Sixty percent of a sample of Cornellians does not engage in community service during a typical week, according to the recent PULSE survey of undergraduates. As the University reassesses its expenditures in light of the economic recession, we hope it will recognize the need to continue to provide students with meaningful opportunities for service.
We are troubled to see the lack of volunteerism exhibited by the survey. And while other results proved that students are mostly happy at Cornell, and that they take advantage of many opportunities available to them, this lack of service is a glaring issue that the University should not overlook.
Although the infrastructure is in place to assist students with finding community service opportunities, these organizations must do more to reach out to the largely apathetic student body. The Public Service Center has proven with its annual “Into the Streets” day of service that Cornell students will volunteer if they are presented with fun and convenient means of doing so.
The PSC should also work to set up more frequent service opportunities for smaller groups. Resident advisors could organize floor-wide service events in a common room, or else secure transportation for their residents to a remote site. Academic departments could organize philanthropy events for students and professors, providing students with an opportunity to mingle with faculty while at the same time engaging in service.
Despite possessing the resources to do more, many Greek organizations will only organize one or two big philanthropy events over the course of the year. Fraternities and sororities should also provide their members with more frequent opportunities for service that require less planning and a shorter time commitment. Volunteering at a food bank or soup kitchen, or giving blood, are easy ways to make a difference that does not require planning or oversight on behalf of Greek organization. Some chapters require their new member classes to volunteer for a certain number of hours, or to even organize their own philanthropy event. These are great initiatives, and we hope they will be adopted by other Greek organizations.
As the dismal economy limits job opportunities, many graduates are electing to work for Teach for America, the Peace Corps or other service programs. The Cornell community must also realize that there are plenty of worthwhile causes here in Ithaca. Working to clean up the gorges, helping local kids with their homework or even building houses can all be rewarding activities.
In this era of shrinking endowments and budget cuts, few universities are looking to expand programs or fund new initiatives. Yet none of the remedies we suggest require substantial spending increases. By committing to improvement in this area, the University can demonstrate that it takes the PULSE results seriously and cares about the overall education of its students and their broader impact in a wide community — all while remaining conscious of the fiscal situation.