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August 2011

Cornellian Tapped as Top Economic Advisor

This is excellent news:

Today, President Obama will announce his intent to nominate Alan B. Krueger as a member of the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA). Following his confirmation, President Obama will designate Dr. Krueger as Chairman of CEA. Dr. Krueger will be a key member of the President's economic team, bringing a wealth of knowledge and decades of experience to the challenge of creating jobs and promoting economic growth.

"I am pleased to nominate Alan Krueger to lead the Council of Economic Advisers. As one of this country's leading economists, Alan has been a key voice on a vast array of economic issues for more than two decades," said President Obama. "Alan understands the difficult challenges our country faces, and I have confidence that he will help us meet those challenges as one of the leaders on my economic team."

If confirmed, Dr. Krueger will continue the CEA's important work of developing and offering the President economic advice on the formulation of both domestic and international economic policy. The Council bases its recommendations and analysis on economic research and empirical evidence, using the best data available to support the President in setting our nation's economic policy.

Krueger is otherwise known as Alan Krueger '83. He graduated from the School of Industrial and Labor Relations in 1983 before going on to earn his PhD at Harvard and teach at Princeton.

The news is especially welcoming as the Obama administration needs to get bolder and more creative on a bona fide, New Deal-esque jobs program for the country. Krueger is just the man for the job: his academic research has demonstrated that minimum wage increases don't hurt employment markets and has demonstrated the merits of increased jobs and training programs for disadvantaged youth. If the American economy is going to be able to turn itself around, with our policymakers getting away from these silly discussions over tax cuts and debt levels, Krueger will be a critical element to our future success.

Matthew Nagowski | August 29, 2011 (#)

Cutting Pledging, and the Good Which Comes With It

In a decision which is at best misguided and at worst the precursor to the closure of the Greek system, President Skorton took to the pages of The New York Times today to announce that Cornell will ban pledging from the Greek system.

Pledging, of course, is not easily defined. Pledging in most fraternities and sororities consists of learning about the chapter's history, members and values; socializing with the active members; and engaging as a new member class in activities that build relationships. All of these components might also be found in the training program for new executives at a Fortune 500 company. In many Greek chapters, the team-building pledge activities toe the definition of hazing, in practice if not in intent. (Consider, for example, a high school sports team that hazes its freshmen by asking them to carry the team's water.) For a few chapters, out of control behavior leads to tragedy, followed by repercussions for the rest of the community.

My concern is that Greek membership has little meaning if its requirements are diminished. If it is no longer necessary to study the history and values of a chapter, to learn and participate in secret rituals, or to overcome challenges with ones classmates, what is the worth of Greek membership? Through my fraternity experience, I was pushed to become a better person. I learned to build relationships, believe in myself, and remain calm when faced with adversity. Had there been no pledge process, no period in which to see what was expected of me as a fraternity member, I would not have had the determination to make the most out of my Cornell experience. I fear that by eliminating pledging, we are throwing out all that is good in an attempt to correct the actions of a few bad chapters.

The elimination of pledging would follow the course of similar reforms and punish the good chapters while making the bad chapters act more recklessly. Take the recent examples of banning hard alcohol at parties, creating a dry day during rush week, and banning freshmen at fall fraternity parties. In each of these cases, the chapters who follow the rules are punished because they are handicapped in their ability to recruit people to those social events. The bad chapters, meanwhile, do not change and decide to operate in violation of the rules, but they do so more secretively. As such, they do not register their social events or regulate the consumption of hard alcohol, so these events are more dangerous. These bad chapters are less likely to seek medical attention for those who need it because to do so would reveal their illegal activity.

In the case of eliminating pledging, I expect that the bad chapters will once again disregard the new rules and continue to haze, but they will do so even more secretively. They will continue to be reckless by holding pledge activities in locations that are off campus so as to avoid detection, and they will continue to hesitate to seek medical care when it is necessary.

The good houses, on the other hand, will have their hands full trying to design a pledge process that maintains all of the positive aspects of their chapters' experiences, but satisfies whatever nitpicky requirements are established by the university. They will be annoyed that the bad houses continue to haze, and they will not be surprised when the bad houses make more news and once again bring the wrath of the administration on the entire Greek system.

Skorton seems to believe that eliminating pledging will solve all of Cornell's drug and alcohol woes:

At Cornell, high-risk drinking and drug use are two to three times more prevalent among fraternity and sorority members than elsewhere in the student population.
Skorton ignores the fact that students who drink or use drugs are much more likely to join the Greek system in the first place. Cornell students will continue to want to drink and have fun. Putting more pressure on the Greek system will only force those activities further underground, where they become even more dangerous. The bad chapters get worse, while the good ones get frustrated.

Elie Bilmes | August 24, 2011 (#)

Why Cornell Should Not Close Fall Creek Gorge

And why the bridge nets are not like the fencing off Fall Creek

The Sun is running a provocative op-ed piece today by a recently minted alumnus who wants the University to close off all access to Fall Creek gorge:

All deaths at Cornell are extremely sad. However, I find the Fall Creek fatalities to be more than just saddening; they are exceedingly frustrating. This frustration stems from the fact that the deaths at Fall Creek are highly avoidable. Cornell needs to take action to prevent these unnecessary and totally preventable fatalities: The University must block off access to Fall Creek gorge.

I have engaged in those risky activities that have caused all this suffering. The recent deaths have forced me to think critically about my past decisions. When taking the risks, I understood the danger of climbing and swimming in the gorge. However, my sense of confidence and self-exceptionalism overrode my sense of fear. My actions were driven by a foolish sense of invincibility.

I, for one, will never swim in the Fall Creek gorge again. However, there are many others who have yet to be deterred by the danger of swimming in the gorge. If the University does not close off the gorge, some of these individuals will die.

It's a thinly laid argument because you could make so many similarly structured arguments that fall apart due to their unreasonable nature of an illegal activity: The University shouldn't allow students to drive because they might die in a traffic accident. The University shouldn't allow students to be sexually active because they may become pregnant or contract a sexually transmitted disease. The University shouldn't allow students (of age) to drink because they may drink themselves to death... New York State should close the Ithaca-area state parks because the gorges and waterfalls can be dangerous. Or the University shouldn't allow students to enjoy a natural area on campus because they may drown.

All are legal activities. All require the individual's discretion to participate in them with caution. Freedom and responsibility, if you will. A Cornell tradition since 1865. Limiting access to the gorges unfairly prohibits legal use of a place with incredible educational, physical, and emotional benefits to students. And we had this exact same discussion three years ago.

Of course, you may ask, how is this any different than putting nets under the bridges to deter suicides, which is something that I've grudgingly come to accept while my colleague Dan Jost maintains have absolutely no purpose, and may in fact cause more suicides? I think the difference is in impact: The nets under the bridges aim to curb an illegal activity without impacting legal use of the bridges, with little negative impact (of course, Dan argues that they can actually cause more suicides). Meanwhile, blocking off access to Fall Creek aims to curb illegal activity (swimming in the gorges, an activity that isn't exactly unsafe for good swimmers at low water levels) while severely impacting legal use of the gorges as well.

On a personal note, I'll most likely be back in Ithaca for Homecoming this September. For the last four years I have been unable to make it down to the gorges due to my ongoing health problems and limited mobility. But if all continues to go well, and the University doesn't decide to restrict access to the gorges, I plan on making my first trek down to the Fall Creek gorge in quite some time.

Matthew Nagowski | August 24, 2011 (#)

Welcome to the Class of 2015

It's hard to believe that ten years ago today I became a Cornellian, moving into Court Hall and quickly taking advantage of all of the educational and social opportunities the University provides. A hearty welcome to the Class of 2015, a class that will graduate at the same time Cornell celebrates its sesquicentennial, and a class that will always celebrate its reunions with a whole bunch of amazing 0s and 5s.

Six years ago I wrote (in the now defunct, but possibly soon to be reincarnated) Muse:

Cornell does not make you. Just as the first students at Ezra’s university helped construct the buildings they studied in, you must make Cornell for yourself. It is for this reason that we cannot possibly understand this place until we have finished our own time at Cornell. There is no definitive Cornell experience — every experience here is unique and tailor-made by the individual student.

So some humble advice to the Class of 2015: Go out and make Cornell yours. Oh, and you'll be able to watch plenty of Netflix movies after your four years on East Hill.

Matthew Nagowski | August 19, 2011 (#)

Does Cornell Discriminate Against Those Not Wanting A Nightlife?

A rising sophomore is petitioning the University against its use of an "Internet tax" whereby it charges students for excessive bandwidth usage:

News: Heavy Streams - Inside Higher Ed

Lara, the Cornell petitioner, has framed the network-usage fees as a tax on students who prefer consuming Web videos to consuming alcohol. "While some students opt to partake in drug-related pastimes, other students stay in and watch movies, talk on Skype or iChat, or even just surf the Web," wrote Lara in a Web petition addressed to university officials. "We should not be penalized for this", she wrote, particularly given how much students already pay in tuition and fees.

Lara says that last year, her first at Cornell, she racked up hundreds of dollars in excess network-usage charges including $150 for one month. She told Inside Higher Ed that she does not download files from torrent sites; she just likes to watch videos on Netflix and Hulu, and does so a lot. Lara says she also spends several hours every week talking to family and friends on Skype.

"If Cornell was situated in a major metropolitan area with a vast nightlife that could accomodate[sic] the interests of most, if not all, our undergraduates, then many Cornellians wouldn't be so inclined to stay in their rooms and get on the Internet," she wrote in a note with the petition on Change.org. "But that's not the case. Cornell's Greek life dominates the social scene, making "nightlife a dividing factor in the community."

With the like of Hulu, NetFlix, and Skype exploding in popularity, I certainly don't see why the University shouldn't raise the Internet bandwith limits it imposes on students to a more reasonable limit. But claiming that there isn't anything to do in Ithaca that isn't drug-related other than watching NetFlix is absurd. Ithaca has more varied social offerings than all but the largest metropolitan areas in the country. There's 30,000 students between East Hill and South Hill: Go out and make some friends. Play board games. Go camping. Start a band. Stage a play. Go out and see some live music. Attend an art museum opening.

She also apparently needs to learn how to spell accommodate. Maybe she should be studying more instead of watching movies on NetFlix?

Matthew Nagowski | August 16, 2011 (#)

City Doesn't Want to Fund Maintenance of Suicide Barriers at Cornell

The City of Ithaca held another meeting on Cornell's plans to install suicide barriers this week. And a number of council members have come out against spending any city money on the nets, according to reports in the Ithaca Journal.

"The idea that someone could potentially break their neck (jumping into the net) and turn around and sue the city concerns me," said Alderman Dan Cogan, D-5th. "I'm inclined not to support this unless Cornell would indemnify the city against lawsuits, costs, replacement. I'm not willing for the city to take on any costs for this."
Cogan echoed similar ideas from Joel Zumoff, D-3rd, Ellen McCollister, D-3rd, and Govind Acharya of the BPW.

The article makes the council look petty. Cornell has offered to pay the cost of the nets, is it really too much to ask the city to pick up on maintainence if they believe the nets will work? The humorous news site Scallywag & Vagabond picked up on this thread.

But "it's not just about having Cornell pay the costs and maintenance of net installation " writes Councilwoman McCollister in an email. "A few of us on Council think it's a bad idea to install nets, regardless of whether Cornell pays or not."

Recent research has called into question the effectiveness of suicide barriers--particularly when other jumping sites are available nearby. (More information here, here, and here.)

Dan Jost | August 04, 2011 (#)

Google Pedestrian View of Campus

Not certain if this has been picked up in the Cornell blogosphere previously, but Google Maps now features Cornell's campus with a pedestrian view of most of the walkways throughout Central Campus:

View Larger Map

It seems like Google must have used this nifty tricycle cam to snap pictures of these places that cars cannot go. Pretty exciting.

Matthew Nagowski | August 04, 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)