September 19, 2017

LEE | Corporate Cornell

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The Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island in New York City held a grand opening last week, marking a new era for both Cornell and New York City. In recent years, Cornell has invested substantially in the growing realm of technology and innovation embodied by the 2014 opening of the $60 million Bill and Melinda Gates Hall dedicated to computing and information science. New York City’s hopes of upsizing its tech presence was the perfect match for Cornell’s hunger to expand into tech and the city.

I am thrilled to see that Cornell is becoming more involved with technology research and application in America’s most vibrant and dynamic city. It’s great that Cornell has widened its presence in New York City, especially since the Ithaca campus location is not the most appealing to investors and students alike. Yet I can’t help but note that while it continues to expand in various ways, Cornell also neglects to improve existing practices and policies.

Despite its status as a private university, Cornell prides itself in being an institution for “any person, any study”. As overused as this mantra is, Cornell aims to stay true to its values of accessibility and diversity through its need-blind financial aid (for American citizens) and accommodation policies. However, Cornell lacks inclusionary policies for middle class students who are neither as eligible for benefits nor as able to easily support their education.

For one thing, basic necessities are sold at higher prices than off campus. Sanitary supplies such as toiletries or pads are sold at a price nearly 50 percent higher than at supermarkets. Of course, Cornell’s supply chain is much smaller than that of bigger stores, but I still don’t understand why necessities cannot be subsidized to be much more affordable for students. No other rural or suburban campus store that I’ve been to makes their products so expensive.

The list could go on about the different ways in which Cornell seems to make itself a corporation more so than an educational institution. As students learn when they move off campus, it’s impossible to get BRBs without enrolling in some type of meal plan. There appears to be no other good reason why than that Cornell Dining is simply one of the many channels through which Cornell makes profit. Instead of providing affordable, healthy food options for students, Cornell is more focused on creating a business out of students. Long-term profitability is important, but to the degree at which Cornell prices its salads at $10+, it is simply difficult to understand.

Oh, and then there’s housing.To secure off-campus housing for the 2018-2019 school year, we need to look for housing and sign leases now, 12 months before we move in. No other Ivy League school has such a problem, especially considering that students at Harvard or Princeton are guaranteed housing for all four years of their undergraduate experience. The difficulty of finding housing in itself doesn’t necessarily tie into how monetized Cornell is, but the fact that Cornell admits a greater number of students than can actually fit on campus, as evidenced by “forced triples” where three students are put into lofted beds in what is essentially a double, is nothing short of absurd.

Students are also forced to move out of their dorms for the winter and summer breaks. I understand that this is a time for any necessary maintenance repairs, but Cornell charges its students at a rate of nearly $30 per hour if they don’t leave their room by a specified time. If students don’t leave before the exact minute, they will immediately be billed.

Yes, Cornell University is a private institution that needs to monetize certain areas and I completely respect that. However, it really is the small things that add up to create a reputation of Cornell being more of a corporation. Instead of merely focusing on Cornell’s place in the rankings and potential areas of expansion, it is much more important to first fix the internal perceptions. Any institution that is viewed in such a way by its own members cannot foster a welcoming space, no matter how hard it tries to vouch for diversity and accessibility. I sincerely hope that Cornell will stop trying to empty out the pockets of 20-somethings and focus its efforts on cultivating a better community from within.

 

DongYeon (Margaret) Lee is a sophomore in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at margaretlee@cornellsun.com. Here, There and Everywhere appears alternate Tuesdays this semester. 

  • Jay Wind

    Several points in response. In designing a master plan for the NYC Roosevelt Island campus and subsequent fundraising to implement that plan, Cornell realized that housing prices in Manhattan is very expensive. So Cornell included a student/faculty residence as a part of the Roosevelt Island development. Second, providing housing, dining, and selling sanitary napkins is not central to Cornell’s mission. So, the ancillary enterprises are required to pay their own way without a subsidy using tuition dollars. Cornell has above average overhead charges. For example, Cornell Trades charge $60/hr for someone to mow a lawn.

    The author should take a position – which is better, higher tuition or subsidized sanitary napkin prices?

    Which is better – successfully raising money to build new residential facilities or the on-going BSU publicity stunts that inhibit alumni donations? What are your priorities and how do you propose to pay for your proposals?

    • neroden

      Why is Cornell charging higher prices than downtown? That’s basically price gouging. Charging the same prices as downtown would still make them a profit — downtown merchants are certainly profitable.

      Why does Cornell have above average overhead charges? That’s basically incompetence.