The Cornell Stories

18 01 2013


Back in the day, before the internet, TV and even radio, the best way to indulge one’s interest was by the printed word. Novels,  serials and newspaper articles were much more valued. It was also around a hundred or so years ago, when the idea of college went from the dank halls of seminaries and obscure studies of little practical worth, to a sort of idyllic playground of stories and mischief, casting collegiate life into a much more positive light.

During this time, several publications focusing on the wonders of college life were produced. Perhaps the best known are the Frank Merriwell serials, and his exploits at Yale. There were several other works of various quality produced around the same time.

Here, I offer The Cornell Stories (1898), written by James Gardner Sanderson, Class of 1896. The stories are light-hearted and fictional, but the setting and the descriptions conjure up images of a simpler, slower time, the Ithaca of a century ago.

Here’s my recommendation – make a cup of hot chocolate, settle into your favorite chair or couch with a blanket, and enjoy a good read.

A “Nobel” Accolade

4 10 2012

In the proverbial confidence-measuring that is academia, one of the things that colleges and universities like to throw out there is the breadth and depth of their Nobel laureates. The reasoning is simple enough; it’s a measurement of prestige, and the caliber of alumni and faculty.

Cornell lays claim to 41 such folks, according to a fall 2009 issue of the Cornell Chronicle, and according to wikpedia, that number has held steady. Within those 41, 3 are current faculty, 13 are alumni, and the other 25 are former faculty (moved, retired or otherwise). The last recipient was Jack Szostak Ph. D ’77, who won the Prize in Physiology/Medicine in 2009.

So let’s take a brief look at how Cornell stacks up against its peers: First, the top 20 schools, as compiled by U.S. News and World Report, since that tends to be the most commonly used ranking system:

U. Chicago
U. Mich
Johns Hopkins
UC Berkeley
Carnegie Mellon

Now their Nobel laureates:

Columbia 80 (or 97, depending on your definition)
U. Chicago 87
MIT 77
Stanford 54
Yale 49
UC Berkeley 47
Harvard 46
Cornell 41
NYU 36
Johns Hopkins 36
Princeton 35
Caltech 32
Penn 28
UW-Madison 19
U. Mich 19
Carnegie Mellon 18
Duke 12
Northwestern 8
Brown 7

Interestingly, U. Illinois-Urbana-Champaign has 26, but doesn’t appear in the top schools list from USNWR. International students may be annoyed at me for leaving of non-U.S. schools, and granted, there’s a few that have similarly high rankings and accolades. Forgive my blatant nationalism for the moment.

This exercise proves to me, on a very general level, that universities with Nobel affiliates tend to be more prestigious. However, there are some obvious issues- schools with large research programs tend to have more laureates, and we haven’t even explored the Nobel laureates per capita at each institution (an exercise in futility, since I would also require historical enrollement figures I don’t feel like digging for at the moment).

But whatever floats your boat Cornell P.R., and keep your fingers crosses at the next Nobel award ceremony.

The Freshman Beanie

11 06 2012

Distinguishing between the years of students of Cornell can be rather difficult after about the first month of the academic year.  Unless it’s orientation, Greek rush, or some other telling factor, you can take a glance at some random person crossing the quad and have no idea whether or not they’re a freshman, a junior, or perhaps even a young grad student (whereas for older grad students, they might be mistaken for professors). However, it’s not like anyone worries about that; except in the case of love and relationships (senior to senior: you’re dating a freshman? Robbing the cradle much?), someone’s year usually doesn’t merit much attention. Well, things were a bit different back in the day.

In the days of yore, it was traditional for freshman males at Cornell (known as “pikers”, like those referenced in “Give My Regards to Davy”) to wear a rather peculiar-looking felt cap called a “Beanie”, which was like a snow hat (wikipedia directs the query to “tuque”, a word I’ve never used in my life), red in color with a grey button on the top. Examples can be seen in the below photo, which dates from a 1919 Cornell football game.

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Beanie was part of the mandatory rules for freshmen, and they were required to wear it in public until the spring, when all the freshmen burned their caps in a ceremonial bonfire. This was a kinda cutesy little sentimental event meant to instill class camaraderie and make warm fuzzies, when the sophomores weren’t trying to kick the crap out of freshmen in the occasional class battles.

The cap rule, along with other rules such as not walking on the grass and not wearing any high school or prep school emblems, tended to be strictly enforced, and with harsh consequences. Violators were liable to have their heads shaved or go for a quick dunk into Beebe Lake.

Of special note regarding the beanies is the case of Frederick Morelli, a freshman originally of the class of 1924, who absolutely refused to wear his beanie. After numerous dunkings and warnings from his peers (including a double dunking into a public fountain and the lake, with a placard hung on his neck saying “Moral: wear a frosh cap”), Morelli ended up being pursued by a mob of angry upperclassmen, and had to be saved by the president of the university to avoid serious injury. The Sun actually condoned the mob’s behavior. But George Lincoln Burr, the most senior faculty member at the university at the time, threatened resignation over the manifestation of “lynch law” on the campus. Fred Morelli withdrew from the university, but returned a couple years later and graduated in the class of 1926. Perhaps his penchant of pushing his bounds played into his undoing; after graduation, he became a gangster and nightclub owner, and was gunned down outside of his club in Utica in 1947. Fun fact: the city of Utica was run by the Mafia and its associates for decades, up through the early 1990s.

The caps faded out, as did the class battles, as a result of the changing demographics post-WWII. Frankly, after killing men in trenches, and now married with children, most vets who came in under the G.I. Bill as freshmen could not give two salts for collegiate antics. When the sophomores made an attempt to enforce the rules in 1949 by shaving the heads of three frosh, the enraged students brought their grievances before the mostly G.I.-composed Student Council, who promptly banned enforcement of the practice. The beanie remained voluntary up to the early 1960s, when it faded out completely.

So nowadays, students can feel completely to engage with members of the other classes. Unless it involves doing a walk of shame to Collegetown from a freshman dorm. That would be awkward.

A Nominal Nod to Cornell

18 12 2011

Whether or not one likes or dislikes Cornell and its environs, the university has been around long enough and produced enough graduates to have a fairly recognizable name as colleges and universities go. I happened to hear from a friend recently who had moved out to Colorado after graduation, and their experience in the Collegiate Peaks of Colorado. When I checked Wikipedia, I was dismayed to find that their were mountains named in those peaks named for Oxford, Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Columbia, but not Cornell. For what it’s worth, it appears they were named in the late 1860s and 1870s, when Cornell was still a fledgling school. But, I decided to do a google search for a “Mt. Cornell”.

While there wasn’t a “Mt. Cornell” anywhere in the world, there is a Cornell Peak named in honor of the university. The 9,750 ft. mountain is part of the San Jacinto Mountains in Southern California.  The mountain earned its name from a USGS topographer camping in the valley below with a geologist friend who was a graduate of Cornell, and remarked how the peak resembled McGraw Tower in appearance. Personally, I don’t see it, but the topographer named the mountain in honor of the university. Of much lesser note, there is a 3,860 ft. “Cornell Mountain” in the Catskills that is named for Thomas C. Cornell, a distant relative of Ezra.

Looking northward to a place even colder and less inviting than Ithaca in winter, on the west coast of Greenland there exists a “Cornell Glacier“. Similarly to the Collegiate Peaks, there is a collegiate set of glaciers in Alaska that Cornell was not a part of, the set consisting of the four aforementioned Ivies and Johns Hopkins.

On the more civilized end, the town of Cornell, Wisconsin (population 1467 as of the 2010 census) is named for Ezra and the university, due to its placement on the lands that the university once held as part of the Morrill land-grant in the late 19th century. The university has given this some light attention to this connection by writing an article referring to a blog written by a Cornell alum and his fact-finding adventures in the small community in northern cheesehead country. Apparently, the town was originally named Brunet Falls and is famous for having the only surviving pulpwood stacker, and like many other small towns with minor claims to fame, they make a festival out of it (considering my hometown’s claim to fame is the method a hose is laid on a fire engine, I have no right to be critical). Although it’s hard to tell whether communities named Cornell are named after Cornell U. or someone who happens that surname, at least two unincorporated communities are named for the school far above Cayuga, one in the U.P. of Michigan and one in Southern California north of Malibu (and a fair 100 miles from Cornell Peak). Cornell, Illinois and Cornell, Ontario are not related to the university.

Lest one try to limit themselves to the Earth, an asteroid was named in honor of Cornell in 1999 (8250 Cornell). I guess the next astronomical goal should be a large crater somewhere.

If it’s any consolation to the folks associated with Cornell College, they have a species of tropical fly named for their school.

The ILR School Almost Invaded Hoy Field

10 12 2011

As would be expected for any major university, Not every plan for a new buildng at Cornell came to fruition. Sometimes, it was because the plan didn’t have funds, or the demand for space had ebbed. With the original plans for Cornell’s Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) school, it was all about the location.

The ILR school is quite young, having opened its doors on November 1, 1945. The original facilities were in temporary wooden lodging on Sage Green (the western and southern grounds next to Sage Hall, in the days before the loading dock/drive for the Cornell Store and the parking lot south of Sage Hall).  The school had originally been conceived a decade or so prior, and by 1944 the state gave Cornell its monetary blessing, foregoing counter-offers for a labor college at Syracuse University or Union College in Albany (Bishop, 568). On the other end, the president of Cornell at the time, Edmund Ezra Day, had to contend with unamused industrialists and farmers among its alumni who felt that such a school was unnecessary.

The state was proud of its newest educational creation (in the days prior to the massive proliferation of modernist/brutalist SUNY campuses), and drew up plans for permanent housing for the ILR school. The original plans were produced at a cost of $80,000 at the time, but never came close to construction due to some very angry Cornell alumni and students.

The issue wasn’t about the architecture (being the late 1940s, early modernism or stripped Collegiate Gothic were likely), but the location. The site for the new school was on Campus Road. To give you an idea of how the area looked at the time, here’s a map from a years later in 1954 (click the link for a larger version):

Phillips Hall and Teagle Hall were not yet built (both were completed in the early 1950s), so the area was really only Barton Hall and the athletic facilities. The Buildings and Grounds Committee at Cornell picked a site on Campus Road, where Phillips Hall was built a couple years later, but with a larger footprint that would’ve required the removal of Hoy Field (which is aligned directly south in this map – it was redone to face southwest about five years ago).

A tempest of outcries ensued. It was firmly believed that Hoy Field had been donated by the alumni to be used in perpetuity for athletic purposes. Suddenly, different alumni groups were protesting “The invasion of Hoy Field”, and the Association of Class Secretaries filed complaints and letters of concern with Cornell, along with written protests from 53 undergraduate student groups. President Day and the committee gave up on the plan.

The state was not pleased by the reception, and so the ILR school was kept in the dreary wooden temp buildings until the Vet School’s new Schurman Hall was built in the late 1950s, and ILR could move into what used to be the Vet School buildings at the corner of Tower and Garden Road. The rather pretty if utilitarian ca. 1896 James Law Hall was demolished to make way for Ives Hall. But, In the long run, the administration was rather glad it hadn’t built the ILR school on that plot of land, as it allowed the full build-out of the Engineering Quad.

Now, fast-forward to today, and consider the positioning of the soon-to-be Gates Hall, and the master plan’s removal of Hoy Field. I wonder if such an outcry would arise today, as it seems once again that the end of Hoy Field as we know it is drawing near.

The Keyword Bar XII

8 07 2011

One of those entries where I respond to questions or queries in the search bar that brought people to this blog. Plus it’s summer and I don’t feel like delving into history today.

For the curious – the sculpture in front of Uris is called “Song of the Vowels”. The sculptor, Jacques Lipchitz, created seven copies back in 1931. Cornell’s was the fifth production, and the sculpture was acquired in 1962 by the Uris brothers on behalf of Cornell, and installed in June of that year. Princeton, UCLA, Stanford, the Kykuit Gardens and two European art museums own the other copies. “Song of the Vowels” was renovated and re-sited in 2007.

1. “why does cornell cals accept so many transfer students” (7-6-2011)

That’s actually a good question. This one kinda creates some tension in the CALS community, and certainly that animosity is not unfounded. In the past, I’ve heard people criticize transfers as not being “true Cornellians”, whatever they define that to be.

As a general rule, the contract colleges accept more transfer students than the endowed colleges. It’s actually part of the mission of the contract colleges to include transfer students into their programs, if the applicants meet standards. However, this does not hold true for endowed schools, and that is reflected in the fewer students that they accept as transfers.

Specifically regarding the ag school, CALS accepts more because of “transfer agreements” that serve as feeders into CALS programs. A number of SUNY-affiliated two-year schools fall into this category. Basically, a student studying full time with a 3.0 or higher in their coursework (including required classes that match up with their desired major at Cornell) are guaranteed admission. This tends to be most common in the agricultural programs – for example, a majority of students in the dairy science concentration of animal science are transfers from two-year schools such as SUNY Cobleskill and Alfred State. A few others, like Morrisville and Delhi, also send in a fair number of students. As the list in the link indicates, there’s 43 schools, mostly community colleges in New York, that have these agreements. Some of it is coordinated through programs such as “Pathways to Success”, a set of guidelines and counseling in place at some schools for students who want to transfer to Cornell. For the name-conscious AEM majors, it should be noted that biology, landscape architecture, and non-agribusiness AEM are exempt from this and fall under “competitive transfer” admissions. Also, if you don’t attend a partnered institution, then the transfer isn’t guaranteed either.

In my own major within CALS, I know that we had two transfers in the years from 2007-2011 (~3% of total). But in lean years where the yield from freshman admissions wasn’t so great, they were supplanted the following year with transfers. I think there’s at least eight in the 2012 and 2013 classes (~50% of total).

2. “cornell freshman population” (7-4-2011)

Varies a little bit from year to year due to yield. The goal number in the late 2000s was 3,050. The university usually over-enrolls (my guess is twofold –  it’s to make up for students who may not show up in the fall, and a few more accepting students makes the yield increase), so class size usually ends up somewhere in the 3100s. The trend over the years has been to increase freshman class size, which was about 2700 in the late 1980s.

3. “cornell safety school” (7-4-2011)

Meh. Do your graduate work at a large state school and you’ll realize how little weight that statement carries. The New York Times has a nice little piece about image-conscious students at Cornell from a few years back.

4. “how far is it from wegmans to maplewood apartments at cornell in ithaca” (7-1-2011)

I think Mapquest would’ve been more useful than a search bar for this question. But for the record, between 2.5 and 2.7 miles, depending on what part of the Maplewood Park Apt. complex you’re going to.

5. “construction project; bj’s ithaca; owner” (7-1-2011)

The project is being developed by Arrowhead Ventures of Syracuse, which is a division of Triax Development Coroporation. Triax is the company that owns the Ithaca Mall, and the BJ’s site is (rather conveniently) the property just northwest of the mall.

The Keyword Bar XI

27 05 2011

It’s been really slow news-wise, I’m been pouring my efforts into my work, and while I’m scratching my head for ideas, I might as well fall back on the tried-and-true method of answering or writing about peoples queries that bring them to this blog.

1. “can i join tke if i pledge sae” (5-13-2011)

I wonder if this was a Cornell student or someone from another school. Anyways, at Cornell, the answer was yes, under…extraordinary circumstances. Which I’ve already ranted about here.

2. “hotel brunswick” ithaca ny (5-14-2011)

A fun fact of the day – Theodore Zinck didn’t call his pub Zinck’s, as most of us might believe. Rather, he called his pub the “Lager Beer Saloon and Restaurant”, which was located in the Hotel Brunswick, which he also owned. The hotel and bar were discontinued after Zinck committed suicide in 1903. It was the pubs that came along after the Hotel Brunswick closed that were named Zinck’s, in honor of his service (and to try and conjure up good memories for visiting deep-pocketed alums).

3. “ithaca college a and e center tower” (5-15-2011)

I’m assuming this is the Ithaca athletics center that was being searched? At 174 feet (tallest tower in the county), it makes quite an impression. The below photo is from Cass Park (tower is in the upper left):

4. “cornell “university library” ‘arthur gibb” 1890 drawing” (5-17-2010)

It’s a fantastic monograph, but I’m not aware of any copies of it being online. However, while searching for it, I found this wonderful writeup about Uris Library by Matthew Stukus ’09. It gives a couple details I was previously unaware of, such as Cornell was going to have to pay Henry William Sage back for the library construction if it won the Great Will Case, and that contrary to previous haphazard planning, it took fifteen months for the site of Uris Library to be chosen. The writeup is only several pages, so it’s a brief but enjoyable read.

5. “ithaca coldest ever day” (5-19-2010)

People seem to have an odd fascination with this one; I’ve never seen a query for the warmest day in Ithaca, but I’ve answered the coldest day question previously. For those too lazy to click the link, the lowest low is -25 F, set once in January 1957, and once again in February 1961. This past winter’s coldest day, for comparison, was -15 F, on January 25th.

6. “did the ramones ever play at a cornell university party?” (5-20-2011)

Define “party”. They played at Barton Hall in February 1981. The Ramones came back to East Hill to play for Slope Day 1984 (where they ended up playing in Barton Hall once again because of bad weather). But as for private parties or fraternity parties, I’m not aware of any occasion offhand.

7. “experimental fantastic gothic death” (5-21-2011)

Um…nope. Not even going to think about answering this. But extra points for being really creepy.

8. “neighbors have rotting deer heads along property line” (5-22-2011)

Your neighbors are a lot worse than mine. I’m really sorry.

9. “is it difficult to grt into hughes hall cornell capacity” (5-24-2011)

That’s a really good question. To be honest, I thought Hughes Hall as a dorm was being closed and converted into academic use, but apparently its 48 rooms are still open for the upcoming academic year. Typically, about 25% of first-year law students live in Hughes. Your best bet is to call the Housing office and ask.

Hughes Hall is the product a million-dollar donation in 1956 from Myron Taylor LL. B. 1894, who was chair of the trustees for U.S. Steel Corp. The building, which was completed in 1963, was named for law professor Charles Evans Hughes, who was Myron Taylor’s favorite professor while he attended the law school. Prof. Hughes would go on to become governor of New York (1907-1910), U.S. Secretary of State (1921-1925) and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (1930-1941).