Cornell Criticism

12 08 2009



What inspired this post were the none-too-charming rankings released recently by Forbes on their “Best Colleges” list [1]. The article itself wasn’t the trigger, but the comments, however…

Where’s Cornell? Where it belongs, behind a lot of small LAC’s where teaching undergrads is actually a priority.”

“…another thing I considered: Cornell has one of the highest suicide rates of all colleges/universities in the U.S. actually, at one point, it was the highest…”

(not true according to the New York Times, but that’s beating a dead horse…)

Now, I could really care less about overall school rankings. Cornell is one of top-rated schools in my field of study, so that’s about the only ranking I ever cared to know. But, there’s a little bit of dark humor to be found in the lengths that people will go to criticize other institutions.

Cornell, of course, is not new to criticism.  The school was maligned in its early years for being co-ed, for not having a religious affiliation, and for some faculty that ran dangerously awry from the norms of the time (one of which included a professor that was an atheist, which in the religiously driven nineteenth century was truly shocking and tabloid worthy). Even today, remarks of “SUNY Ithaca” and “the safety school of the Ivies” still manage to bother some of our thinner-skinned students and alumni. Read Ivygate’s comment section for examples [2].

In the early 1940s, there was “The Dilling Affair”. A student by the name of Kirkpatrick Dilling was brought before the Student Conduct committee and put on parole for engaging in stunts such as blowing dormitory fuses and filling ceiling lights with water. Well, his parents were extreme right-wingers who were convinced that their son was put on parole due to the committee’s underlying communism. Mrs. Dilling came to Ithaca, launched her own investigation, and published a scathering magazine report detailing how the reds has infiltrated the institution from President E. E. Day down. (Bishop, 568)

Sometimes, Cornellians are their own worst enemies. Consider the little feud between Ann Coulter and Keith Olbermann earlier this year. For anyone who wasn’t living under a rock, Metaezra has the full story [3], so I’ll take the liberty of abridging the drama. Coulter, a bastion of invective conservatism, made the remark that liberal mouthpiece Keith Olbermann didn’t go to the same Cornell, but rather state school Cornell (CALS). Most of us who went to Cornell, while aware of the difference (and that the only significant differences between them are source of funding and in-state tuition), but also know that criticism is about as bad an idea as sticking a knife in an electrical socket. But, Olbermann responded back by showing off his diploma on air and bragging about his Cornell degree, Coulter just had to respond back, and the catfight resulting in nothing more than embarassing just about everyone else who ever went to school far above Cayuga’s waters. 

Here’s some of my favorites – building criticisms, as recorded from respondents in the Cornell Alumni News:

Sibley Dome – “the breast of campus”

Rockefeller Hall – “public grammar school No .16”

Baker Lab – “A U.S. Post Office Conferred by a Republican administration”

Olin Hall – “might suit a department of alchemy better than chemical engineering”

…and that was before the sixties and seventies rolled around. The aesthetic critics must be rolling in their graves.

I s’pose Cornellians are their own worst enemies. To quote one more commenter from Forbes:

Wow! A lot of references to Cornell in these comments! As a Cornell graduate, I see that “complex” is still there for many Cornellians.






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