March 9, 2009

Pundits Argue Over Validity of CALS Degrees

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In the arena of American political discourse, almost every area of life, ranging from religious convictions to familial relations, is subject to attack and satire. This past week, those attacks have hit Cornell particularly hard, as Ann Coulter ’84, right-wing political pundit, mocked the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences on her website.
In a blog post last Wednesday, Coulter, who attended the College of Arts and Sciences, questioned the educational background of Keith Olbermann ’79, one of her left-wing counterparts, who attended the agriculture college.
“Keith didn’t go to the Ivy League Cornell; he went to the Old MacDonald Cornell,” Coulter stated on her blog, “Olbermann’s incessant lying about having an ‘Ivy League education’ when he went to the non-Ivy League ag school at Cornell would be like a graduate of the Yale locksmithing school boasting about being a ‘Yale man.’”
Coulter went on to assert that the school has an average SAT score “of pulling guards at the University of South Carolina” and an “acceptance rate [of] one of every one applicants.”
Coulter’s blog post was in response to comments made by Olbermann on the academic credentials of Monica Goodling, deputy director of public affairs for the Department of Justice. Goodling, who attended the Christian fundamentalist Regent University Law School, was an integral part in the politicized hiring of U.S. attorneys during the Bush administration. During Goodling’s Senate hearing in 2007, Olbermann regularly referred to her alma mater as “Religious Lunatic University” and insulted its validity, claiming that her degree “cost her 100 box tops through the mail.”

“I would venture to say that the students at Goodling’s law school at Regent University are far more impressive than those at the Cornell agriculture school — the land-grant, non-Ivy League school Keith attended.” Coulter wrote.

On the day following Coulter’s post, Olbermann defended his degree on his show, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, citing the true statistics of admission for the current class at the agriculture college, as well as pulling out his diploma from Cornell University.

“Seriously, in four years as a student in Cornell, and nearly 30 years as an alumnus, I have never before heard one graduate of one of the university‘s colleges belittling all its other colleges as not counting,” Olbermann said on his show. “We have always considered each other worthy, hard working and equal, and having benefited from an incredible educational opportunity. Sorry you missed yours, Ann. “

Coulter’s comments struck a chord among members of the Cornell community, specifically those members of the agriculture school.

“I believe that Keith Olbermann did a great job in his response, and I don’t think anyone will take her flawed facts seriously,” said Linda McCandless ’74, the director of communications for the agriculture college. “The College is not going to have an official response. There is little to be gained in entering a fracas with Ms. Coulter. Rather, we will let Keith Olbermann carry the flag for us. He is doing an admirable job.”

“I found her comments disturbing and offensive,” said Liz Kreitinger ’08, a student in the agriculture school. “Her ignorant statements demeaned my academic achievements.”

Others, however, have taken the comments in a lighter fashion.

“Personally, I’m not a great fan of Ms. Coulter’s work. But in this case I think her comments were pretty funny and made in jest.” Jordan Fabian ’09, editor-at-large of The Cornell Review, stated in an e-mail yesterday. “I think an informed reader should be able to determine that she wasn’t engaging in serious statistical analysis of the CALS admission standards versus those of the Arts College. She was clearly trying to poke fun at Mr. Olbermann.”
The situation continues to unfold as Coulter and Olbermann butt heads via different media outlets.