March 24, 2013

OH: The True Value of An Ivy League Education

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Cornell is an Ivy League school. Besides gaining a right to join the private facebook group “I go to ivy league, bitch!”, what does it really mean to attend an Ivy League school, or an elite institution as a whole?

As the baby boomers’ children, the 18-25 demographic constitutes over 10 percent of the U.S. population with more than 4 million individuals per grade. However, thanks to America’s “world-renowned” secondary education, only three-quarters of students make it through high school. Since not every high school graduate pursues higher education, only half of the initial population — about 2 million students — end up applying to college. Among them, 250,000 of the most ambitious, highly-qualified high school seniors aspire to take part in the highest realm of higher education: the Ivy League. However, with an incoming freshman class size of a mere 4,000 — roughly the size of Cornell’s — the Ivies don’t have enough room for even all of the high school valedictorians.

As Ivy Leaguers, we are given incredible privileges to virtually every aspect of life. World-class faculty and unparalleled academic resources are more or less to be expected. We can borrow books from other Ivy libraries through “Borrow Direct.” Going to an Ivy enables access to all sorts of other groups as well. From more prominent Ivy Council to Ivy Congress (Christian students in Ivies) to IvyQ (queer students in ives) there are networking events of all sorts. And our extensive alumni connections can be powerful tools for future job searches.

However, what about more everyday resources, such as the free issues of the New York Times and USA Today throughout the campus? Not sure if this has any relevance, but a Cornell grad — Frank Gannett ’98 — founded the largest newspaper publisher, Gannett, which owns USA Today. And yes, the student health center on campus was named after him.

And what about our outrageously comprehensive student insurance with zero deductibles? The coverage is so ridiculously good, local practitioners call it “institutional free healthcare.” It is probably the main reason why Cornell has been voted multiple times as the best place to work. But could this have to do with the fact that the chairman and CEO of Aetna is a Cornell grad? Even language learning software “Fluenz,” rated as more effective than “Rosetta Stone,” was created by a Cornell alumna. Will she make some special deal with Cornell’s already outstanding language departments? Maybe so.

The purpose of my writing is not to boost our already over-the-top egos, but to urge our student body to be considerate of those around us — and I’m not talking about professors and other students.

We all know Cornell is the largest employer in Tomkins County. But Cornell is actually even bigger than we think. In 2004, it was one of the top three private-sector employers in the entire state of New York. With a massive workforce down at Cornell-Presbyterian, it is still a top-10 employer in New York State. While medical employees and faculty enjoy one of the highest compensation across any industry sector, back in Ithaca, thousands of Cornell’s non-academic staff struggle to support their families with inadequate wages. While Cornell’s full-time workers are at least eligible for the benefits which tend to make up for the lower wages, hundreds of contracted workers do not recieve any institutional benefits.

Their job description includes putting up with some spoiled 20-year-olds, which certainly isn’t a laughing matter, but the fact that they don’t earn any extra money for nighttime shifts should raise a concern. It is extremely hypocritical for Cornell not to compensate nighttime workers with higher wages when it conducts research on the adverse effects of overnight work on health.

Besides on-campus staff, the student body needs to realize Cornell’s intertwined relations with the entire Ithaca community. TCAT, for example, is not directly affiliated with Cornell, but it is largely subsidized by Cornell. Back in 2011, TCAT drivers went on a short-term strike due to the insufficient contribution from Cornell.

We need to respect that these are hard-working people who are trying to put food on their tables. Do you have any idea how many f-words and middle fingers TCAT drivers our parent’s and grandparent’s ages need to put up with on Friday nights? When the bus doesn’t stop for you, it’s not because the driver is a mother-f-er but because you are completely wasted and standing at a non-bus stop. You gotta realize who’s to be blamed before spitting out f-bombs.

Ivy graduates dominate everything from the government, finance, IT, to the media and the arts. We pretty much run the world; and this is unlikely to change any time soon with widening inequality. It is rumored that the Cornell has received over 40,000 applicants this year for a freshman class with 3250 spots, with an acceptance rate likely to hover below 15 percent. What is your role in taking one of those sought-after spots? Is it so that you can be cocky and brag out to the others by mistreating them? Or is it to acknowledge the undeserved talent and fortune you have and to share that privilege with the less fortunate?

Don Oh is a junior in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning. He may be reached at doh@cornellsun.com. Bi the Way appears alternate Mondays this semester.

Original Author: Don Oh