Provost Michael Kotlikoff presenting the new Cornell housing master plan, which has been slated for completion by fall 2020 at the Student Assembly meeting Thursday.

Michael Wenye Li / Sun Staff Photographer

Provost Michael Kotlikoff presenting the new Cornell housing master plan, which has been slated for completion by fall 2020 at the Student Assembly meeting Thursday.

December 1, 2016

Kotlikoff: New Housing Plan Increasing Enrollment Could Drop Cornell’s Ranking

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Correction appended

Provost Michael Kotlikoff revealed that his proposed housing plan — which would be financed by an increase in class size — could cause Cornell’s U.S. News and World Report ranking to drop at a Student Assembly Rockefeller Hall Thursday.

At the meeting, the assembly also passed a resolution supporting the petition for Cornell to become a sanctuary campus, in addition to weighing the ramifications of building new housing. A new Cornell housing master plan is slated for completion by fall 2020.

Kotlikoff explained that, partly because of the 2008 recession, Cornell’s financial health had deteriorated. This decline meant Cornell would have to defer important renovation and construction projects such as the McGraw Hall renovation.

“We have the largest class size but one of the smallest endowments out of all the Ivies,” Kotlikoff said.  “We simply don’t have the ability to construct extensive housing projects right now.”

He also said that any new project would not be funded through conventional methods, like alumni donations or tuition fee increases, but by increasing Cornell’s class size.

“We are looking to increase the freshman class size by 250 to 275 students. This increase will give us sufficient capital for construction, without requiring any tangible expansion in dining and other facilities across campus,” Kotlikoff said.

In the long term, however, the plan envisions a sophomore housing community on North Campus, with a capacity between 1,250 and 2,000 students.

“Only 59 percent of sophomores currently reside on campus,” Kotlikoff said. “We’d ideally like to see an increase of about 15 percent in that figure.”

However, the provost also noted that increased enrollment could have potential downsides, including a lower rankings in the U.S. News and World Report.

Kotlikoff argued that if the new housing plan is delivered, it would significantly improve the University’s logistical issues, and even provide additional investment for academic purposes.

“These immense positives mean that a slightly lowered University rank cannot really be considered a major failure in the long run,” he said.

The other significant issue at hand for the assembly was the resolution declaring Cornell a sanctuary campus for DACA students.

Julia Montejo ’17, the S.A. vice president for diversity and inclusion, argued that while the Trump administration can repeal the DACA program, the University and Cornell University Police Department would still be under no legal obligation to release the personal information of DACA students.

“We aren’t asking for a substantial allocation of resources to assist DACA students,” Montejo said. “The Cornell Law School already runs free legal clinics — these should be expanded to accommodate legal assistance for those under threat from U.S. Immigrations and Customs authorities.”

S.A. vice president for internal operations, Mitchell McBride ’17 objected to this assertion, arguing that a refusal to cooperate with U.S. immigration authorities could cause Cornell to lose government funding.

“Losing our financial aid capability will hurt more students than a repeal of DACA status,” he said.

Montejo replied by pointing out that many other prominent institutions, including Harvard and University of Pennsylvania, had already declared sanctuary status, and Cornell should follow their lead by placing moral principles above financial concerns.

Christian Brickhouse ’17 argued the same point on ethical grounds, invoking Ezra Cornell’s founding principles as a reason to pass the resolution.

“If we don’t pass this resolution we’re essentially conveying the message that Cornell isn’t a place for ‘any person’ anymore,” he said. “Even if the resolution has no actual effect on Cornell’s response, it’s important for us to send the right message.”

The resolution eventually passed with a resounding majority.

The assembly also discussed the renovation of areas outside Schwartz Center, changes in the collegiate subscription structure of the New York Times and changes in candidates’ expenditure regulations during the spring 2017 S.A. elections.

After prolonged debate over the nature and costs of campaigning, especially through social media, the assembly passed revised limits on out-of-pocket spending by candidates, as well amended the amounts that candidates would be reimbursed by the S.A. following elections.

A previous version of this story incorrectly quoted Provost Kotlikoff as stating that Cornell has the smallest endowment of any Ivy League school. In fact, he said Cornell has one of the smallest endowments. 

  • this is a mess

    Didn’t realize the rankings even went much lower given that we’re already at the bottom. Why is an ivy league university compared to schools like rice, vanderbilt, and wash u. in st. louis. It’s embarrassing enough already- just wait until we’re ranked below these mediocre institutions.

  • classic intellectual elitism – completely disregarding the rankings….makes sense

  • jj

    Clearly the administration is going in the wrong direction with this approach. What is needed, in my opinion, is to increase the endowment, increase the faculty, and decrease the undergraduate enrollment. The idea is to get us within the range of the other Ivies in terms of student to faculty ratio and endowment per student. These are very important variables and should be considered very carefully in decision making. If the current direction continues Cornell would be academically removing itself from the Ivy League.

    P.S. Prospective students, parents, and high school guidance counselors pay considerable attention to the various rankings.

    • Proud Alumnus

      I’m posting this as someone who has done a fair bit of research in university rankings and university operations. All of the things you mentioned sound great on paper but are very difficult to achieve. Increasing faculty and decreasing enrollment will make it incredibly difficult to increase endowment, and probably even decrease endowment. Hiring additional faculty would be wonderful, but it’s already very difficult to do this. It’s hard to attract a professor and their family to Ithaca when that same professor could work at any number of 20+ schools in NYC or Boston or NorCal. At the same time, professors very frequently marry other professors/PhD’s, so to entice a professor to work at Cornell, Cornell will likely have to find an additional opening to hire that professor’s spouse. Whereas in NYC, that professor and his/her spouse could have a long list of offers from great universities (albeit none of them compete with Cornell, sans Columbia).

      And I’m fully aware of the weight that college education consumers place on rankings. I know how important they are and I know exactly how they’re calculated. When a university’s ranking decreases, fewer students apply, a higher percentage of them are accepted, the matriculation yield rate will drop, and the ranking will continue to worsen. (Rankings heavily factor in acceptance rate). This is truly a sad reality with university rankings. What is overlooked is the true quality of a Cornell education. I don’t think it’s fair to say that any school ranked above Cornell will provide significantly better educational/personal/professional opportunities just because their acceptance rate is lower. That’s purely false. Cornell blows other ivies out of the water in very high demand majors, particularly engineering majors. Let’s not confuse Cornell’s ranking (which, honestly, is still fantastic) with its true quality. Ezra Cornell wanted to provide educational opportunities to anyone, and Cornell is truly doing its best to achieve that. We’re providing an Ivy League education to more students than any other institution in the country. That’s something to be proud of. A decrease in ranking will change nothing in terms of what goes on on campus nor will it change the types of intelligent, successful people we admit.

      • Run it into the ground

        No, the whole point here is this drives a cycle of giving us worse students. The best students want to go to the best schools, as judged by rankings because that’s the best resource available to them. If you think high school students have a way of truly assessing the quality of a program, you’re delusional. We absolutely need to have a competitive ranking to get good students, which is essentially the thing that enables us to give a better education than the average state school. I agree that jj’s ideas are unrealistic, but this is still going to harm Cornell.

        • NightmareInIthaca

          exactly. This is honestly a nightmare. We are already in a position where we can’t compete with HYP and Columbia/Penn. We’re barely competing with Brown and Dartmouth. If our ranking drops even more, I don’t see how we remain competitive. Rightfully or wrongfully, people believe HYP have more prestige, penn students get better jobs, columbia students are more intelligent/intellectual, dartmouth students have more fun, and brown students get an ivy degree without the misery of general education requirements. What cornell has is a campus removed from reality, a small endowment, and a reputation for a hostile culture of kids competing with one another because the brand of our degree won’t take us as far as a Yale or Penn diploma. DO NOT INCREASE STUDENT ENROLLMENT. Instead of getting more students, can’t we do a better job of increasing our endowment through smart investment and alumni donations? Columbia doesn’t have nearly as many billionaire alumni as Penn and yet its endowment is only a few billion smaller than Penn’s. They did that through smart investment of the resources they already had. let’s do that here!

  • people should be emailing the institution to complain, as I already did

  • Concerned Alum

    Is this deff happening? Someone talk some sense into admins

  • Elle

    What is the proposed distribution among colleges of the 250-275 additional students? Is there anywhere in particular where the expansion has been predetermined as acceptable or desirable? That should be clarified. Also wouldn’t growing the student body to pay for future housing cause an immediate strain on existing housing which is already insufficient, which in turn would displace more students from on campus housing and further intensify the unpleasant and expensive off campus scramble each Fall? I am uncomfortable with the idea that stressing academic resources further is the only way to provide more housing. Anyone know of any examples of universities who’ve addressed their housing deficit more creatively?

  • JS

    There is a reason that the rankings will go down! Small class sizes are very important for both rankings and real world educational quality. This is not the way to raise funds. Please look into other sources of financing. Also, the 2008 recession should not impact the current portfolio unless the university panicked and sold investments when they started to plummet. Hire better managers.

    • scandalous leadership

      The reason the 2008 recession lingers at Cornell is that they have had structural problems with the budget that lead to deficit spending ever since. They have been borrowing money to meet payroll and build buildings ever since.

      It is as stupid as someone who keeps refinancing their home to take money out or taking out more credit card debit to pay their bills rather than cutting back on spending. Eventually the bills pile up and now they want to grow their way out of it.

      We are in this financial problem now because of poor budget discipline confounded with gambling on timing interest rate changes with interest rate swaps that led to huge losses.

      Fire the provost, and let Martha Pollock bring in someone who understands University budgets like she does. Cornell has a bright future, but the current provost should not be part of shaping it in his current leadership position.

  • Run it into the ground

    We need to add more students to have more on campus sophomores? I don’t even know why we need to be particularly concerned with having lots of upperclassmen on campus. How this is a good way to address it is beyond my bullshitting abilities.

    To make Cornell better we need to concentrate more resources on whatever we want to improve in. We need bigger departments with more resources instead of everything under the sun but done worse than Harvard, Princeton, Yale, MIT, Stanford, etc. But to do that, we need more academic space, which we already decided we don’t want to do with the Upson Hall renovations instead of a much needed expansion. We prefer to have lots of stupid atriums instead of classrooms and labatories. So while it is possible to have a viable plan that involves increases in enrollment, since we have less money to work with, we need to spend a higher percentage of it on increasing faculty size and academic resources like research facilities instead of sports, frats, housing, and other frivolous extras. Like that will ever happen.

  • It’s one thing to provide educational opportunities to anyone. It’s quite another to provide them to everyone. Cornell should consider the kind of student it can and should educate. Ones that can benefit from Cornell and who will add to the experience of other students and, later, to Cornell itself. We might occasionally get a Bentley of a student but most students (I suspect) are of the Acura variety. Which is fine. Those are the ones Cornell should try to attract and educate. Trying to be something we are not while ignoring what we are will only make Cornell less. As far as fitting in more with the Rices and Vanderbilts of the world, that’s life. And I see nothing wrong with it. Knowing thyself vs. deceiving thyself. Cornell is on the wrong side of the Appalachians as far as Harvard through Princeton go, and on the wrong side of the Rockies compared to Stanford and Berkeley. I don’t even see anything wrong with Cornell being compared with Michigan, Notre Dame, Illinois, Northwestern, top Big Ten type colleges. Let’s identify our strengths and make the most of them.

    • NightmareInIthaca

      This is a ridiculous view of things. Like 50 years ago UPenn was considered the worst Ivy. Now they’re considered nearly as good as yale and princeton and definitely as good as Columbia. There is no reason we can’t have a similar renaissance. Settling to be in the company of a bunch of state schools is not the point of cornell. We can be open and inclusive without damaging the already inferior quality of education. Lets build on our strengths and fix our weaknesses- not settle into them!

  • Another concerned alum

    Cramming more students in to generate tuition revenue is not the answer. How about we fix our poorly performing endowment? Better investment results would generate far more revenue than enrolling more and more students.

    • Alum

      Steps are being taken to recruit more talented endowment staff members. It’s difficult to attract talented investment analysts in Ithaca, NY when those same employees could be hired at any university that’s in a large city. They simply don’t want to live in Ithaca.

      • Alum #n

        Why don’t we just take a passive investment approach? It would have done dramatically better just about any way you look at it.

  • jj

    We just came off of a major endowment drive. How was that money utilized? Another major fund raising drive is obviously needed. What I haven’t seen is a new strategic plan that includes raising endowment for the various needs on campus. This plan would incorporate the ideas on student class size, housing, and faculty resources that I have suggested above. Perhaps an imaginative plan would attract the kind of financial support needed; the first step is a detailed plan.

    The NYC Tech campus was not supposed to be a drag on the Ithaca campus. I’m assuming that this is still the case.

  • i am withholding all donations from this pathetic institution

  • scandalous leadership

    Kotlikoff needs to go, he is a disaster as a provost, if I had a sick donkey I know who to look up.

    Let’s be honest and direct. Rather than addressing the structural problems in Cornell’s budget by managing costs, he decides the solution is to drive Cornell’s reputation and ranking into the gutter claiming he is a good leader and making tough decisions.

    Get rid of him! He did the same thing with the college of business roll out. Aggregated several colleges together under the leadership of the Johnson School Dean thereby putting the person who had presided over the falling Johnson school rankings in charge of Dyson, SHA and Johnson. Great move driving down donations at Dyson and SHA with fall in rankings to follow.

    What a fool. Rally donors, students and faculty around a positive vision of excellence rather than saying follow me things are horrible and will only get worse unless we admit how bad we are.

    This guy is not Provost material. Admit a mistake was made and replace him and move on.

  • You cannot be serious

    Making Cornell more crowded and lowering it’s quality is not the solution. Where would you house these additional undergrads before expanding housing. Fix the management of the endowment, cut costs, improve fundraising. But don’t hurt the quality of a Cornell education

  • You cannot be serious

    Wouldn’t new housing pay for itself, from students paying their housing bills? Why not borrow the money, knowing the revenue stream from filling the additional beds would retire the debt? Isn’t that a better solution than enrolling more and more students, with all the negatives that entails?

  • Avoid debt, avoid risk

    Many schools are leasing out space on their campus and getting out of the dorm business entirely. Private investors come in and build apartments to a captive audience and give the school a cut. This way the school has no additional debt that lowers their bond rating and no risk, it is all held by the housing experts.

  • RuKidding

    As a parent of a current student that did not attend an Ivy League school, I have a suggestion for Cornell – do what is best for the students and be creative, innovative and different, and educate them. It seems that the entire focus of the school (students and administration) is to stay the same and rely on reputation and tradition of the school and its rankings. I frankly find it discouraging to hear about how my daughter sits in giant lectures and has to go to TA’s to learn the material in a fashion that is no different (in fact worse) than the state school I attended. Frankly, I do not see how her engineering and statistics classes are any better than any other school in the country. Is the only true value of going to Cornell (or any Ivy for that matter) the company you keep while you are there? Shouldn’t the professors be better, engaged, helpful, cutting edge, and truly extraordinary?

    I listened to all the arguments why I had to shell out $70K per year for my daughter to go here. So far, the only benefit I see is the connections she is making and will make upon graduation. I truly wish I could believe that there are other advantages of attendance. Frankly, I do not see them.

    • Let’s Fix Cornell!

      honestly, no, that’s not the point of attending other ivy league schools but increasingly the name brand feels like the only thing Cornell has and it’s not even that great! My friends at Dartmouth, UPenn and Yale don’t have large classes, they have more than enough housing and they’re all building more! Their professors are superstars and leaders in their field. I can’t even name a famous professor at Cornell that I’ve taken a class with. And if they are actually famous, they don’t spend the whole week in Ithaca which makes it impossible to build connections with them. Going to Cornell used to mean something- now I don’t know what it means.

  • Upset alum/parent

    As a Cornell alum and parent I think this is a terrible idea. Class sizes are already too large and students have trouble enrolling in required courses. This shouldn’t be happening at a private $70 K per year institution.

    I agree with Avoid debt, avoid risk – other schools are bringing in private companies to build and manage dorms and on campus apartments. The university would make some money on the deal and students wouldn’t have to fight for housing every October and live in substandard apartments in Collegetown.
    Enrollment would not have to be increased and Cornell’s ranking would not suffer.