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December 2011

Farewell to Professor James Maas

If you follow us on Facebook, you’ve probably already seen the RSS feed post announcing the imminent retirement of psychology professor Dr. James Maas. If you haven’t, here’s the news: Dr. James Maas is leaving Cornell as of the end of this year.


Readers of this blog undoubtedly know who I’m talking about. In his 48 years as a member of the Cornell faculty, Dr. Maas has taught Psych 101 (which changed to 1101 in 2008) to over 65,000 Cornellians. This is not only a Cornell teaching record, but is also a world teaching record. In recent years, at least, Dr. Maas’ class has enrolled over 1,200 students each fall semester. He has won the Arts College Clark Award for Distinguished Teaching and the American Psychological Association's Distinguished Educator Award.

Outside the classroom, Dr. Maas is a world-renowned sleep psychologist and bestselling author. He is credited with coining the term “power nap” and has devoted his career to discovering the benefits of sleep as well as raising awareness of the importance of sleep to success in our waking lives. According to Dr. Maas, energy, mood, focus, longevity, and, correspondingly, our ability to perform, are all influenced heavily by the quantity and quality of our daily sleep. He regularly appears on national talk shows as a sleep advocate.

I interviewed Dr. Maas last year for The Sunday Forum, a Cornell news interview show on WVBR. If you’re curious about some of his research and his findings on the importance of sleep, I recommend listening to the clip:

Interview with Dr. James Maas from Kyle Scott on Vimeo

What do you remember about Dr. Maas? His tenure spans 48 years of Cornellians and is likely one of the only professors who taught across so many class years. Share your memories below as a comment.

Kyle Scott | December 29, 2011 (#)

Big News from Cornell Today at 2:30

Cornell is being particularly coy about today’s anticipated announcement from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg about the proposed New York City tech campus. Although the news broke late last night in the Wall Street Journal, the University’s Press Office is saying only to tune in to CornellCast at 2:30pm today for a “live event of special interest” to Cornellians.

If you can break away at 2:30, watch the video here or through the Alumni Association Facebook page .

Oh, and thank you to the anonymous donor for making this possible.

Kyle Scott | December 19, 2011 (#)

WSJ: Cornell Wins NYC Tech Campus Bid

The Wall Street Journal reports that Cornell has won the bid to build a new technology campus in New York City. Cornell emerged as the front runner over the weekend as Stanford gave up on its bid and the Big Red announced a record-breaking $350 million anonymous donation that would assist in building the campus. Cornell's plan calls for construction on city-owned land on Roosevelt Island.

Elie Bilmes | December 18, 2011 (#)

Barrier Update: City Approves Nets

This week, in a 7-2 vote, the Ithaca Common Council gave final approval to Cornell’s plans for permanent suicide barriers on three city owned bridges. This means the current fences will be coming down next summer, according reports in the Cornell Daily Sun and the Ithaca Journal . They will be replaced by suicide nets—horizontal projections 15 feet wide—below the Thurston Avenue and the Stewart Avenue Bridges. Cornell will also be putting up suicide nets on most of the bridges it owns (The Suspension Bridge will be covered with a wire mesh cage instead).

Under its agreement with the city, Cornell will construct all the barriers and “make their maintenance, repair and other obligations of operation and ownership wholly or substantially 'cost-neutral' to the city during the term of the agreement.”

The Planning Board must still approve the final designs, but with Cornell and the majority on the Common Council both on the same page, I think it’s unlikely it will reject the barriers outright.

Meanwhile, Ellen McCollister, who voted against the barriers, and Dan Cogan, who voted for them, are challenging Cornell to make a separate agreement with the city to track suicides as they occur in the coming years, in order to determine if the barriers are having any effect on the overall suicide rate. “I also want us to track the costs and effectiveness of the rescue and recovery operations,” McCollister told Meta Ezra. “My hunch is that there will be plenty of people (and objects) landing in the nets, even though Cornell is quick to argue that no one has jumped into the Bern Muenster nets since their installation.”

Some suicide barrier studies have failed to answer the question of whether barriers really cut the jumping suicide rate, because they do not cast a wide net. In addition to the City and Cornell, the leadership of nearby state parks should also be engaged to report suicides that may have been displaced to these places--especially those involving Cornell students.

Dan Jost | December 12, 2011 (#)

Big Red Cymbal Guy

Matthew Nagowski | December 10, 2011 (#)

New York Times Survey on Campus Recruiting is Flawed

It’s been awhile since I last wrote here, but I’m back. I’ve been transitioning into a new job and things have been hectic.

Several weeks ago I came across a New York Times article that ranked Cornell University 38th in a list of the top universities throughout the world from which “hundreds” of CEOs from “leading companies” in ten countries recruit. At the top of the list, as expected, were Harvard, Stanford, and Yale. Within the top fifty spots, 23, or 46%, are American universities. Although this could be a good sign of the quality of American higher education, I doubt the validity of this ranking. While rankings like this are inherently subjective, this one is particularly bad. Here’s why:

Kyle Scott | December 08, 2011 (#)

Barrier Update: Legal precedent suggests City of Ithaca will not be held liable for gorge suicide

As you probably know by now, Howard Ginsburg is suing Cornell, the City of Ithaca, and a number of individuals affiliated with the university over his son Bradley’s suicide from the Thurston Avenue Bridge. Ginsburg, whose body was found in February 2010, was the 4th suicide at Cornell during that school year but the first involving a gorge. After two more students died by jumping, Cornell put up tall fences on all its bridges.

The lawsuit (which the Ithaca Journal has posted online ) argues that suicide barriers should have been installed sooner to prevent jumping from the bridges on campus. It also argues that Cornell should have done more to alert students and parents of the suicide cluster that was affecting Cornell.

Both Cornell and the city have vowed to fight the lawsuit. “Obviously we will oppose it,” Dan Hoffman, the city attorney, told Meta Ezra this week. “The actual defense will be handled by our insurance carrier. We do not believe the city had the duty the plaintiff claims we had. We construct our bridges following state standards and requirements.”

It’s hard to see how any court could blame Cornell for not installing barriers, when it didn't even own the bridge. The Thurston Avenue Bridge is owned by the city.

Hoffman, who has served as city attorney for six years, says he is unaware of any previous lawsuits of this type against the city.

But a similar case against the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District in 2004 provides some insight into how this case might play out. Marissa Imrie was a minor, only 14 years old at the time she jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge. Yet when her mother, Renee Milligan, sued the bridge authority, both the trial court and an appeals court found that the bridge authority could not be held liable for her death.

“We conclude reasonable minds will reach but one conclusion as to whether the lack of a suicide barrier is a dangerous condition,” reads the judges’ decision in that case. “By definition, persons who use the bridge to commit suicide are not using the bridge in a manner used by the general public exercising ordinary care.   As a matter of law, the Bridge District cannot be held liable for its failure to install a suicide barrier to protect those who intentionally use the bridge without due care.”

Dan Jost | December 05, 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)