Welcome to College

27 06 2008

Without meaning to come across as a complete jackass, I’ll admit that Cornell is a very well-regarded school. Well, for the most part. The school adminstration seems to suffer from the “red-headed stepchild” syndrome, where it constantly feels like it is being neglected and under-appreciated, and is constantly self-conscious of its activities. I blame this on being looked at as the worst of the Ivy League, which is in itself a ridiculous notion driven up by other school to make themselves feel better about their own college. That might be a little idealistic, but I believe Cornell gets bashed for the sole hope that it makes someone else’s school look better. And of course, this leads to Cornell’s inferiority complex.

The result of this inferiority complex is prominent throughout campus. Cornell is driven to succeed and outdo rival colleges that much more. with the exception of the Arts and Sciences school, which is known for having lots of high GPA liberal arts majors, many of the school have majors where they work the student to the bone, and work to make the class as challenging as possible. One of the ways this is done is through Cornell interpretation of exams, referred to as “prelims”. Most classes seem to have two or three in a semester, and they usually make up about 40-60% of a class grade. And in many of the classes, they design them to be as “challenging”, i.e. mind-blowingly difficult, as possible. Professors like to have low averages on an exam. I had a math exam where the mean was a 51 out of 100. Lo and behold to my surprise when I received a 46 on the exam, I thought I was  dead until I heard the mean. If one were to take the average means in my physics and math courses, it would likely be somewhere around 62. And I don’t often tend to be on higher side of the mean.

Academically, Cornell can be extremely frustrating. I’ve seen people try and drink their troubles away, shut themselves off from the world, and become generally miserable. A number of people I know have transferred from harder majors like engineering and pre-med to communications and AEM (being an AEM minor, I can understand why; the averages in the classes are much higher). Cornell will be the place that sends you and your academic confidence (perhaps arrogance for some) crashing back down to earth. 

In my situation, it was a rough landing. It’s something that has to be accepted and dealt with as best as possible though. Ithaca is really an amazing place, and Cornell has a lot to offer outside of academics. If it wasn’t for those things, then student life here would probably me much more unpleasant.

Sometimes it’s awkward to look back at high school and realize how things have changed with regards to academics and extracirriculars, but at least at Cornell, it was a necessary adaptation.

Undergrad Enrollment Trends

27 06 2008


I “love” the fact that Cornell wants to decrease the number of undergrads, and most of the facilities under construction are meant for docs and post-docs (researchers).

EDIT: Even funnier now that the economic crisis has them upping the number of freshman intended for a given class to go from 3,050 to 3,150 [1]. However, since this university gets a perverse sense of pride by having larger-than-expected class, seeing that number between 3250 and 3350 is probably the more likely outcome. Don’t foget the transfer students either; Cornell doesn’t necessarily have to house them, so they’d be more flexible in accepting them.


News Tidbits 6/26

26 06 2008

from the IJ:


“* The housing supply project calls for developing “quality, affordable and sustainable residential communities for the benefit of Cornell employees.”

The proposal is to build “new affordable townhomes” on Cornell property by 2010.

This property could include land at East Hill Plaza, in Collegetown and potentially anywhere else Cornell owns land, Johnson said. New housing would be built within easy biking or walking distance to Cornell or along public transportation lines, he said.

Cornell proposes to spend $600,000 on the housing supply project in 2009.”

Have to keep an eye on that.  $600,000 isn’t much to build with though. Although Cornell already owns the land, and intends for it to be affordable (i.e. not big or loaded), I could see at most four or five townhomes being built with $600,000. Whether or not they continue to add as much each year is a big question.

Example townhomes

Olin Libe Renovations

26 06 2008

Is there any hope for a new facade?


Dear B-,

While the primary focus will be the interior of the building, the
renovation will affect the exterior. The limestone will be removed and
cleaned. Also, the windows will be replaced.

Thanks for writing!

Pat Schafer, co-chair, Olin Library Renovation Committee


Nope. I was hoping to see its dated, punch card appearance changed too. What makes the building even more of a travesty is that Boardman Hall, the building that was originally on the property, was actually nice looking. Built in 1892 and designed by the same architect as Uris Libe (W.H. Miller), it was the original home of the law school. It was torn down in 1959 [1].


Aerial of Collegetown, Ithaca

26 06 2008

Damn I love this photo.



North Campus, Cornell

25 06 2008

So, I’m writing this entry after taking a short trek to Bear Necessities (Bear Nasties) located in Robert Purcell Center on the North Campus of Cornell. Since this is the closest food establishment to me, it serves very nicely as a convenience store for my sudden needs, even if they rip my face off when it comes to their prices. Seriously, like 75% more than the price of the same good at Tops.

So, let me segue into a little history. RPU was built in 1971, but not dedicated until 1982 (named for Robert Purcell- you can also find his name on the wall of donors for the construction of Olin Libe in the late 1950s). The building is known for Marketplace Eatery, Nasties, and the annoying self-operating toilets that never work when you want to, but rather wait until you reach for the t.p. Anyways, the whole place was remodeled in 2001.

The other community center on campus is Appel Commons, completed in 2002. Appel was the centerpiece of the $65 million dollar North Campus Residential Initiative, and was named for Robert ’53 and Helen Appel ’55 (yeah, the price tag to name that was $15 million, in case you were wondering). Appel is home to a small fitness area, an open lobby, and North Star eatery. In terms of preference, people tend to switch between Appel and RPU because theyre both fairly popular, but specialize in different foods.

As for the dorms, they were built in spurts. Technically, the first building north of the gorges was Risley Hall, built in 1911. Risley was named for Prudence Risley, the mother of Henry Russell Sage, of Sage Hall/Chapel fame. Note that it was dedicated by her daughter-in-law, for sage was dead by this time. Formerly an all-women’s dorm, unless you’re a thespian or seek to hide away in the only dorm really close to the arts quad, Risley isn’t a popular option. Although, it has the smallest single and largest double on campus, its own dining hall, and it quite opulent on the inside. And as rumor would have it, a healthy drug trade.

The next dorm built was Balch Hall. Balch was dedicated in 1930, a gift of Allan Balch 1889 and Janet Balch M.S. 1888 (Janet Balch’s alma mater, Scripps College, also received a donation that lead to the construction of Janet Jacks Balch Hall at that school in 1929 [1]). Balch Hall is the women’s dorm. The ladies there can be described three ways: 1) Their parents wanted them there 2) They were placed there out of sheer [bad] luck or 3) They genuinely wanted the quiet atmosphere without the distraction of boys. Yeah, I can say I’ve only met a few of the 3’s. Balch had a dining hall until 2000, when it was converted into the Carol Tatkon Center. *Guys, I recommend trying to streak through the Balch, as long as the RAs aren’t on the track team, and you know how to get out or where to hide. * Some RAs will m ake an issue about unescorted boys in the dorm, as will a few of the residents. Personally, I was only ever booted out once, and I was there all hours of the night. What I remember most was the very high ceilings in my friend L.B.’s room.

The next dorm constructed was Clara Dickson, named for A.D. White’s mother (what is up with naming buildings after one’s mother anyway?). Built in 1946, it is still the largest dorm in terms of number of residents in the Ivy League. The building from what I remember often seperated itself by wings and floors- I was an upper 2-5 resident, meaning my boundaries were for the most part the lobby and the side entrance; lower 2-5 was below that, and I never went there much except for a sociology project for my writing seminar. All in all, I associated with the twenty-one residents of my area, and maybe another half dozen scattered throughout the building. That was about it. The higher up you go floor-wise, the more luxurious the furnishings tend to be, and the smaller the rooms tend to be (why, you ask? because the largest spaces are on the “ground” floors, since they can’t be divided up too well due to the entrances).

The next dorm to be built was Mary Donlon Hall, constructed in 1961. This building is shaped like a thong. It’s also regarded as the most social of the dorms. I was in it maybe five times all of freshmen year, and from what I picked up, it really sounded like hit-or-miss when it came to social experiences in that hall. Don’t buy into everything that you hear. It was renovated recently though, so at least the furnishings are nice. Donlon was a women’s dorm for the first ten years of its existence as well.

***An aside, but the gym, Helen Newman (gift of Floyd Newman ’12, the same one as the Newman Annex across the gorge from the gym), was built in 1963. A little run-down and rusty, the building is set for a $15 million renovation in the next few years, including the addition of a second pool and more fitness facilties [3]. The bowling alley is in the basement.***

Starting in 1970, Cornell planned the high-rise/low-rise system. Some of the buildings are themed; HILC is building 8, JAM is building 9, and Ujamaa is building 10. 6 and 7 are unthemed (and 7 was home to a double murder in December 1983 [2]). The low-rises were completed around 1975. The high-rises would be completed by 1982; Jameson Hall (High-Rise 1) and High-Rise 5. Low-rises 2-4 were never completed due to a lack of funding.

Although a plan was launched to designed additional dorms under the guidence of architect Richard Meier, the plan fell through. It would not be until 2000-2001 that the Mews Hall and Court Hall buildings would be constructed. These are generally regarded well, although I have had friends complains that the suite-style setup was not exactly conducive to getting to know people outside your suite. Perosnally, I was in there maybe four times, so I can’t comment.

The townhouses, a throwback to the 1970s, are rather old-looking with decaying wood trim, and rather isolated from the social scenes of the other freshmen. At least they have a lot more living space. If you’re really unlucky as a freshman, Cornell will run out of space and stuff you into Hasbrouck, the neighboring apartment complex that is home to mostly grad students (and now with the demolition of the transfer center, transfer students may call Hasbrouck home as well). Cornell’s master plan calls for both of these to be demolished in the next ten to twenty years, and replaced with new dorms (the CC parking lot next to Sigma Alpha Mu will be torn out and dorms would be placed there as well).

With the exception of a couple of one offs like the Latino Living Center at Anna Comstock Hall (1932, reprogrammed 1994), that about sums up North Campus facilties. As a freshman, it’s convenient to all be in one place; you get to really bond with your class. As an upperclassman, it’s a pain in the arse to stay in contact with friends who are RAs or in a program house, because the place is just like an enclave and they hardly ever leave except for forays to Central Campus. I hardly visited North Campus during sophomore year because I lived on the exact opposite side of campus. Being closer now, I’m not sure if this makes me more likely to visit, but with the exception of more convenience store trips to RPU, my guess is “no”.

[1] http://www.scrippscollege.edu/about/campus-guide/balch-hall.php

[2] http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20A15FA3F5C0C738EDDAB0994DB484D81


The Women’s Dorm and the Insane Asylum

21 06 2008

When I lived on campus, I lived in two dorms- Clara Dickson Hall, on Cornell’s north campus, and Cascadilla Hall, located in the Collegetown area directly south of campus.

Dickson was built in 1946. Originally an all-women’s dorm, it was designed to compliment Balch Hall’s courtyard setup, as part of the north campus master plan of the time. However, with the sudden increase of students attending the college in the 1950s, the plan was abandoned. Apparently, it used to have a dining facility. It houses mostly singles, but I shared a triple with two guys, D.S. from MA and J.W. from KS. They were good guys, and Dickson was a good place to be freshman year. I lived in a very social wing and floor, and it made freshman life enjoyable.

Sophomore year, I made the agreement with my family that I would stay on campus. Cascadilla is a six-story stone dorm on the edge of the highrises of Collegetown. Casca was built in 1866 as a water cure sanitarium, and old Ezra Cornell was one of the investors. When it failed, the building was bought out by Cornell and used for university dining, housing and office space. It was extensively renovated in 1981 [1]. Hence, because of the history, the building is rumored to have been an insane asylum when it was first built. In all reality, it was a “mental health spa”.

Wait, let’s think about the meaning of that…

Cornell is a place of never-ending construction. The north campus last saw construction in 2001, with the addition of Court and Mews Halls. Note that these are “temporary” names; with time and donations, they will be renamed. In 2005, the middle portion of the L that was Court was renamed Bauer Hall, to honor a $10 million dollar donation from Robert’40 and Virginia Bauer’42. Similarly, in 2007 the top of the L wad reanmed Kay Hall, to honor a $10 million donation from Bill Kay ’51 [2]. One half of Mews can be renamed for $15 million, in case anyone’s interested [3].



[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Court-Kay-Bauer_Community

[3] http://www.giving.cornell.edu/browse.cfm?page_index=8&keywords=&num_inits=0&m=browse&opt=yes&result_type=image