Fast Facts: Cornell Employee Headcounts

25 03 2014

All figures come from the Cornell University Factbook.

I’ll lead off with a breakdown of overall number of employees. Faculty and academic staff have been discussed previously, but for consistency’s sake, their numbers are included here in their separate sub categories. In other words, the total number of Cornell employees is faculty + academic staff + non-academic staff. These figures don’t include Weill Cornell, but do include the Geneva research facility and the tech campus in New York City, (the tech campus had 7 employees in 2012 and 15 in 2013). Student and temp employees are not counted either. All figures were taken from November 1 of the year displayed.

In terms of raw numbers and in percentage, it’s pretty clear that non-academic staff were the ones that decreased the most in the midst of the Great Recession. The big plummet comes from 2008 to 2009, where the number of non-academic staff dropped from 7,707 to 7,038, an 8.7% drop. Combined with the losses in employment in faculty and academic staff, the drop in employment that year was from 10,548 to 9,786. Today, the number of total employees is even lower, at 9,731. Meanwhile, student enrollment has continued to climb.

Cornell had a few different tricks up its sleeve to decrease the numbers so sharply. The primary constituent was a retirement incentive package. If you worked at Cornell for over 10 years and were 55 or older, the university was willing to give an employee a lump sum payment (one year’s pay) and an enhanced retirement account payment (30% of what was in the account), provided that the individual retired by the end of June 2009. According to their press release, 432 people accepted the offer. As I recall from my job at the Cornell Store, at least three of the full-time store employees had accepted the package. Another 200 accepted in 2009-2010. Of the 669 positions, at least 105 were layoffs. A Sun article from 2011 details the results of these cuts, including concerns of low morale and overburdening certain departments. It also notes that cuts were expected to continue through 2015, which given the numbers out since then, looks to be pretty accurate. For the curious, the average salary of a non-academic full-time staffer at Cornell was $33,885 in 2007.

Looking at the numbers in greater detail, we can take further nuggets of information from the figures. For fall 2013, for instance, there were 7,070 non-academic staff. Of those 7,070, 4,130 (58.42%) are female, and 6,193 (87.60%) are white. There are 479 part-timers, or 6.78% of the total non-academic staff workforce.

The types of non-academic staff can be broken down into subcategories, both for occupational group and by organizational sector. For occupational groups, the subdivisions are clerical/secretary, executive/admin/managerial, other professional, service and maintenance, skilled crafts, and technical/paraprofessional. For organizational sector, the subdivisions are “Colleges, Research, Library, Other Academic Units, Student and Academic Services, Facilities Services, and Other Administrative Units”.

Job Groups

Org Sector

Speaking broadly and looking at proportions alone, if you work in research or in an administrative position, you’ve fared pretty well since the big slimdown five years ago. If you’re a skilled craftsman or fall into the vague term of “other academic unit”, the prospects haven’t been as sunny. The big employers in gross are secretaries and the grab-bag called “other professionals”, in colleges and “other administrative units”. I presume a lot of secretaries have been replaced by Ms. Google and her friends.


In this Cornell-provided chart, if you split up the colleges by headcount, the Vet School and CALS appears to have taken the biggest cutbacks, although AAP took a big hit percentage-wise. Hotel, HumEc, the Johnson and the Law Schools employ more now than they did at the 2008 peak.


Lastly, even with the retirement incentive, the employee population continues to grey. In 2001, 12.4% of non-academic staff were 55 or older; by fall 2013 it’s doubled to over 25%. In sum, while the student population goes up, the staff population is generally decreasing and trending older.


Five Years Later

18 06 2013

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Well, as promised earlier, today’s the big day, where Ithacating celebrates birthday #5. I’m pretty sure this falls into the realm of “old” blogs by this point, especially if I believe the kids over at Ezrahub. Thankfully, unlike them and Eliiott Back’s old Cornell Blog, even if Cornell disliked my use of their name, I refer to a place instead of the school itself. In keeping with tradition, here’s a rundown of this blog’s statistics:


Since launch, which was about 7 PM on June 18, 2008, this blog has garnered 308,481 hits, as of 2:30 PM today. In previous years, the blog averaged 82, 166, 199 and 216 hits daily. This year, it plateaued in the fall and effectively plunged in the spring. The blog only averaged 182 hits per day in the past year. I have a couple of theories – as old posts become “outdated”, they disappear from the radar; as folks have switched to twitter and other platforms, the audience may not quite be there like it used to. I would be lying if I said it doesn’t make me concerned, but the summer numbers will help figure out part of the problem – if they’re comparable to last year, than I’m just not familiar to the Cornell crowd anymore.

In contrast to previous years, the highest month was January, with 8,019 hits. One of the things I didn’t see quite so much was the summer plunge, since Ithaca traffic tends to be less seasonal than Cornell traffic. Why things decreased so much in February, I still don’t know.

Looking at the year in review:

~In planning and development, Collegetown Terrace and the Vine Street Cottages are well underway. 107 Cook was completed, and Collegetown Crossing was postponed because the BZA did not work out that whole parking requirement issue, and it falls to the city to actually change the parking space requirement. The southern suburbia got Ithaca Beer’s new brewery, the Fairfield Inn is nearly complete, and a proposal for eco-friendly housing, while Ecovillage started its next expansion over on West Hill. Cornell proposed some new townhomes near Eastern Heights, and Cayuga Heights decided it wanted to have a walkable town center.

In pleasant contrast to last year, the city was brimming with construction, ongoing and proposed. Seneca Way is under construction, Breckenridge Place is marching towards completion, and new proposals abound, such as Harold’s Square, the new Hampton Inn, and 130 East Clinton. Even some traditionally less developed areas are getting in on the act, with the Purity Ice Cream proposal near West End. Planned Parenthood is underway, the Iacovelli project and Magnolia House are nearly complete, and the Hotel Ithaca and Holiday Inn sites are in hold-over, but with construction begin dates on paper. Even the Cayuga Place project seems to making an attempt at true site prep. Finally breaking down the numbers, it became clear Ithaca is in a residential building boom.

Looking at our colleges, IC has some renovations underway, and Cornell plods on with Gates Hall, the Big Red Bandhouse, and the Stocking Hall rebuild and renovation. Prep is just starting on the new humanities building, Klarman Hall, a long ways off from its 2015 completion. Perhaps most importantly to students, the bridge fences finally came down, and with it, the last strong reminders of a dark semester in Cornell’s history.

Thankfully for my gas tank, a website arose that focuses closely on Ithaca construction and development – the succinctly named Ithaca Builds.

-Looking at Cornelliana, this blog compared and contrasted Far Above Cayuga to our friends on University Hill, took a look at Ezra’s progeny, and a favorite Cornell hobby, comparing it against its peers, in this case for Nobel Prize recipients. In a goodbye to another college memory, Dear Uncle Ezra went on indefinite hiatus. In Greek life, Kappa Sigma and Pi Kappa Alpha reopened, while a bunch of chapters were suspended or shut down (just looking at the Ezrahub site for this writeup, it appears ATO is the latest case). The Greek system looks to have had a rough year. In more general topics, there was a discussion on that time Ithaca almost had a commercial nuclear power plant, a look at Carl Sagan, the Collegetown Creeper, census estimates, and some other things in between.

In my personal life, this past year will go down as the year of uncertainty. Gainfully employed in my field, but still trying to advance my career and clear hurdles as they come up. I’m hoping to fulfill that goal in the next few weeks with some ongoing opportunities.

Five years is a long time to be around. It’s clear this blog has had some stumbles. But I’m not ready to quit just yet. I still have too much interest in writing about Cornell and Ithaca to stop. We’ll see where things go from here.

Ithaca Builds

2 05 2013

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When I first started following Ithaca construction projects (~2006), the only sources for project details came from news sources (which, with rapidly outdated URLs, were shoddy at best), and a thread on the urban development website/forum Other than that, some of the local towns would regularly update their online agendas and minutes; most wouldn’t, and attached renderings were unheard of.

Over the past several years, things have changed for the better. For one, this blog. For two, it seems like certain news outlets like the Journal and Times now recognize there’s some worth to keep in track of these projects, especially as growth in Ithaca has accelerated within the past couple of years.

I was looking something up recently and stumbled upon a fully-dedicated Ithaca development website, calling itself “Ithaca Builds“. At the time, they had just started putting together their interactive map. Now, the first blurbs are written, and the map has been fleshed out a little more.

From my personal standpoint, there was that brief concern of “uh oh, now I have competition.” For one, their HTML skills are way beyond my own, and their maps are much easier to use. For two, the Ithaca side of this blog is really the bread-and-butter these days, as I’ve already covered much of my preferred Cornelliana, and new history write-ups have become fewer.  So there’s always the worry that if someone who “does it better” comes along, I’m not going to have the time to keep up, and this blog will fall off the map completely.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that’s kinda a silly way to look at things. I don’t make any money from this, and given Ithaca’s market size, a “Curbed” style Ithaca site would struggle to be commercially viable. If someone has the personal interest and motivation to do a great website, that’s wonderful. I like to think that in the nearly five years of this blog, that it’s offered quite a compilation of Ithaca-related projects, so even if this fades, I’ve had a good run. In the meanwhile, since their writing has yet to come up to speed, Ithaca Builds and Ithacating in Cornell Heights actually compliment each other quite well. I’ll keep updates coming on my end because that’s how I am. But I’ll be interested to see how their work grows and evolves.

Ithaca’s Economic Mystery

25 06 2012


One of the sections I tend to read in online news are local/state job reports, since they tend to be a bellwether for economic growth, and by extension new development projects that get featured in this blog. One of the things that has been of some curiosity to me in the past couple months is how poorly Ithaca’s economy appear to be doing. According to the NYS Labor Department, the state has seen about 2% in private sector jobs over the past 12 months – about 134,000. Not great, but not bad for a state that has been bogged down in economic doldrums since Gerald Ford was in office. As one would expect, some metros do better (Kingston, Utica-Rome) and two show remarkable decreases of -3.6% and -5.6%. These would be Elmira and Ithaca respectively.

Now, perhaps its just me, but if the economic shrank 6%in one year in a county of Tompkin’s size, you’d hear about it (and no, I don’t think there’s some vast political conspiracy by some partisan group to hide the figures). 3,200 jobs lost is something that can’t seem to occur unless there was very large company closing, something that would’ve been alluded to in the Ithaca Journal. As far as I know, Borg-Warner is still operating, and Cornell laid off at most a small fraction of 3,200 in the past year. There haven’t been huge decreases in sales of “essential” goods, not has help wanted advertising changed dramatically (assuming the monthly reports of Elias Kacapyr are correct, anyway). So for the longest time, I had been wondering what the heck was going on in Tompkins County.

Well, it would seem that I wasn’t the only one wondering about this. The local county development agency accuses the Board of Labor Statistics of undercounting jobs, a problem they state has been an issue in the recent past. As much as the cynic within me is tempted to see as someone just trying to downplay the number, I’m inclined to believe that they’re right, because the rest of the numbers don’t show the drastic changes such a sharp drop would entail. One would expect a large drop in help wanted advertising, a reduction in building permits, and a decrease in sales, especially luxury goods. While these all have had ups and downs, none of these have changed to a degree that would support such a steep job loss. So, it doesn’t pass the logic test (unless one argues there much more commuting to the 4,400 jobs added in Binghamton and Syracuse).

Of course, any job loss is a bad thing. But I wonder where in the world the Bureau of Labor Statistics is getting these numbers.

Four Years Later

18 06 2012

My oh my. This blog turns four years ago today. I wanted to celebrate this port by comparing this blog to the average age of blogs, or the average number of posts for an active blog. Turns out neither piece of data is readily available. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume this blog has reached maturity, though I won’t go as far to say “old age”.  In keeping in tune with three previous three “birthday” updates, here’s some fun facts.

Since launching on the evening of June 18, 2008, this blog has received a grand total of 241,966 hits, as of 2:29 PM today. Breaking down the math, that’s about 166 hits/day. While the previous years averaged 82, 166 and 199 hits/day respectively, I’m happy to say that the blog came a little closer to the saturation point with an average total of just under 216 hits/day in the past year, and yes, I did remember it’s a leap year. Taking a cursory glance at the monthly statistics:

The highest month was once again March, with 8,247 hits, although the peak isn’t as pronounced as it was in previous years. Going year-to-year, the only month that was lower in 2011/12 versus 2010/11 was August, although June and July came fairly close. This is due to the Cornell-centric nature of the blog – once classes are out for the summer break, my hit tally plummets like a stone. Although, that’s been somewhat avoided this year, which I’ll guess is the result of the more Ithaca-area focus taken on in the past year, and is a bit more stable in terms of visitors to this site.

Looking at the past year in review:

~In planning and development,the biggest news is the construction of Collegetown Terrace the massive 1200-bed project south of Collegetown. Approvals were granted and phase one is underway, with an August opening for the first buildings. The Vine Street Cottages also began construction, replacement apartments were planned for 107 Cook, and 309 Eddy marched merrily towards completion, which should be in just a few short months.The Coal Yard apartments phase II was built, and Collegetown Crossing was proposed with the radical premise of no parking for residents, in a move that could make or break Collegetown. in suburbia, everyone got BJ’s in Lansing, and the holiest of holy casual dining restaurants came to big box land, a Chipotle.

Closer downtown, the Seneca Way project was approved and is now in site prep, and the new Fairfield Inn is under construction down in chain store country. The Argos Inn renovation moved towards completion and the Breckinridge Place project began construction, currently in the demo phase of the old Women’s Community building. Several smaller projects also began construction, such as the Iacovelli apartments on West Seneca and the Magnolia House women’s shelter. In the longer-term, the massive Cascadilla Landing project was proposed, and could potentially  redefine the city waterfront, and the new Holiday Inn tower/renovation will add a small conference center to the Gorge City.

Over at the colleges, Ithaca College built a boathouse and started its Circle Apartments expansion. Over on East Hill, Milstein Hall, MVR north, and the Johnson addition were completed, the food science building is well underway, Gates Hall is in foundation work, and the law school just launched their underground addition. The Big Red bandhouse is set to start shortly, and Kappa Delta renovated their home-away-from-home in what was probably the most significant Greek house renovation in more than a decade. Fundraising began for the new token glass box, also known as the Goldwin Smith Hall addition. More importantly, some bridge nets and barriers were approved, and their construction will hopefully bring to an end a dark chapter of Cornell’s history.

In the meanwhile, some projects still have yet to get off the ground. The Hotel Ithaca is still in some financing conundrum, as are the Cayuga Green Condos, which were given an extension on their cost-saving agreement with the city, given the poor lending climate. Ithaca Gun is undergoing yet more land remediation with no construction date in sight (honestly, it seems like the only way the land could have been more contaminated is if someone nuked it).

~Turning an eye towards Cornell matters, the least surprising lawsuit was launched when the mother of George Desdunes filed a wrongful death suit against SAE to the tune of $25 million. The bench trial wrapped up about a month ago, though I’ve yet to hear about a verdict. The number of bars near Cornell continued to shrink, but students can now drown their sorrows in frozen yogurt instead. When the Palms said they were closing up, a couple dozen of my fraternity’s young alumni offered to buy a table of some sentimental value to us if they were willing part with it. They asked for $1500 for a rotting wooden bench table. We laughed (we were thinking $500 max). They said they were serious and it was a starting bid. Needless to say, I have many happy memories of a table that hopefully no longer exists. Rumor has it a new apartment tower will rise where the Palms once drunkified multitudes of Cornellians.

~From a meteorological standpoint, the ITH toyed with 100-degree temps and had a collective anxiety attack about the impending arrival of Hurricane Irene, but was spared the brunt of the destructive tropical cyclone. However, this relief was short lived when the extratropical remnants of Tropical Storm Lee dumped 8.7″ in 24 hours at Binghamton, and flooded many local towns to the tune of $1 billion in damage, a number not seen since the horrific aftermath of Hurricane Agnes in 1972. It also resulted in one of the wettest years on record. Ithaca, while soaked and unnerved, was relatively unscathed.

Many things, many topics. In comparison to the past years, I now write this while firmly ensconced in alumnidom, my trips back further and further apart. At this point, I’m finishing grad school, and interviewing for positions in California and Texas. It was not exactly in my wishes to move as far out, as my northeastern blood may not be able to tolerate nice winters. But, that’s where the jobs are in my field at the moment. Ideally, I can make a triumphant return to the northeast someday.

I write not out of obligation, but out of genuine interest, which I think has been one of the attributes that has made this blog a reasonable success. I see the emails of those who follow comments and posts – they include other alumni and current students of course, but also prominent companies in Ithaca and some local government officials. Flattering, if a little disquieting for fear of botching up my facts. More importantly, I think it serves as an indicator of the usefulness of this blog, that people honestly come here searching out information, and many of them leave feeling a bit knowledgeable about Ithaca projects and stories, or Cornell history and construction projects. Or at least, I hope as much. It makes for great motivation in the months and years ahead.

A Llenroc of His Own

28 09 2011

Image property of

So, I suppose this entry is “off-topic” in that it’s outside of my usual body of work, but I could group this with my “Crazy Alumni Profiles” entries.

A few minutes’ northwest of Albany is a little hamlet called Rexford. Located in the suburban town of Clifton Park, Rexford has a fire station, a yacht club, and not a whole lot else. If you’re approaching from the southeast, you’ll notice something else facing the Mohawk River – a wrought-iron gate to a huge-ass mansion. A mansion called Llenroc.

According to the Albany Times Union, it has a helipad, fifteen fireplaces, an indoor swimming pool shaped like a sailboat, and gilded 24-karat gold ceilings. It sits on 12 acres on the Mohawk River, and was built for a price “rumored to be around $32.5 million.” The house was built in 1992 by insurance magnate Albert Lawrence. Lawrence was a “devoted Cornell alum” who modeled his house after Willard Straight Hall, and had the exterior laid with Llenroc stone. Of course, to top it all off, he had the estate christened “Llenroc”, just like the name we’ve given to Ezra’s old estate/current Delta Phi frternity house.

The story of the house is not a happy one, however. Lawrence filed for bankruptcy protection in 1997, after his Schenectady-based company collapsed. He lost his mansion to foreclosure, but he and his wife were still allowed to live in the house until it was sold off, and they ran it as a (massive) bed and breakfast inn.  However, his dirty dealings from his insurance days earned him a 20-year prison sentence in 2000, and he passed away in jail two years later. The house was bought in 2003 by a commodities trader for a mere $1.4 million, who then tried to sell it again four years later for $12.9 million. Unfortunately, the demand for mega-houses in the Albany area is rather slim, especially with the Knolls Atomic Power Lab just across the river in plain view. A hotelier named Mathai Kolath George offered to buy the estate, but he and his son were killed in a plane crash before any deal was finalized. Kolath supposedly planned to try and sell the house for $30 million. A limited liability company (with the dubious name of Power Angels LLC) bought the mansion for $1.9 million in late 2009. The house has remained out of the news since.

I think that funding scholarships would have been better, but to each their own.



Munier’s Grading Guide

29 07 2011

Let’s face it – the majority of students as Cornell are driven by their GPAs. For grad school, for their first job, or whatever their immediate postgraduate endeavor. Sure, they may not mean everything, but GPAs are important enough that many people are dedicated to getting as close to a 4.3 as possible.

However, as anyone who’s been at Cornell for a while can recognize, grades are not distributed evenly, especially between majors. Sure, you could work hard and maybe pull a B+ in a course where the average is a B, but few people would turn down the opportunity to pad their transcript with an easy A. Well, Cornell recognizes this, and has begun to print the median grades for that class, as well as the grades a student has in a course, on their transcript, starting with the class of 2012.

It helps to get an idea where certain median grades lie. For a while, Cornell printed median grades and posted them online. Well, that only fueled the culture of “easy A classes”, so they stopped. Enter Munier Salem ’10’s cleverly-done guide to median grades. Using the fall 2009 median grade report, Munier put together an interactive infographic describing the distribution of grades in a given department (ASTRO, ASIAN, PHYS, and so on).

Now, I could’ve summarized it, but Ivygate already did that. So, I’m going to try a different tack.

I’m a CALS alum. So my interest is in CALS departments (regardless of whether or not they’re shared between schools – I’m looking at you BIO). Using the infographic, I pulled the percentages for different grades in a given CALS department and assigned a value to the grade itself – a 10 is an A+, a 9 is an A, 8 is an A-, and so on. The results in the graphic are actually given in a bar graph, but this method will break it down to just one mean value for simplicity. In example, say EXMPL has four courses – one with an A average, one with an A- and two B’s. (.25 * 9) + (.25 * 8 ) + (.5 * 6) = 7.25, just above a B+ average. Note that this doesn’t take the number of credits a course is worth into account, and in the infographic only a few larger majors are broken down by the course number of the class. Lastly, the quality of students can vary somewhat between majors (the dairy science concentration in Animal Science comes to mind). In conclusion, my grade exercise is more for show than for anything of real value.

AEM: 8.08

ANSC (animal science): 7.83

BEE (bio engineering): 7.57

BIO (standard biology): 7.13

BSOC (bio & society): 7.01

COMM: 8.05

CSS (crop& soil sci): 7.33

DSOC (dev. sociology): 7.66

EAS (earth&atmos sci): 7.34

EDUC (which is being phased out): 7.54

ENTOM (entomology, i.e. bugs): 8.15

FDSC (food sci): 7.70

HORT (horticulture): 8.01

INFO (info sci): 7.72

LA (landscape architecture): 7.89

NS (nutri sci): 8.06

NTRES (natural resources, a.k.a. natty res): 7.88

PLPA (plant pathology): 7.34

Now, this doesn’t take different majors into account, who may take courses from a few different departments. But if we do place any value in this, it’s that it’s good to be an AEM or entomology major, and that you might want to avoid biology & society courses (refuting my own belief that using the word “society” in any course meant it was an easy class).

Cornell’s History, All Drugged Up

11 01 2011

So, the latest news tidbit about a Cornell student being caught with $150,000 of heroin has made the news cycles and attracted some undesriable attention toward the university. Which kinda inspired me to look at it in a historical context. It’s what I do.

It’s college. Drugs exist. Some are easier to get a hold of than others. Some are gateway drugs, others are only used by a hardcore group of students. Once in a while, the drug debate comes up in a campus context. The Cornell Daily Sun ran an article about Cornell’s drug culture about two years ago. In the article, it was noted in a 2005 anonymous Gannett survey of students, that of 1,969 respondents, 41% admitted some form of drug or alcohol use in the past 30 days, with 19.8% reporting marijuana use and 4% reporting other drug use.

(with that in mind, considering the university’s undergad pop of about 13, 800, that would suggest 550 users of other drugs, which could include cocaine, LSD and the aforementioned heroin. If [an overly-generous] 50 percent were heroin users, that gives us about 275 students. Which if the street value is correctly reported, than the student was carrying $545 worth of heroin for each user. In conclusion, with that much heroin, I wouldn’t be surprised if she was supplying the entire county).

A similar set of data from 2003 suggests 8 percent of respondents admitted Ritalin/Adderall use without a prescription, and less than 3 percent partook in white lines. Another link on Gannett’s site looks at drug use in 2000, and the rates were largely the same as in following studies (except for hard drugs – those fell a little bit). The article notes that affluent students and students in Greek Life show slightly higher usage rates. Looking at Gannett’s site, if we throw in the more prevalent drugs, tobacco use as defined as at least once in the past 30 days has gone from 21 to 16 percent from fall 2000 to fall 2005. Alcohol use defined as once in the past 30 days has hovered around 75 percent and remained fairly steady through the three studies.

So that’s handy and all, but it’s a smallish sample size compared to the entire student population, and it depends on people answering truthfully. So the numbers could be seen as dubious. Regardless, it’s obvious that students partake in drug use.


Now to look at things in a historical context. Drug use was around well before the university. But in 1865 in little Ithaca, the drugs of choice were generally the alcoholic or tobacco variety. The big drugs in the 19th century were alcohol, tobacco, and to a lesser extent opiates and (in later years,) cocaine. Marijuana was seen as a medicinal drug, not a recreational one (that changed after around 1910). Marijuana use at Cornell was minor prior to the 1960s, which is when it caught on with middle-class whites – i.e. most of Cornell’s student population. It is stayed relatively popular since, even after drug laws became tougher in the mid-1980s. As for the opiates, they would see occasional use throughout the next 100+ years, as opium in the late 1800s, morphine and heroin in later years. Heroin received its first notoriety among students when it caught on with the Beatnik culture of the 1950s.  With the increase of purity (strength) of heroin in the 1980s and 1990s, demand, and addiction, grew. Although, going by Gannett’s survey, usage dropped off somewhat at Cornell after 2000. Tobacco saw steady and common use by all branches of the university’s stakeholders since Cornell’s founding, and became so prevalent that in the early 1960s a person could smoke anywhere but inside Sage Chapel. But, needless to say, that’s not the case anymore.

If Cornell follows national trends, it would be safe to say that cocaine use peaked in the early 1980s, with maybe some sporadic crack use after its introduction around 1985. I would be willing to suspect that the “glamor” of powdered coke was preferable to perceived “ghetto” qualities of its freebase equivalent.

Regarding LSD, Cornellians probably first experienced the drug in the early 1960s. Well, willingly anyway. Two Cornell Medical School professors were part of a government project in the 1950s and 1960s to administer LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs on unwilling participants. It was initially hoped by the military that it could be used like a truth serum, and later studies checked it out for therapeutic qualities on mentally-deficient patients. The drug peaked in the late 1960s and saw another slight rise in the late 1990s, but otherwise has seen a general decline.

Now back to our preferred chemical companion – alcohol. The first students of Cornell would’ve usually consumed beer (liquor was as it is now – expensive) down at one of the saloons in town, and there was no standard policy against drinking (Bishop 210). “Give My Regards to Davy” celebrates this aspect of student life (although I should note that highballs are mixed drinks – scotch and soda water). A Cornell Era report from around 1890 suggests that a couple saloons was enough to serve all students, and drunkenness was uncommon. In the 1910s, drinking was common, but seen as a way to celebrate athletic victories, but drunkenness on campus was seen as grounds for dismissal (Bishop 407-408). Prohibition was a major thorn in the side of students and bar owners, but they found ways around the law – Theta Delta Chi had a speakeasy built into their house when it was built in 1926.  A Cornell Sun article from March 4, 1937 reports that drinking at colleges was on the rise after Prohibition, but that public drunkenness was abhorred. The report was “Students…admire the man who can drink like a gentleman” (pg. 3). It seems that a celebrated culture of binge drinking took off around 1980 – the “Animal House” influence, perhaps. Although underage drinking was supposed to be curtailed by the increase of the drinking age from 18 to 21 in December 1985, that has largely proven untrue.

People age, drug preferences change, but students are timeless.

Being an Alum

4 12 2010

So, letting go of undergrad is hard. But being an alumni doesn’t mean that everything simply ends.

While visiting a friend up in Vermont this past summer, she mentioned over lunch how she volunteered in the local alumni network there, of meeting with accepted students and going to alumni events and so on. Feeling a bit nostalgic (and realizing that I don’t want grad school to complete dominate my life, although it’s coming real close), I found myself signing up to be a part of the local chapter of CAAAN. CAAAN is the “Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassador Network”, which is divided up into about 300 chapters and 8000 volunteers who take on the opportunity of evaluating applied prospective students.  I figured that I could spare enough time to meet with high schoolers and answer questions they might have about CU, as well as pose a few queries to them for their “evaluation”. To be honest, I remember my meeting being uncomfortable because I was meeting them at the restaurant I worked at in high school, and since they arrived twenty minutes early, I seated them without realizing it was the alum I was supposed to meet with. When they looked at my nametag and asked me if I would be ready to talk about Cornell with them in a few minutes, I promptly excused myself and proceeded to have a royal flip out in the dishroom.  Luckily for me, I told my boss ahead of time about the planned meeting, so she took over the register and let me off a few minutes early.

It’s probably a bit peculiar since if someone asked me what I thought of Cornell while I was there, I would have had some lovely comments worth sharing (though not in front of children). Yet here I am, volunteering to meet with fresh and enthusiastic high schoolers and to try and promote a good image of Cornell. Hopefully.

Being new to the whole thing, I attended a meeting at a local hotel that the local alumni association was doing as an orientation for CAAAN.  The first thing that struck me when I walked into the room was the realization that I was easily the youngest person there. There were about 15 people, almost all of whom were middle-aged (40 and up) professionals, and as I sorta stopped in the doorway, the local chapter head looked at me and said “[Y]ou must be the new guy. I recognize everyone else here.”

What followed was a passing out of “current facts of Cornell” and some admissions and evaluation guidelines. It became quickly apparent that being the young guy had an advantage. They spent several minutes asking me to describe recent changes on campus and how the new financial aid plan was working and random questions about if some aspect of Cornell has changed in the past 10/20/30 years. For once, this blog proved to be useful on a personal level. I also managed to make several of them feel extremely old when describing the new West Campus houses.

It was different. It felt a little strange, but it felt right at the same time. I may be getting older, but I’m still quite young as alumni go.



The Blessing and Curse of Anonymity: CollegeACB

20 11 2010

It seems increasingly common these days to read editorials and columns in the Daily Sun that reference the extremely controversial website CollegeACB (Anonymous Confession Board). That and the alcoholic energy drink Four Loko seem to be the two things that dominate the collegiate news articles this semester (personally, all the news I hear about the drink just makes me more tempted to try it, but I don’t find myself at convenience stores often enough to remember to do so). Reading through the threads on the CollegeACB Cornell page is like a lesson in everything that is “wrong” with people; the website is well-known for its tirades that seem to know no ethical bounds, which include posts that are racist, anti-Semitic, sexist, classist, fetishist and all sorts of other comments that play up the darker side of human character.

I think most people who are on the internet these days have seen something like this before. Before CollegeACB, it was Juicy Campus, before the internet people made use of public spaces; I think there was a stump that used to be near Olin Libe on the Arts Quad in the late 60s and early 70s that was used extensively for spray-painted or paper-posted anonymous messages. Anonymity gives people the guise of security; their comments can hardly be traced to them unless they write something that clearly indicates it was them, or someone sees them typing and posting onto a forum. The sex columnists (the people may change, but the pattern is familiar) go by initials or self-created nicknames so as to avoid the coming up on the radar of potential employers and put up an extra barrier to protect against unwanted attention. Sure, a lot of folks might have a pretty good idea who the writer is, but unless it can be concretely proven, they can feel somewhat secure.

CollegeACB is a site that I can despise, and in some perverse sense, understand at the same time. I think ad hominem attacks on certain individuals is wrong, but censoring those opinions isn’t exactly the right thing to do either, since people value the concept of “personal freedom” so much. It’s a moral gray area to me; I would never do it myself, but I wouldn’t necessarily take away people’s ability to do it for a site that advertises anonymity as its big asset (I am being a bit hypocritical here; I have prevented a couple offensive comments, both of which were personal attacks because I mocked the now-cancelled Ithaca Olive Garden, from being published here on the blog; I initially okayed them, but I wasn’t comfortable leaving them on the blog and deleted them within hours).

Yet, sometimes that anonymity is what it takes for someone to take their guard down and see what they really think. People at Cornell are just as capable of being racist and homophobic and sexist as anyone else, and while those posts are offensive, and some of them are just grotesque attempts at grabbing attention, I can’t help but think there’s at least an ounce of someone’s personal beliefs in there. Objectionable as those posts may be, they demonstrate that Cornell is not a perfect world, and a lot of the tension that gets swept under the rug publicly will rear its ignorant head if given the opportunity.

In a previous post, I compared finding useful information on that site to finding a diamond in a pile of crap. Occasionally, the guise of anonymity can be helpful, and an honest, valuable opinion that would otherwise been kept silent is voiced. But you never know how much truth there is in a post, so the “diamonds” might just turn out to be pebbles of glass. I think a statement and a little research can go a long way in proving a comment right, but that’s not always possible.

I guess the topic really sticks out to me because of Ithacating in Cornell Heights. This blog is written semi-anonymously, in that although I’ve never written my name once, there’s enough information out there that I write as if the posts had by name on the top of each entry…which defeats the purpose of anonymity. My major reasons for continuing it like this are partly because of routine and partly because I prefer what I write to be dissociated from me.

The posts that make up the site are unpleasant, certainly. But I think it’s more a reflection of the people writing anonymously than the existence of the site itself. Maybe people just hold themselves to a low standard. Maybe I’m holding people, myself included, to a low standard because although I don’t condone it, I accept it.  My view is pessimist because I don’t expect people to hold themselves to higher standards, which that website proves every inflammatory day.

I’m too much of a curmudgeon to put a smiley face on this and write how we should behave better. It would be nice, perhaps, but I think it would be unrealistic as well.