trend toward splitting flagships like the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which generally have the biggest research grants, the most alumni support, the best faculty and students and the most political clout, from the rest of the state’s higher education system.

“Madison seceding from the union sends the message, ‘We’re not like you, we’re better than you, we’re going to cut our own deal,’ ” she said. “They may be better and different, but they still have a responsibility to assert a leadership role rather than cut their own deal.”

What's striking is that as so many of these public universities seek to 'privatize' their control over matters of tuition and spending, Cornell's uniquely hybrid system of a private university with explicit public support is a model for other college to follow. Unfortunately, such a model isn't fallible, because as we know Cornell's state support is falling too this year... by over $15MM dollars.

Matthew Nagowski | March 03, 2011 (#)


There's some pretty buzz-worthy news going on that the University has suspended Sigma Alpha Epsilon over violations of the campus's alcohol policy that have come to light in response to a sophomore's death on Friday morning:

In the meantime, on March 1 the university imposed an interim suspension of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. Cornell officials said that information they have received about the use of alcohol during the events of Feb. 25 is sufficient to conclude that the fraternity had likely violated the university's recognition policy. That policy authorizes fraternities and sororities to have a chapter at Cornell and outlines the university's expectations -- including observance of state and federal laws. Interim suspension, which includes suspension of all social events and new member education and initiation activities, will continue while the university completes its own investigation into the events that led to Desdunes's death.

It's pretty easy to let one's imagination do some wandering:

-- Imagine that instead of Desdunes's untimely death, he only was hospitalized. Would the fraternity still have been suspended for violation of University alcohol policy?

-- Imagine that nothing afoul would have come out of SAE this past weekend. Would it still have been suspended for (pretty much assumed) violation of the University's alcohol policy?

-- Imagine that instead of letting the Greek system persist through the 50s and 60s, Cornell would have decommissioned the entire system like many other colleges did during that time (e.g. Williams) and instead developed small, co-educational living-leaning houses and co-ops. Would Desdunes still have died?

-- Or alternatively, imagine that Cornell had developed a residential college experience for all underclassmen (freshman and sophomores) as part of Rawlings's residential initiative, banning Greek system involvement until later on in a student's academic career (much like Dartmouth). Would Desdunes still have died?

I'm not trying to point fingers, but it's something to think about. Institutions matter. Culture matters. The environment we create for ourselves matters. And clearly we are all in some way responsible.

Late Update: It's been a busy day, so I only see now that Brian over at Ithacating is asking whether or not the SAE death represents the death knell for Greek Life. And he writes about an incident that occurred at MIT 15 years ago:

Perhaps a better comparison would be a case from MIT that occurred about 15 years ago. On September 26, 1997, a pledge of FIJI at MIT died after a pledge event due to alcohol poisoning. MIT is, like Cornell, a prestigious institution with substantial Greek Life – at MIT, it comprises about 42% the student body. Their had been signs Greek Life had been getting out of control prior to the death of Scott Krueger. As a result of the event, RAs were put in fraternity houses, mandatory CPR training was established, all freshman were required to live in dorms, MIT paid a $6 million settlement to the family due to negligence in preventing the event from occurring, the fraternity was shut down (and has never come back), and several of the former FIJI members were convicted of criminal offenses. It forever changed the way MIT dealt with its fraternities. But they still have a large, influential system.

I'm in the camp that the University's Greek system will not be shut down as a result of Desdunes's death, especially as it wasn't in regards to any sort of pledging or hazing activity and the path dependency at this juncture in Cornell's history is just too great . But sometimes think that it should have been banned from campus 50 years ago.

Matthew Nagowski | March 01, 2011 (#)

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)