October 23, 2003

Cornell Image Committee Looks to Revamp U.

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Meeting under the expansive arches of the Johnson Graduate School of Management’s atrium, Cornell’s Image Committee discussed the future of the University’s website and marketing yesterday afternoon.

The committee focused on the front page of the Cornell website and the undergraduate admissions page, expressing their dissatisfaction with both to Thomas Richardson, the new director of web communications.

“The kind of thing we need to capture on the front page is the aesthetic beauty of Cornell,” said committee member Ross Blankenship ’05.

The other students agreed with him and compared a printout of the Cornell website to printouts of other universities’ websites, including Harvard, Bryn Mawr and Johns Hopkins University.

“There’s so much stuff there,” said Tim Lim ’06, referring to the Cornell site. “Harvard’s really emphasizes Harvard, what Harvard is.”

Some committee members also complained about the functionality and organization of the site.

“CUinfo is horrible,” said Student Assembly president Nick Linder ’05. “The search engine is ridiculous.”

Peter S. Cohl ’04, the head of the committee, commented that the University’s site does not express Cornell’s character.

“There is no cohesive element to this except the ‘Big Red Box,’ which doesn’t say ‘Ivy League school,'” Cohl said.

Students also criticized the excess of white space and the photography quality on the page, which they think gives the site a scattershot quality.

“You’re not quite sure where to go because you have all of these words on here, all these distractions,” Blankenship said.

Cohl believes the website is particularly important because it is the major portal through which the public sees Cornell. He believes that it can and does affect the University’s ratings in the annual U.S. News & World Report college index.

“As the Image Committee, this piece of real estate here is the most important development [the University] can do,” he said. “There is a direct corollary [to rankings].”

Richardson made up a list of the committee’s complaints and recommendations about marketing, which included large class sizes under the negatives and Cornell’s academic difficulty on the plus side. In particular, the committee recommended marketing Cornell as tough but accessible to all who wish to take up the challenge.

“A place that is a gateway to greatness in life,” Richardson said, summing up the committee’s comments. “Regardless of your background, you are able to prove yourself at this college.”

They also suggested that Cornell’s marketing campaign and website should emphasize the opportunities available at Cornell that do not exist at other elite universities.

“We are the Ivy with choice,” said Ben Rockey-Harris ’04. “Other Ivies don’t grant animal science or chemical engineering degrees.”

The students pointed out that the site should stress the University’s combination of tradition and commitment to progress as well.

Addressing their concerns, Richardson said that he will first focus on the aesthetics and graphic design of the site and then move on to concerns of functionality. He said that the functional and navigational issues should be solved by the end of next year.

In terms of functional features, Blankenship said he wished the site had a search engine that could search both the Cornell site and the entire World Wide Web.

“This should be the Google of Cornell students,” he said.

Both the committee and Richardson said they wished that the University would allocate more resources to maintaining and designing the website. Some students bemoaned the bureaucracy involved in the process.

“There’s too much Big Red Tape,” Blankenship said.

Richardson said he really appreciated the student input and suggestions and hopes to hear more of them. He is in charge of creating an advisory committee for the website, which he said will have and need student representation.

“It’s important that you’re interested,” he told the committee. “[If] we don’t have this input, we will continue to have this gap.”

Archived article by Shannon Brescher