News Tidbits 6/28/11: The Lawsuit Everybody Expected

28 06 2011

So, the Cornell Sun (on its bare bones summer staff) has noted that the mother of George Desdunes ’13, the SAE brother who died in a hazing event this past February, is suing the national fraternity for $25 million. I’m no expert on legal matters, but I do know this has significant precedent with cases from other universities, and SAE has been slapped with three wrongful death lawsuits  in just the past five years. Most of the wrongful death cases were settled out of court for undisclosed amounts, although at least one, a case against a University of Texas chapter of SAE, was awarded $16.2 million (I’m not positive, but I believe it’s the fraternity’s insurance company that pays out, but the fraternity then finds it that much more difficult and expensive to have adequate coverage for their liabilities, which is necessary for recognition on many campuses. So although the fraternity doesn’t pay out directly, their finances still detrimentally impacted).

Now, here’s my question: is she bring a lawful death lawsuit against Cornell?

In a previous entry, I described how a similar incident had occurred at M.I.T. back in the late 1990s with the death of a pledge at their FIJI chapter. In that case, the Kreuger family held M.I.T. responsible for a lack of supervision of the fraternity that allowed the death to occur. Although a formal lawsuit against the school was never filed, MIT did pay out $6 million to the family, of which $1.25 million went to a memorial scholarship. In hazing-wrongful death lawsuits, it seems, at a casual glance, that while it’s common for the fraternities local chapters and national organizations to be sued, it unusual for the school to be sued, perhaps because its much more difficult to build a case. But, I would not hold out against the possibility that if the lawyers are zealous enough, they can use the lack of supervision against Cornell and receive a similar settlement.  For one thing, SAE lived in a university-owned property and the incident allegedly took place in the Townhouses on North Campus.

So, the obvious take-away from this news is that SAE is screwed and totally responsible for their members’ actions. But in the bigger picture, one does wonder if the plaintiffs are going to try and go after Cornell as well.

Three Years Later

18 06 2011

Wow. I can hardly believe that this blog has been going for three years now. Not bad for a Cornell/Ithaca history and construction blog. In keeping step with the previous two annual updates, here’s a brief rundown of the site statistics:

The total number of hits since this blog launched, and as of 3:45 PM today, is 163,019.  Altogether, that’s roughly 149 visits/day. Since the first year averaged 82 visits/day, and the second year 166 visits/day, the third year breaks down to about 199 visits/day. Not too shabby.  As or the monthly statistics:

The highest monthly total for the past year was March, with 8,001 visits. In all of the past three years, March has been the month with the highest total. Considering the aberration in site traffic in March 2010 due to the bridge tragedies,  the relatively slower increase from 2010 to 2011 (versus 2009 to 2010) is actually more substantial than it seems, since no single event this year contributed to as large of a proportion of visitors to this blog.

Looking at the past year in review:

~In planning and development, Thom Mayne was selected to design Gates Hall, and when the initial design came out this past spring, I gave it a less-than-warm reception (and probably the only time I’ll ever refer to deer carcasses on this blog). THE CU ERL project (or as I like to think of it, Ezra’s giant tube) was approved, but won’t even start construction for two of three more years (I’ll be going back for my five-year reunion before the project is done). Milstein and the Johnson Museum addition made significant progress, as did the new food science building, and the Plantations welcome center, Physical Science Building and MVR’s north wing were completed. Bridge barrier designs from embattled architecture firm Office DA were proposed, but Cornell has opted to go with nets instead.

Looking towards the city and suburbs, the Collegetown Terrace went through a substantial redesign of its State Street buildings before finally getting phase I approval this past Spring. Since then, demolition and site prep are underway, and phase II finalization is just getting the planning board’s okay. 307 College Avenue was proposed and the Vine Street Cottages and 309 Eddy Street were approved. Development began on the third neighborhood of EcoVillage, and the BJ’s in Lansing barely earned approval due to a controversial tax abatement for a senior-housing project on the rear end of the lot. Lansing began construction on a new locally-owned supermarket, and the Poet’s Landing apartment complex was proposed in Dryden. IC finished its Athletic Center and began prep work to expand its Circle Apartments complex.

Too bad not all news was about progress. Ithaca Gun is a cleared site awaiting further development, which has been slow, if any at all. The Ithaca Hotel, Cayuga Green Condos, and INHS proposal are stalled due to lack of funding. The only substantial work completed downtown were the renovations of the Petrune and Plantations buildings on the Commons. At the very least, the Seneca Way project came forward to offer some hope for downtown redevelopment in the near-future.

~Greek Life went into a tailspin with the proposed, and then approved, plan to eliminate underage drinking from parties by banning freshman from attending fraternity events with alcohol, and making rush dry by 2013. Unfortunately for the system, all it takes is a couple of idiots to cause an alochol-induced fatality, and to make questionable choices while drunk at a public event, and the damage is done. While SAE earned itself a heave-ho from campus for the next 5 years, three other Greek orgs, the fraternities Phi Kappa Sigma and Alpha Phi Delta, and the sorority Phi Sigma Sigma, expressed intent to reestablish themselves on campus after a decades-long hiatus. Oh, and we got to watch Bob Saget be “initiated” into Seal & Serpent, much to the chagrin of image-conscious Greeks. Personally, I’d be more image-conscious of SAE’s pledges mass-migrating over to TKE even as four of their pledgebrothers were indicted. Real classy guys.

~The 2010 census showed that the city and county grew. Ithaca proper is busy mulling over its future with proposed Commons renovations, renovations of Stewart Park on the lakeshore, and a one-year moratorium on development for West Hill (excluding pre-approved projects). On the short-term, the county had to deal with tornado damage in Danby and arresting Cornell students with massive stashes of heroin.

Time passes, thing change. In comparison to last year, when I wrote this entry from a crappy sublet and with an uncertain grasp in grad school, I moved into a new place, changed advisers, worked my arse off, but feel much happier now than I did at this time last year. As I write this right now, I keep an eye on the clock, since I only just came back from visiting a friend I graduated with out in Amsterdam, and plan for a hiking trip in the Adirondacks tomorrow. The birds chirp outside my window and the sun plays off the leaves rustling in a light summer breeze.

Three years is a relatively large chunk of time for a blog to be active. But I enjoy writing because I think, or at least hope, that’s it useful to folks who are curious about the history of something at Cornell, or what’s under construction on campus or nearby. If I’ve been able to make someone a little more knowledgeable, than I see no issue with all the time I’ve poured into this blog over the years. As long as I have history and news to write about, I plan to keep this blog going for the foreseeable future. It gives me something to share with others, and it’s what makes me happy.

Being An Alumni Ambassador

8 06 2011

Since joining the ranks of sketchy alumni, I decided a while back that it wouldn’t hurt to do some volunteering through the Alumni Ambassadors program. One of the first things I discovered was that  meeting with prospective students poses an interesting juxtaposition. On my end (as well as any other alum), it’s a “been there, done that” frame of mind. For the prospective student, everything is new, and sometimes they have questions that we alumni assume everyone else knows the answer already, but it actually might not be so obvious.

I met with several students during the late winter in four different school districts near where I live. I was assigned students who were interested in majors similar to mine, and set up the meetings for either their local high school or a coffee shop nearby (and I don’t even like coffee, I just wanted a quiet and suitable location). Some took a more laid back approach, while others were dressed up as if they were a possible hire and I was the interviewer for a Fortune 500 company. For those over-prepared kids, it seemed that there was no way they were going to believe that I wasn’t there to reject them from Cornell. Even if I said I wasn’t there to judge their application. Repeatedly.

On one of my meetings, the student was running about twenty minutes late. Giving the benefit of the doubt, I decided to look around outside before I left. He had driven into another car while trying to pull into a diagonal parking space.

On another occasion, I was meeting with a student and I asked what interested her about CALS. Without missing a beat, she replied, “it’s easier to get into”. I think my jaw might’ve dropped a little bit before I stumbled out an “I’m sorry, what?” I think at that point, she must’ve realized she hit a sour note, and she gave a very measured reply of “it’s easier to get into the various research opportunities they have to offer.” Still soaking in the previous comment, I took a deep breath, and said that “there are indeed plenty of research opportunities. But for the record, the difference between acceptance rates is slight, and the average SAT scores only differ by a few points”. Which I learned from Metaezra. In retrospect, she probably didn’t know that that wasn’t the best response, and maybe I hold some resentment about those kinds of comments, so there was a real disconnect in that exchange.

One of the other awkward discussions that happened in over half of the meetings was about the party scene and Greek Life. I would ask if they had any questions about student life, and some chose to ask what the parties are like. One even asked about the availability of drugs. When I did the contact meetings, I always tried to answer in ways that I wouldn’t mind being quoted on. The last thing I wanted to do was make an ass of myself. So I gave the overly P.C. response of “Cornell’s size gives a wide variety of options for establishing a social environment. Greek Life is there for those who are interested.” The drug question was a bit uncomfortable; I gave an awkward, formal reply along the lines of “Cornell is large university, and you can make your own assumptions. But I’m disinclined to discuss it.” It was uncomfortable because it definitely straddles the perceived line of what is appropriate for discussion, but I still wanted to give a halfway-decent answer their question.

When I received the email notifying me of the final status of the students I met with, I was…uh, underwhelmed. All but one were rejected. That one was a guaranteed transfer. My office-mates started jokingly calling me the “Kiss of Death”. It was actually a little disheartening because some of those high schoolers were really quite accomplished and left me with a very good impression. But, after checking with a few other friends of mine who did the Alumni Ambassadors volunteering, I guess I was running par for the course. I never realized the kinds of students Cornell rejected, which was something that I think I had taken for granted and just written off while I was in Ithaca.

It had its ups and downs. I liked talking about Cornell (as if this blog wasn’t a clue). I got some satisfaction out of it, and I was able to do a little volunteering outside my grad school bubble. I think I’ll keep doing it, with some hope that maybe one of the future students I meet with will be accepted outright next spring.



News Tidbits 6/6/2011: Ithaca Is Getting Another Hotel

6 06 2011

…which depending on your stance, the addition could be a blessing or a curse. Planning board minutes from the last meeting indicate that a formal proposal is underway for a 4-story, $10-million dollar hotel to be built in Ithaca. If it was just that vague piece of news, everyone would smile, nod, and keep right on going.

However, some of the recalcitrant locals may find some issues with the project. For one, it’s a Fairfield Inn, which is a national chain (more specifically, it’s Marriott’s budget brand). The proposal is also slated for construction on Meadow Street (Elmira Road), which is as close as the city of Ithaca has to suburbia. The proposal is targeted for a parcel of land between Elmira and Spencer Roads next to Manos Diner, which I’ve taken the liberty of copying from google maps and pasting below:

The location puts it in fairly close proximity to the Hampton Inn built about eight years ago. Also, a four-story building here would be one of the tallest in this part of the city. The minutes indicate that one of the planning board members asked why it couldn’t be built taller, to which the reply was it would need to be a masonry building, i.e. much more expensive. The project would require the demolition of one house at the corner of the property. UPDATE: and according to the Ithaca Journal’s 7/26 edition the redevelopment will also tear down Manos Diner. The planning board has stated this is incorrect, Manos is adjacent to the hotel and will not be demolished.

Since the developer says this will be among the very first of a new generation of Fairfield Inns, it’s hard to guess what the building may look like, as it may be a new corporate design scheme. The developer has already secured funding and is anticipating an opening in late 2012 if the approvals are earned quickly.

So, on the plus side, it adds density and provides a modest shot in the arm to the economic health of the community. Plus, the extra hotel rooms wouldn’t hurt around graduation time.