Cornell’s Morbid History II: A (Sadly) Busy Year

30 01 2010

Glancing over at Elie Bilmes’s Fast Lane Blog, he made mention of the most recent student fatality from Cornell University, that of sophomore Mark von Bucher, who succumbed to injuries sustained in a skiing accident in Utah over winter break. He goes on to note that this is the eighth student fatality this year.

Offhand, let’s goes through that list. The Daily Sun makes it easy because it all gets placed on the “tragic” node. Respectfully, the Sun does not display ads in this node either due to the nature of its content.

1. David Yang ’11 was killed in a car accident in Missouri in late August.

2. Warren Schor ’11 succumbed to complications related to contracting the H1N1 “Swine Flu” Virus in mid September.

3. Boon Jim Lim ’13 was found dead in his dorm room in late October. The family has chosen to not disclose the cause of death.

4. Rion Wight ’09, who had been on academic leave for the past two years, died unexpectedly in late October, a week after the death of Boon Jim Lim. No cause of death was released.

5. Lucas Wooster, a 32-year-old Ph.D. student, died unexpectedly in early November. His death has been speculated by some to be a suicide.

6. Adam Frey ’11 lost a two-year-long battle to cancer the day after Christmas.

7. Clayton DeFisher ’11 died after suffering cardiac arrest at a New Year’s celebration.

8. Oliver Schaufelberger ’11 died at home around January 13th. The family has chosen to keep the cause of death private.

9. The aforementioned Mark von Bucher ’12.

If you count the Ph.D. student, that makes for nine fatalities. Comparably, the tragic node records three student fatalities for the entirety of the previous academic year.

This has been a truly unfortunate year for the student body of Cornell.

The Rush Week PR Disaster

24 01 2010

Pike being booted is bad enough. But it looks like sororities haven’t been able to avoid trouble either.

If anyone has read Ivygate or the Huffington Post lately, apparently Pi Beta Phi’s dress manual for sisters during rush week was leaked, substantiating just about every single embarrassing sorority stereotype known to man. Not that everyone didn’t know there was a dress code, but the shallowness of it all really echoes with the sister who wrote the six-page guide. It’s not something that Pi Phi will get in trouble for since they didn’t do anything wrong, but it’s an embarrassment and a public relations debacle.

Watch out for those dress checks, ladies.

Speaking of which, this puts Greek Life at Cornell in an unpleasant situation. We have Pike and Pi Phi caught committing activities that portray the darker side of Greek Life by exposing some of the excessive drinking and superficiality, the kind that anti-Greek zealots thrive off of.  I know I made the joke a couple of entries ago about how I hope my fraternity sends no one to the hospital during rush week, but this is ridiculous. The goal of recruitment is to invite those interested into Greek chapters, not embarrass ourselves in a stereotypical shit-show that will have repercussions through the system. The reputation of the greek system at Cornell has taken a major hit this week, and Panhel and the IFC need to something, now. Advertising the high points of Greek Life in Sun Articles and OFSA publications is only a small part of the answer. Open and extended discussion of these events will be required at the meetings of the respective councils, and ways to improve upon it. Even if they don’t (which I’m being honest here, and know that things won’t really change), it will offer some good PR.

I know that some of the comments I’ve seen on facebook and other sites question the harshness of immediately stopping Pi Kappa Alpha’s recruitment and kicking them off campus. Let’s be frank – they deserved it. Yes, they sought the freshmen medical attention. Congratulations, by not letting them die they just avoided persecution under NYS law. However, the brothers still let it happen in the first place. Did not monitor the situation, did not prevent the freshmen from drinking to the point of poisoning, did nothing until their lives were actually in danger. The freshmen were stupid, but regardless of that the brothers should have been smart and prevented the situation from occurring. But they didn’t. They deserve every punishment that Cornell, the IFC, their national org, their alumni and anyone else delivers upon them.

Stupid Frat Tricks II: How to Screw Up Recruitment

23 01 2010

So I checked my email today and received the following excerpt in an email from the IFC:

“I am writing to provide you all with an update of events that occurred last night that resulted in a fraternity having their university recognition temporarily suspended.  The suspension is in response to a recruitment event at the fraternity house that resulted in the hospitalization of three students due to alcohol poisoning.  These students were transported to the hospital by brothers of the fraternity late last night.  The Ithaca Police Department responded to the event as well and are currently investigating along with Cornell University Police.  This incident is being taken very seriously and will likely have repercussions that effect the entire system.  At this time the fraternity has been instructed to desist from all activities including recruitment.”

While the chapter at least got them medical attention, the act was stupid, dangerous and intolerable. To the point that the fraternity (rumor mill suggests Pi Kappa Alpha) has lost recognition and will not be allowed to have a pledge class. Well, considering the similar incident that happened with Sigma Pi a couple of years ago, I guess this is proof that history has a habit of repeating itself.

Money and Morons

13 01 2010

So, I’ll be on a little hiatus for the next several days as I will be attending a conference, but I figured I’d share two conversations I had recently.

The first was with a friend of mine whose job involves educating student athletes on how to conduct phone fundraising. I asked her how they were doing.

“Well, they only have like a couple days each to do it, but ladies hockey is only a thousand dollars from their goal so they’ll probably make it. The guys team wouldn’t have come close to their goal if some guy didn’t pledge $15,000.”

“Wait, someone pledged a $15,000 donation over the phone?”

“Yeah, I think it was one of the largest single donations the phoneathon has ever received.”

EDIT: The best part was when I found out this evening from that same person that the men’s hockey team raised over $55,000 in two days. Of course, half of them became ill, but still, that’s a lot of money.

Someone definitely has some money to give away this recession. It could be that he really likes Cornell men’s hockey, or in light of recent news, he could be trying to buy someone’s enrollment.

Conversation number two was with a friend who is a member of an IFC fraternity. I asked if he was looking forward to rush.

Eh, whatever happens happens. We have a few guys we know are coming back for us, but we’ll see how it goes. It doesn’t help that one of our sophomore guys got drunk and punched this one freshman in the face because he thought he was annoying.”

On that note, physcical assault of freshmen is not the best way to recruit. Like last year, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I don’t come back to find out someone set my fraternity’s house on fire or sent rushees to the hospital.

An Employee’s Revenge?

12 01 2010

Truth or fiction?

A former Cornell University employee threatened to reveal unfair admissions practices in an attempt to settle a personal lawsuit regarding overtime, Cornell officials allege.

Eldred Harris, a former reunion campaign officer in the Alumni Affairs and Development Office, is suing the university for $30,000 in overtime fees. Cornell officials allege in court documents that Harris said he had information about a supposed university admissions practice in which mediocre students were offered placement in return for large donations, and threatened in March 2008 to reveal it if a settlement was not reached.

Harris’ lawyer, Edward Kopko, said the matter of Cornell’s admissions practices is not related to the overtime issue and the university is using it to obfuscate the matter.

“We are only concerned with (the Fair Labor Standards Law) and labor law,” Kopko said. “The case has nothing to do with the distractions that were raised by Cornell pertaining to admissions. I assume Cornell is doing it to undermine Mr. Harris, but it actually has nothing to do with this case.”

Associate Vice President for Alumni Affairs and Development Richard Banks said in an affidavit in the case that Harris’ then-lawyer, Seth Peacock, wrote to Cornell Vice President for Human Resources Mary Opperman on March 12, 2008, outlining Harris’ grievances, which included being terminated for persistently pushing the AA&D office to address what he termed “neglect and under-investment (of) Cornell’s diverse constituents,” and giving a deadline for reaching a settlement regarding the overtime fees.

“To highlight one of many of Mr. Harris’s significant concerns, I have included three disturbing e-mails with this letter,” Banks quoted Peacock’s letter as saying. “They illustrate quite clearly that for majority donors, there is a threshold gift level that impacts admission decisions despite all of the lofty protestations to the contrary. The first sets forth the price of admission to Cornell; the second, if the price is paid even a mediocre student will be admitted. Both students were admitted to Cornell.

A third e-mail is from an African-American alumnus who was complaining of his daughter’s rejection from Cornell despite what he regarded as her “clear qualifications and his giving potential.” According to Banks’ affidavit, Harris asserted in Peacock’s letter to Opperman that this alumnus is still not tracked by the AA&D office. Harris’ complaint in Tompkins County Supreme Court includes several e-mails between him and his supervisors at Cornell, but does not include the e-mails mentioned in the quoted letter to Opperman.


Peacock’s letter, as quoted by Banks, goes on to say that the issue of equitable access to higher education is one to which Harris is “highly sensitive” as an African-American Cornell alumnus, and that Harris is “prepared to forward all one hundred plus messages to … the New York Attorney General’s Office, numerous media outlets and most importantly he is ready to share these messages with Cornell’s twenty-five thousand or so Asian, African-American, and Latino alumni of which I (Peacock) am one.”

University Counsel Wendy Tarlow responded to Peacock March 13, 2008: “Please be advised that the use of confidential University documents by your client violates the confidentiality agreement that he signed while employed at Cornell. Your threat to use these documents also appears to constitute extortion under New York law. Moreover, your own actions in writing the letter dated March 12, 2008 (to Mary Opperman) appear to violate the New York Code of Professional Responsibility.”

Tarlow gave a deadline for the documents to be returned to Cornell by the next day.

Banks and Harris did not return calls regarding the case. A spokesman for Cornell’s press relations office said she could not comment on the case since it is still in litigation, and that she was not aware of practices within Alumni Affairs and Development. Harris is a member of the Ithaca City School District Board of Education.

Kopko said the matter of Cornell’s admissions process and Harris’ exchange with the university regarding the e-mails have nothing to do with the case Harris has brought against Cornell and are an intentional distraction Cornell has “injected into the case.”

“The issue in the case is simply overtime,” Kopko said. “It is a (Fair Labor Standards Act) overtime and labor claim. … When you read the documentary evidence, they are trying to distract the court from the fact that this is a labor law issue by referring to the circumstances surrounding (Harris’) separation from Cornell.”

Cornell filed a motion to dismiss the case Dec. 18.


Well, if there’s any truth to the allegations, then I guess Sandy Weill’s grandkids will have no problem getting into Cornell.

Better Late Than Never: 2009 OFSA Report Released

7 01 2010

It only took them until New Year’s to get it up on their website. What’s that, like six months since the numbers and data were finalized?

The PDF:

The cover is vaguely charming. I can see my fraternity’s pin on the cover. I also remember that our alumni board president didn’t know that the pins were for reunion, so we ended up putting them in storage for a while before giving them out to interested members.

Basic stats: Not a whole lot of change. Same number of chapters (AOPi closed and Alpha Phi Alpha reestablished itself). Roughly the same percentage of greek undergrads (more on that in a moment). Less community service hours, but about $6K more raised in philanthropies, but honestly no one really cares about that except when it comes time to say good (or bad, comparatively) things about the greek community.

Digging a little deeper into the IFC numbers, it looks like the percentage of Cornell male undergrads in fraternities has increased to 33.15% from 31.68%. Gross numbers, that’s about 143 more members (the total male undergrad population, Greek and non-Greek, increased by 126). Yet, the number of undergrad freshman males stayed nearly constant (up by 9), so the vast majority of the gains seem to be from upperclassmen who chose to pledge later in their college careers, and transfer students. Which is great, in my opinion; one of my best friends in my house chose to pledge as a sophomore, but I wouldn’t think of him any differently than someone that I pledged with as a freshman.

Sorority membership increased to 23.60% from 23.17%. Sororities had 78 more members in 2008-09 over the past year, but the total undergraduate female population increased by 190 students (including 120 more freshman women vs. the previous year). Average members per chapter from 73 to 81, but that’s because Panhel lost AOPi, so there were more ladies to go around.

As a guy, I think I lack the ability to understanding the dealings of Panhel. The idea of being in a chapter of 130 members isn’t too appealing, and I’ve definitely seen cases of girls in the same house not even remembering each other’s names. Whatever floats their boat, I guess.

Just stating this for the record, I write about OFSA figures and Greek life out of my own interest. No figures or statements in this blog are made with the purpose of influencing anyone towards a certain house.  This blog is only good for photos of the houses and for little history tidbits about the chapters. The only way you can figure the character of a fraternity is by visiting them and using solid judgment.