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April 2011

Cornell's Fledging Entrepenurial Spirit

When you think of Ithaca, NY, you don't exactly have connotations of the entrepreneurial hubs of Stanford's Palo Alto or MIT's Cambridge, but Cornell is trying to change that, in creating a new position for vice president of technology transfer:

"Technology transfer continues to grow in importance for all of Cornell's campuses, as does the need for Cornell to be active in the promotion of regional economic development," Skorton said in announcing Buhrman's appointment. "Establishment of the new position of Vice President for Technology Transfer, Intellectual Property and Research Policy with responsibility for handling these issues on behalf of the whole university will make certain there is clarity and purpose to our endeavors in this critical arena."

"While advancing the university's land-grant mission and boosting the state and national economy, technology transfer returns many benefits to the university," Buhrman noted. In addition to the direct revenue from licensing patents, he said, technology transfer enhances Cornell's image as a leader in innovative research, helps attract and retain top faculty and encourages state, federal and industrial research support.

This reminds me of a press release for Duke that landed in my inbox earlier this week:

The Blackstone Charitable Foundation and a consortium of major Triangle universities today announced the launch of the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network, a new five-year initiative to help North Carolina’s Research Triangle become headquarters for America’s next high-growth companies with the greatest potential to create new jobs.

Partner universities include Duke University, North Carolina Central University, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Durham-based Council for Entrepreneurial Development also will be part of the effort.

A $3.63 million gift from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation will support the formation of a dense network of entrepreneurial support in the region, similar to networks that exist in Silicon Valley and the Boston Corridor. The goal of the program is to identify and mentor 30 start-up teams each year, for a total of 150 over the program’s five-year span. By linking talented serial entrepreneurs to local start-ups, the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network has the potential over 10 years to create more than 17,000 jobs, attract more than $800 million in seed, start-up and expansion capital, and generate more than $4 billion in revenue.

Ithaca's challenge is that the Raleigh-Durham area is 20 times larger in terms of population, and features a younger and more-educated population. So technology transfer out of Cornell's research labs can and will certainly happen, but in order for Ithaca to really become a driver for Upstate's growth, Cornell needs to attract seed capital, like the North Carolina Research Triangle has through Blackstone. And then to somehow convince young, newly minted Cornellians to continue to foster their ideas along the shores of Cayuga.

I've often felt that one of the challenges with Ithaca is that it's just a bit too small. If Ithaca could somehow grow to a Burlington, VT or Madison, WI size city -- maybe two hundred thousand people -- it would be a far more appealing locale to develop a critical mass of young highly-educated individuals with an entrepreneurial spirit.

Matthew Nagowski | April 29, 2011 (#)

Justin Bieber For Slope Day

Elie side-blogged this, but this is hilarious enough that it requires top-billing. Any anybody who might be offended by a 'Downfall' parody has obviously never seen 'The Producers':

Matthew Nagowski | April 26, 2011 (#)

Uncle Ezra Needs To Read More MetaEzra

Dear Uncle Ezra - Questions for Thursday, April 21, 2011 - Cornell University:

Uncle Ezra, where can I find the original Big Red Ambition list?

Dear Originally Ambitious,

The last time Your Uncle looked, the Daily Sun's 2005 version of "161 Things Every . . . " was here: Big Red Ambition: 161 Things Every Cornellian Should Do

But, of course, as MetaEzra has previously reported, the original '161 Things' list was published by the Alumni Magazine in 1995. And by all accounts it is a far superior list. You can read that list here, including such gems as reading Gravity's Rainbow, 'getting a mantra', debating the existence of God, and cross-country skiing in the plantations.

Meanwhile, MetaEzra's own 161 Things That Every Cornell Alumnus must do will hopefully be finalized before Reunions.

Matthew Nagowski | April 23, 2011 (#)

Could Putting Up a Suicide Barrier Actually Cost Lives?

It is often said that virtually any method of attempting suicide substituted for jumping off a high bridge will prove less deadly. Therefore, restricting access to jumping sites will save lives. If you have followed the debates surrounding Cornell’s gorges or the Golden Gate Bridge, you’ve likely heard this point argued numerous times. But is it really true that attempting suicide from a high bridge is the most lethal of all methods?

Of course, you might say. About 98% of those who jump from the Golden Gate Bridge do not survive, and at Cornell’s gorges, that figure is about 93%.

But these percentages only account for those who actually jump, not everyone who attempts suicide at these sites. In a recent article in the Cornell Daily Sun, I wrote about two cases at Cornell, where people who were clearly intent on killing themselves in one of Cornell’s gorges were stopped by police officers who grabbed or tackled them. That got me thinking: How many people intent on jumping at Cornell or other suicide hotspots actually follow through?

Suddenly I remembered Richard Seiden’s study “Where Are They Now? A Follow-up Study of Suicide Attempters from the Golden Gate Bridge." Seiden, an advocate for suicide barriers, reported on “the 515 persons who had attempted suicide from the Golden Gate Bridge but were restrained, from the opening day through the year 1971.” His paper didn’t provide any information on the number of people who died from jumping off the bridge during that period, so I contacted Mary Currie of the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District to see if that information was available. She sent me a year-by-year summary of confirmed suicides from the Golden Gate Bridge that she put together using hard copies of old incident reports, and I added up the figures. I found that there were 415 confirmed suicides from the Golden Gate Bridge between its opening and 1971. That suggests less than 45% of those who attempted to jump during that period were successful...

Dan Jost | April 20, 2011 (#)

The College Cost Paradox: A Bubble and The Best Investment

Three years ago, amidst the housing bubble's implosion, I asked whether college tuition increases, fueled by student and home equity debt, would be the next 'bubble' to burst. In the interim, tuition has still increased on schedule and Cornell's President Skorton has all but admitted that academe is in an unsustainable bubble. Meanwhile, there's also the ever important institutional debt bubble as well.

Today, there's increasing chatter in the blogosphere as to whether or not higher education is in a bubble, spurred on by recent comments by PayPal founder, Peter Thiel, who wisely cashed out of the dot-com bubble in 2000 and called the housing bubble in the middle of the last decade:

The idea that attending Harvard is all about learning? Yeah. No one pays a quarter of a million dollars just to read Chaucer. The implicit promise is that you work hard to get there, and then you are set for life. It can lead to an unhealthy sense of entitlement. “It’s what you’ve been told all your life, and it’s how schools rationalize a quarter of a million dollars in debt,” Thiel says.

And uber-econo blogger Matt Yglesias has chimed in, explaining (Cornell professor) Ron Ehrenbrg's argument that tuition increases occur because universities want to be the best at everything and that declining real public aid can't explain all of the cost increases in academia we have seen.

But the proof of the bubble is in the pudding. Has the price of an asset (college education tuition) grown faster than its value (the wages that a college education provides)?

Matthew Nagowski | April 20, 2011 (#)

Hypothetical Situation

Hypothetically speaking, suppose you are an alumnus of a university with a large-pedestrian campus that was situated in a locale that features varied terrain and, as a result, constrained parking options. Suppose further that as an alumnus you've made the pilgrimage back to said campus many of times to visit with friends, former professors, and to just reminisce about your old college days.

Now, hypothetically speaking, of course, let's say that you've happened to rack up a couple of parking tickets stemming from your visits campus... to the tune of $90 or so. You haven't paid any of these tickets and some have gone without payment for years.

The question is: Should one pay these tickets?

Some qualifying considerations:

-- Two out of the three parking tickets have come when classes weren't in session, and one instance involved an honest belief that one was parking 'legally'.
-- On most days you find that you completely agree with the campus's parking policy and think that less students, faculty, and staff should be driving to campus.
-- You're mobility impaired and cannot walk the long distances or hills that the campus offers. So you need to park near the buildings/people you visit. You have a handicapped pass, but the university requires both a handicapped pass and an institutional permit to park in handicapped spaces, so you get ticketed anyway.
-- In no instances did you make the effort to appeal the ticket. Life's short, and filling out forms is no fun.
-- What if instead of paying the ticket, you increased your annual donation to the university in question by the same amount?
-- You're honestly scared that your car may be towed one of these days...

Matthew Nagowski | April 19, 2011 (#)

We Need A This Is Cornell Video

So on Tuesday I bemoaned those students who complained about Cornell's scandalously high 18 percent acceptance rate, and suggested that they find something more productive to do with their lives, like try to increase Cornell's yield.

One way to do this would be to put together a short video that attempts to channel all of the energy and diversity found at Cornell. I've found that one of the key challenges in communicating the 'Cornell experience' is that it is such a vast, heterogeneous school, that hardly anybody ever references both organic farmers and engineers, or polo players and Bhangra dancers, in the same breath, transcending all that Cornell has to offer. CornellCast, Day Hall's compilation of faculty lectures and athletic coach interviews, is sadly lacking in this category. The best it really features is Corey Earle's video exploring some popular topics in Cornell's history, which is pretty hokey. And the best I could find on YouTube was a valiant attempt by Emily Schneider '08 to document her 'Big Red Ambition':

But here's what I have visions of:

Matthew Nagowski | April 14, 2011 (#)

How To Lower Cornell's Acceptance Rate (And Why It Doesn't Matter)

Apparently David Skorton was harassed by undergraduates over the weekend, who complained that Cornell's admission rate hasn't fallen as much as some other peer schools.

Clearly, these students haven't been reading MetaEzra to know that acceptance rates don't really mater, mainly because they tell us nothing about the quality of the students who are applying or being accepted.

The students also need to learn some math. Skorton brought up a good point: Cornell is already receiving so many applications -- the seventh most out of 'selective' schools -- that it's harder for Cornell get more applications and bring down its headline acceptance rate. Even if Cornell received 25 percent more applications, its acceptance rate would likely only go down three points or so -- hardly putting Cornell into the same (non-athletic) league as Harvard or Yale.

But consider: Of 'competitive' private universities, only BU, Northeastern, NYU, Tulane, and USC receive more applications than Cornell, with none of those schools being located in a 'centrally isolated' Upstate New York collegetown. Rather, those schools tend to offer either the "glories" of the city life (whatever those might be for an undergraduate, color me confused) or a hard-partying beer and football atmosphere. Neither of which Cornell wants to (or can offer) anytime soon. So Cornell doesn't exactly have much room to increase its applicant pool, unless it wants to entice students who are painfully unqualified to attend Cornell to apply just for the sheer glory of being rejected.

There are other ways to lower an acceptance rate, of course, aside from increasing applications. One way would be to actually decrease the size of the student body. But why would Cornell want to educate less students? This is an institution that is famous for seeking to instruct 'any student' in 'any study'. Cornell could easily lower it's acceptance rate by shuttering the engineering college, which has a 22 percent acceptance rate, but that wouldn't be too popular, would it?

A second way would be to increase reliance on Cornell's early decision program. As I wrote last week, if Cornell filled as much as its class through ED as Penn did, its acceptance rate would drop below 16 percent. But given that ED use precludes Cornell from accepting (and enrolling) other deserving students, the University is wise not to admit too many students ED.

A final way to lower acceptance rates would be to increase the yield of the students who are accepted regular decision. If Cornell's yield increased from 35 percent to 50 percent for its regular decision pool, its acceptance rate would fall below 14 percent. That's a significant boost. But how could Cornell drive its yield up? Well, for starters, its students could stop complaining about meaningless numbers like acceptance rates and start doing something positive to make Cornell a better, more appealing place for all.

Matthew Nagowski | April 12, 2011 (#)

Are Guaranteed Transfers Wrapping Themselves in Ivy?

Yesterday I wrote about the New York Times' coverage of Cornell's guaranteed transfer program, and mentioned that there's a couple more issues to address about the program, as well as the curious case of the Cornellian the Times decided to highlight.

Well, commenter Michael Alan beat me to the punchline questioning why the guaranteed transfer in question would attend a very expensive school like NYU, when any old state college would do.

But that's not all. Consider the reason why this student wanted to transfer to Cornell:

When Evi Nam applied to Cornell two years ago after graduating from high school in Concord, N.H., the first word she got from the university’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations was a rejection. “I was heartbroken,” she said.

A few days later, she received another message from the school: the offer of a spot the next fall as a transfer student, as long as she earned at least a 3.3 grade-point average at another accredited institution.

“It felt like a gift from heaven,” said Ms. Nam, who attended New York University for a year, earned a 3.8, and started at Cornell last fall. “It’s an Ivy League. I was singing when they gave me the option.”

To put it bluntly: If Ms. Nam's best reason for wanting to attend Cornell was our sports conference, and she's not a recruited athlete, perhaps she should reconsider her priorities. There are many excellent reasons to attend Cornell: it's excellent depth and breadth of academic offerings, the quality of the student body and the peers you will be learning from, the rigor of its academic experience and value that employers place on Cornell students, or its bucolic, inspirational setting.

But Ivy League sports should be pretty low on the list. And frankly, students at an institution of Cornell's caliber should be better able to communicate why they wanted to attend Cornell in the first place, especially a program as unique as the ILR School's. In fact, isn't that one of the main reasons for ILR to have the Guaranteed Transfer program in the first place -- to conditionally accept students who have a passionate interest in labor policy and employee relations, but who might be marginally less academically qualified? (Which seems to be the case given that NYU had similar concerns about Ms. Nam's academic abilities, although she ended up pulling a decent first-year GPA, and by all accounts is now doing well at Cornell.)

So please, let's stop wrapping ourselves in Ivy.

Then there's the issue of whether or not guaranteed transfers should purposely disengage themselves from their freshmen campus. It seems like a waste of a year's worth of social opportunities, if you ask me, but I can see how friendships can become thorny if you mention you're already planning on leaving. The Times picks up on this as well:

Matthew Nagowski | April 11, 2011 (#)

Is Cornell's Guaranteed Transfer Program 'Borderline Unethical'?

So the New York Times is running an article on the recent increase in guaranteed-transfer programs, and perhaps unsurprisingly given Cornell's habit of using such policies, it features Ezra's university front and center.

First, there's this rather cavalier quote from Hamilton College:

But while the practice, known as deferred admission or a guaranteed transfer option, offers applicants another shot at their dream school, it can also place them in limbo, as they start college life on a campus they plan to abandon. And it can create problems for that institution, which is not usually told about the deal the student has struck with a competitor.

Monica Inzer, the dean of admission at Hamilton College in upstate New York, called the practice “borderline unethical,” saying it had the effect of recruiting students from other colleges. “We would allow a student to defer for a year, but never to matriculate full time at another college,” Ms. Inzer said.

I can see how a college that sees a lot of students leave to Cornell on account of guaranteed-transfer option might find the practice a bit disconcerting, but I don't know if there's anything unethical in the practice. Nowhere in a matriculation agreement does either a college or a student commit to a set period of study. And most schools plan for a set amount of transfer-outs, drop-outs, and transfer-ins every year.

It is unfortunate, however, that the schools that educate a lot of Cornell's guaranteed transfers -- perhaps SUNY Binghamton, Geneso, and maybe even Hamilton -- are hurt in terms of the rankings on account of the policy. Guaranteed transfers necessarily reduce their graduation rates, and these colleges have done nothing wrong except to admit and educate students who want to go to Cornell.

Cornell's interest in the program is really four-fold, in descending levels of earnestness:

Matthew Nagowski | April 10, 2011 (#)

Happy Commenting

I'll interrupt our irregularly scheduled programming for a quick meta note on MetaEzra: The site now features a commenting feature powered by Disqus. This is actually a pretty big change for the site. Until now, all user commenting was done via email and subsequent reblogging, or guest posting which can segue into full blown associate editor status, a la Mr. Jost.

Over the last couple of years, readers often asked me why I didn't allow people to comment on the site, and the answer was pretty much three-fold: 1) I could never find a commenting system that had the polish, control, and spam-free features that I desired; 2) concerns over the tenor of any commenting conversations; and 3) the desire not to have a website that offered commenting features but was actually devoid of comments. Despite the 10,000 or so visits MetaEzra receives a month, it's not entirely clear to me that a lot of people actually want to comment on our content.

I'm still not optimistic about the prospect of comments, but it's worth a trial period with a system as nice as Disqus. So consider this an experiment. Its success depends on you, our readership, however.

Happy commenting.

Matthew Nagowski | April 08, 2011 (#)

Sun: University Needs More Planning and Strategic Follow-Through

The Sun ran an excellent pair of articles this week on the University's need to engage in more strategic planning, and perhaps more importantly, to follow-through on the plans that it has already made for itself.

The first article, an anonymous editorial, encouraged the University to plan more thoroughly for contingencies if and when the state further cuts funding for the contract colleges:

If these trends continue, it will only be a matter of time until tuition for the contract colleges resembles Cornell’s private ones. Tuition increases for the former are already disproportionately higher than the latter, and the alternative actions of laying off faculty, increasing class sizes or cutting departments will greatly reduce the overall quality of the colleges. Neither would be a satisfactory solution.

It is absolutely imperative that the University develop a strong plan now to confront what will likely be increasing budget difficulties in the coming years. The University has given no indication that developing a plan to minimize the effects of state budget cuts into the future is even a priority for the administration. Administrators must approach this problem with urgency. With the integrity of academic programs at stake on the one hand and educational opportunity on the other, it is absolutely necessary to find an informed and balanced approach to buffering the state’s budget cuts.

Matthew Nagowski | April 08, 2011 (#)

The “Welcoming” Fence and the Future of Cornell’s Gorges

Figure 1: One of NADAAA's pre-schematic designs for a suicide barrier at Cornell that uses metal pickets.
Image Credit: Cornell University and The City of Ithaca Means Restriction Pre-Schematic Proposals, NADAAA

Looking through the PowerPoint showcasing NADAAA’s pre-schematic designs for the suicide barriers a couple weeks ago made me think of one of the first projects I ever reported on for Landscape Architecture, a corporate garden in Downtown Silver Spring, Maryland. At the time this landscape was constructed, the neighborhood was very much in transition, so the landscape architect was asked to provide a place that would feel public during the day but could be secured at night.

When I interviewed the landscape architect about the project in the summer of 2008, he proudly explained how he had addressed this challenge by designing a “welcoming” fence. The chic black fence he designed had no horizontal components, only vertical bars and this allowed it to be somewhat more transparent than your average fence, he explained.

The photographs here show the fence is in fact more transparent than your typical fence when viewed straight on in elevation (Figure 2). The problem is, when you are walking on one of the pathways parallel to the fence, you will rarely look at the fence straight on. As soon as you start to look at the fence at an angle, its transparency lessens (Figure 3), to the point that when you are walking right next to it, the fence may as well be a wall (Figure 4). Needless to say, the people I interviewed around the space did not find it welcoming. Many did not realize the garden was open to the public, and it is not very well used.

(Continues with imagery after the jump.)

Dan Jost | April 04, 2011 (#)

Contract Colleges To Close

MetaEzra can now confirm reports coming out of Albany, amidst the record budget cuts that the state has had to make, that Cornell will no longer be receiving any support for the contract colleges -- Vet, Ag, Human Ecology, and ILR -- from the state. As a result, Cornell will close those four colleges once the Class of 2015 has graduated.

Per the University's financial plan, New York State appropriated over $145MM to Cornell last year.

When pressed for comment, Nancy Zimpher, Chancellor of the SUNY system, stated that, "This will be a better deal for New York State taxpayers in the long run. Those four colleges have done little for the state over the last century except educate a bunch of arrogant Long Islanders who didn't want to be in Ithaca anyway. And if they're still interested in discounted tuition via the state, they can always attend Stony Brook."

Meanwhile, over a lengthy phone call in Day Hall, University Provost Kent Fuchs couldn't constrain his glee. "This is great," he said. "For too long this University has been bogged down by the notion that we should be educating any hick Upstate New York farmboy in any of his quasi-academic pursuits. What the hell is 'communication' anyway? In the past we've had to cut a critical program in Dutch literature -- something that any Ivy League education must have -- to help support their studies in agricultural machinery. I look forward to fully re-funding our Dutch program now that the state has saved us from having to pretend that we're interested in things like textile design and human resources management."

This announcement obviously raises a lot of questions, not the least of which is what will happen to all of the buildings that the contract colleges use. When pressed on this issue, Fuchs suggested that a lot of the animal stalls in the Ag and Vet schools would make for 'lovely squash court conversions'. No doubt to serve the real Ivy League students.

Matthew Nagowski | April 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)