October 16, 2003

To Cancel or Not to Cancel

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On all the promotional materials for Thursday’s inauguration of President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77, students are reassured that “Most classes will be cancelled between 1-3pm on October 16 so come and be a part of this historic Cornell event!*”

In small print next to the asterisk, however, is a phrase that speaks to a number of students and professors across campus: “*please check with your professor to confirm class cancellation.”

Although administration officials don’t have figures available, a number of professors are holding classes on Thursday regardless of being asked to allow their students to participate in the inaugural activities.

According to Inge T. Reichenbach, vice president for alumni affairs and development, Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin and Dean of Faculty Charles Walcott Ph.D. ’59 sent an e-mail to faculty about canceling 1:25 and 2:30 classes.

“We encouraged them to do so,” Walcott said. “If they chose not to, they didn’t have to.”

“I hope that faculty, if they can, will cancel classes,” Reichenbach said.

From some students’ point of view, however, the request from the administration may not have been enough.

“I’ve heard a couple of informal [complaints] from students,” said Susan H. Murphy ’73, vice president for student and academic services. However, she added, “there hasn’t been a groundswell of students in my office.”

Murphy added that classes still held on Thursday will likely include those with exams and those which only meet once a week.

Theodore J. Lowi, the John L. Senior Professor of American Institutions, is one faculty member who won’t cancel classes on Thursday. In fact, he is giving two midterms — for GOVT 428: Government and Public Policy at 1:25 p.m., then GOVT 111: Introduction to American Government and Politics at 2:55.

“It gives the wrong damn message,” Lowi said of the administration’s request.

He has written a letter of complaint to Martin which he said states his disappointment that “in a situation that celebrates higher education … they would cancel classes.” Lowi did not provide The Sun with a copy of the letter.

“Nobody was consulted,” Lowi added. “I had already set the midterm before anybody knew about the inauguration.”

Student Assembly president Nick Linder ’05 is in Lowi’s GOVT 428 class.

“I respect his decision to hold class,” Linder said. “At the same time, I would hope that he would understand the importance of students attending this event, something that has only occurred 10 other times in Cornell’s history.”

Other classes which students can expect to attend on Thursday include chemistry labs. According to John Terry, the lab director for CHEM 206: Introduction to General Chemistry and CHEM 215: General and Inorganic Chemistry, the problem involves scheduling.

“We have five days during the week during which we have lab days,” Terry said. “The next week we go on to a different experiment.”

Since the weekly labs on Wednesday and Friday of this week will still be held, students in Thursday’s lab would be behind everyone else if class were canceled. Although Monday and Tuesday’s labs were canceled due to fall break, Terry said, the schedule evens out the week before Thanksgiving break, when there are no classes on Wednesday through Friday. The current lab schedule runs in five-day cycles from Wednesday to Tuesday.

“My gut feeling is, not too many of [the students] will want to go anyway” to the inauguration, Terry added.

Prof. Lydia Fakundiny, English, is also holding classes on Thursday, although for somewhat different reasons — she didn’t know about the inauguration until recently.

“I was certainly caught by surprise [on Monday],” she said. “I’ll just see who shows up.”

“I really don’t know,” she added. “I feel like because of fall break … this sort of sneaked up on people … without a lot of forethought.”

Over at the government department, however, the Katzensteins seem to have made a household decision regarding classes on inauguration day.

“I am canceling because some students talked to me who are participating in the inauguration events,” said Prof. Mary Katzenstein. “I was going to leave it up to students … it just doesn’t seem fair [to hold classes].”

Peter J. Katzenstein, the W. S. Carpenter Jr. Professor of International Studies, is doing the same: “I’m leaving it open to students, and I’m putting my lecture online,” he said.

None of the professors interviewed by The Sun knew how many colleagues in their departments were canceling classes. According to Reichenbach, attendance at the event will probably not be an issue.

“We also have people coming from the outside and family and faculty and staff,” she said. “I think we’ll have a great turnout.”

Archived article by Andy Guess