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June 2011

Barrier Meeting on Tuesday

The City of Ithaca will be holding a special meeting on Tuesday at 7pm to get the public’s opinion on whether there should be permanent suicide barriers on the Thurston Avenue Bridge and other city owned bridges. Anyone who lives nearby and cares about this issue is strongly encouraged to go to city hall, and share their thoughts. Each person will be allowed to speak for 3 minutes, and at the end of the meeting, the common council will determine their “next steps."

Meta Ezra has heard that a small number of common council members already plan to vote against permanent barriers, since the best research available suggests they will be ineffective at preventing suicide. But the outcome of the meeting is far from clear, and the meeting itself is likely to be contentious. Much of this blog’s reporting has yet to reach local Ithacans, so many are still convinced that the scientific research favors suicide barriers, and that people who oppose them don’t care about helping those in need.

I live too far away to drive down to Ithaca on such short notice, but if I was there, I would highlight some of the studies I’ve presented in my previous articles. Here are some links:

Here is a post describing the most recent plans for the barriers:

For more information about the meeting, click here

Dan Jost | June 27, 2011 (#)

Cornell Hockey Loses Both Assistant Coaches

Many Cornell men's hockey fans credit a stable coaching staff for the team's success over the last decade or so. Coaching changes in college hockey are fairly common, especially given the clear increase in prestige that comes with a move from a lowly hockey school to a top team in Hockey East or the WCHA. Many coaches are also looking to jump to a position with an NHL team. But, Cornell coach Mike Schafer '86 has held his job since 1995. There have been rumors of Schafer leaving, which may have helped him win a nice salary increase a few years back, but he has remained.

Cornell has also enjoyed stability in the assistant coaching corps, with men like former assistant Brent Brekke and current assistants Scott Garrow and Casey Jones content to rack up a lot of years of standing next to Schafer behind the team's bench. In particular, the French-speaking Jones has been credited with bringing in some top recruits since he returned to Ithaca to take the job of associate head coach in 2008.

Given this lack of change at the top, it is surprising that Cornell will need to replace both assistant coaches this summer. Jones left to take the head coaching job at Clarkson, and Schafer hired Quinnipiac assistant Ben Syer to replace him. Then, Garrow made a lateral move to serve as an assistant at Princeton. Rumor is that Topher Scott '08, who volunteered with Miami's team this past year, will take Garrow's spot.

What does all of this mean for the future of the team? As associate, Jones would have stepped in if Schafer ever left. I expect that Jones would have stayed if he were confident that Schafer would be leaving in the next few years, but that Schafer gave no indication of leaving. We can speculate that Schafer refused to promote Garrow to associate head coach, so Garrow saw little choice but to leave.

Schafer deserves to be thanked for maintaining Cornell's status as a hockey power, but I wonder how much longer he will be willing to stay to pursue his goal of a national championship. Under Schafer, Cornell is 1-5 in games that would send the team to the Frozen Four. Schafer's most talented team, in 2003, was a favorite to win the championship but lost in the semifinal.

If Schafer stays for many more years, he will likely be compared to other long-running coaches like BU's Jack Parker, or BC's Jerry York. But, while Parker and York have proven that they can continue to win championships, Schafer has never reached that pinnacle of collegiate hockey. For some Cornell fans, it is enough to remain nationally competitive in a sport that is tilted against Ivy schools. To others, Cornell may have missed the opportunity to see what Casey Jones can accomplish in Lynah Rink. As the team moves forward with a new staff, both perspectives are important.

Elie Bilmes | June 21, 2011 (#)

Biddy bids adieu to Badgers; Amherst next

I've been following the story of (Cornell's former-Provost) Biddy Martin for quite some time, ever since she was first speculated to be a finalist for the UW-Madison chancellorship, and through all of her subsequent ups and downs. I must admit, however, to be surprised by the announcement that Martin is to be the next president of Amherst College.

You see, I always had Biddy pegged as a strong supporter of public higher education. So to move to a private liberal arts college raises my eyebrows a bit. Perhaps she was a bit overwhelmed with the super-charged political atmosphere in Madison?

She received her undergraduate degree from the College of William and Mary and advanced degrees from Middlebury College and UW-Madison. She was a professor of German studies and women's studies at Cornell before becoming its provost.

She has been open about her sexuality as a gay woman and has written extensively on gender issues, but has said she prefers for the focus to be on the mission of the schools she has served.

She said in her letter Tuesday to UW-Madison students, employees and alumni that deciding to leave her alma mater for Amherst was one of the most difficult decisions of her life.

"The chance to combine my belief in the transformative power of the liberal arts with the presidency of the leading liberal arts college in the country is the best opportunity I can imagine," she wrote. "I would have left UW-Madison at this point for no other school, and considered no other."

Amherst, one of about 50 colleges and universities in the U.S. with endowments exceeding $1 billion, is consistently ranked among the nation's top liberal arts schools.

Jide Zeitlin, Amherst's board of trustees chairman and leader of the presidential search committee, said Martin emerged at the top of a œvery robust pool of applicants for the presidency, including some candidates from outside the U.S. He cited her administrative skills, passion for liberal arts, knowledge about life sciences and breadth of experience.

Also interesting to note, MetaEzra recently critiqued Amherst College's much advertised commitment to economic diversity, despite the fact that Cornell educates far more low and middle-income students, with less resources to boot.

Matthew Nagowski | June 15, 2011 (#)

Reunioning 2011

It was a cornellendipitous Saturday evening on East Hill; I pulled into Ithaca around seven with low-hanging wisps of cloud rolling over Connecticut Hill and into Cayuga's valley and a palpable sense of nostalgia in the misted air. Within a half hour we were crashing the Class of 2006's lightening-delayed dinner, running into long-lost friends and trying to remember the names of those who played more fleeting roles in out Cornell experience. Things learned and experienced over the weekend:

-- For whatever reason, I neglected to include WVBR as a link in the list of links to the left of this page. It's now featured prominently. Apologies about that.

-- The Class of 2006 succeeded in breaking a reunion attendance record, getting almost twice as many alumni to show up as my own Class of 2005 did last year. To some extent, this may reflect the success of the North Campus Residential initiative, where all freshmen bond together on North Campus during their first year. Or, perhaps they're just better than us.

-- Members of the Class of 1931 in Ithaca for their 80th (!) reunion look more spry than most 80 year olds.

-- A lot of people like to introduce me as the person behind this humble blog. I don't necessarily enjoy the attention, and even so, most people just stare at you blankly. Or, at best, they think you're Dear Uncle Ezra.

-- But then again, apparently people know my middle name but don't know how they know it.

-- With a handful of local breweries, a local distillery, and dozens of wineries, many of which are owned by Cornell alumni, you would think that the Arts Quad tent parties could do better than Bud Light and boxed wine.

-- Mark Marotto '82 brought down the house in the main tent after last call with his rousing harmonica performance.

-- To the rising sophomore who tried hitting on my '05 friend: you're hilarious, dude.

-- By three in the morning a crowd of '06ers had invented a new game that seemed to involve beer and a running dive onto a table. I imagine some bones were broken by dawn. These are allegedly some of the nation's best and brightest, folks.

-- Spotted more blazers this year than last, and received many compliments on my own. It's coming back, folks.

-- To the undergraduate and his girlfriend complaining about the one hour wait for brunch at Carriage House and all of the alumni ruining their Sunday morning: one day that will be you, buddy, so be careful what you say.

-- Besides, the Carriage House brunch wait wouldn't have been so garishly long if Giving Tree nee ABC Cafe didn't have to close and be converted into a horrific combination of a take-out pizza shop and bar. At least there's still Chappy and the Chanticleer to keep Ithaca real.

-- And a special shout out to all of the Glee Club members who chimed in on cue (and in tune) when I started up (rather tone-deaf but) rousing renditions of 'The Yale Bulldog' and 'Itsy Bitsy'. Before you know it nobody will ever know that I wasn't actually a member of that storied student organization.

Matthew Nagowski | June 13, 2011 (#)

Maybe Cornell can get a comedian for Convocation speaker this century?

Conan O'Brien mops up the house:

As I wrote a couple years ago: At Cornell, there's an unfortunate, overwhelming tendency to chose figures of marginal political importance in lieu of compelling candidates in the fields of medicine, engineering, business, journalism, comedy, literature, art, or education.

Matthew Nagowski | June 12, 2011 (#)

In Praise of Greek

Especially at a large school such as Cornell, the issues facing the Greek system can be tough to put in perspective. The people involved think that these issues are the end-all of everything, while independents can't seem to grasp why anyone cares about sorority rush week dress codes or the required number of sober monitors for fraternity parties.

ABC Family's Greek, which ended its run this spring after four seasons, was valuable because of its ability to keep everything in perspective. Through a large cast of interesting, nuanced characters, the show demonstrated why these issues matter to the people involved, yet was careful never to take itself too seriously. (Watch the whole series on Hulu.)

Particularly, the show touched on Greek-related issues that haven't been addressed in other mediums. There was Calvin, who came out to his brothers. Rusty struggled to emerge from the shadow of his popular older sister, a sorority president, and to balance an engineering courseload with the demands of fraternity pledging. The ongoing rivalry between Cappie and Evan exposed differences in fraternity leadership styles, and differences in maturity. Rivalries between houses tore apart friendships and created unexpected new ones.

What was most refreshing about Greek was its refusal to adhere to the traditional stereotypes that often plague these kinds of programs. Rusty, a nerd, joins and matures as a brother in the biggest party house on campus. Evan, heir to a fortune, gives it all up and turns out to be the most mature character on the show. Cappie, seemingly the most immature character, possesses the maturity to know that each crisis will eventually pass.

Greek won't win many awards for writing, or acting, or scenery, or anything else. It aired on ABC Family, for God's sake. But as a fraternity president who would join some of the other brothers in our bar room every Monday night to watch the weekly drama, I was always surprised by the show's uncanny ability to illuminate some of the same controversies facing Cornell's Greek system.

Now, as an alumnus, I'm not sure whether these issues mattered as much as I thought they did at the time. Looking back, I think Greek knew this all along.

Elie Bilmes | June 11, 2011 (#)


Please allow me to introduce a previously unknown word into our lexicon of Cornelliana: Cornellendipty.

Cornellendipty is just like what it sounds. It reflects those serendipitous moments where seemingly independent events or things suddenly reveal themselves to have a Cornell connection, previously unknown to you. A great example of this was David Seideler '59 winning an Oscar earlier this year for The King's Speech. We all had seen and loved the movie, but hadn't been aware of the Cornell connection until much later.

Two more examples from my own life. First, in picking up and reading Raj Patel's excellent Value of Nothing, it wasn't until after I finished the book did I realize Patel had a PhD from Cornell. Or, when I recently heard Sandra Steinberger talk at a local dinner for an environmental non-profit, it wasn't until later that night that I learned she used to teach at Cornell.

Other examples abound: For instance, running into a long lost classmate randomly, or meeting a new person and discovering that they're a Cornellian. And if you think about it, with over a quarter million living alumni and faculty (and former faculty and staff), it's not all that hard to run into a Cornellian here or there.

I've actually forced a little bit of Cornellendipity on myself this weekend: in returning from a high school friend's wedding I'll manage to detour to Ithaca for my 6th Reunion on Saturday night.

So break out the Reunion Blazers! It'll be Cornellendipitous.

Matthew Nagowski | June 09, 2011 (#)

Cornell Proposes Suicide Nets

Those who have been following Cornell’s efforts to install permanent suicide barriers can breathe a collective sigh of relief today. The university will not be advocating for prison-like steel bars on any of its bridges. In fact, it is only proposing vertical “fences” on one bridge, the suspension bridge. At six other bridges on campus, the university has proposed horizontal nets, according to an article by Jeff Stein at the Cornell Daily Sun.

Stein quotes Gilbert Delgado, the university architect, who says the nets were chosen because they were the least visually obtrusive of NADAAA’s designs. “For the most part, [the nets] will be invisible from the standpoint of when you cross the bridge … when you look down you’ll see the mesh but it will be very porous,” Delgado told the Sun. The ugly steel rod barrier on the suspension bridge that proved ineffective at preventing a suicide last spring will be removed and replaced with a taller wire mesh barrier.

While some have expressed concerns about nets, arguing that suicidal people will jump into the net and then jump into the gorge, no such behavior has been observed at the Bern Muenster Terrace in Switzerland where a net has been in place since 1999. Prior to the construction of the net there, the site averaged 2.5 suicides per year, but since the net went up, there have been no suicides from that bridge and, according to Delgado, who has been in touch with Swiss authorities, no one has had to be rescued from the nets either.

While Stein notes the controversy over whether barriers actually save lives, he misses a fine piece of irony: the Bern study was actually one of the studies that showed no significant decrease in the number of jumping suicides overall after the barrier went up—the suicide net that Cornell is looking to as its precedent does not appear to have helped anyone. What's more, the fact that no one even tried to jump at that site and people just chose to go to other sites without barriers should be instructive to Cornell. As I’ve reported in the past, no study has been able to show that suicide barriers save lives, two have suggested that people will just go to other sites once a barrier goes up, and two nationwide studies—one in the U.S. and one in Switzerland—have found that places with suicide bridges do not have more suicides overall than places without such bridges.

While Delgado says he is hopeful that the decision to construct nets will sway people who are opposed to the fences for aesthetic reasons, the comments offered on the Sun article thus far have been surprisingly negative. And Ithaca is Fences, which has been organizing support online, does not appear to be backing down. “We’re sticking with the position that nothing is the best answer,” says Heather Bissel. For Bissel and many people who are uncomfortable with the fences, this debate has never hinged on aesthetics alone; the fences are a waste of scarce resources that could be spent in a way that actually helps people, and doesn't risk displacing people to less traveled sites and more dangerous methods of suicide.

According to the Cornell Chronicle, the plans for the Cornell owned bridges must be approved by Ithaca's Planning and Development Board. The city has yet to make a determination on how to proceed with its own bridges.

Dan Jost | June 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)