November 19, 2004

Imagining Cornell

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“Real improvements have been made,” said Peter S. Cohl ’05, chair of the image committee of the Student Assembly, which reported to the S.A. yesterday. The image committee is in the midst of evaluating Cornell’s global image and making recommendations to improve it.

One of the most apparent and recent changes is Cornell’s new logo, which instead of the “Big Red Box” is now a “form of the Cornell Crest.” The University’s website has also been redesigned in consultation with the committee. And, according to the committee’s report, the overall media coverage of Cornell, with the increased frequency of well-known speakers in the past few months, has allowed “greater vitality” on campus.

“This administration has been receptive … the University has implemented a lot of [the committee’s] ideas,” Cohl said. “Last year we had to fight tooth and nail.”

In addition to updating the S.A. on the newly implemented ideas, Cohl and Heather Grantham ’06, member of the committee and Sun columnist, outlined several more possibilities for improving Cornell’s image.

The report stated, “Cornell must carefully research the attitudes, preferences, and passions of its students, potential students, alumni, faculty and staff in order to develop an effective global ‘message.'”

Along these lines, Cohl summarized a few of the possibilities that the image committee had already begun discussing with the administration. They include placing Cornell’s insignia and colors in Ithaca and on other University locations to indicate Cornell’s “boundaries,” improving admissions services, increasing funding for media efforts and renovating the Cornell Store.

“The biggest issue is class size,” Cohl said. He explained that class size affects three different categories in the rankings system, and if Cornell made improvements in that area, “We would be locked into the top ten schools.” While large classes such as Psychology 101 cannot realistically be reduced to small sizes, he suggested other classes that are currently 25 students for example could be cut off at 20, and such a change would “make a big difference in our rankings.”

A drop in ranking, Cohl explained, often meant it would be significantly harder for Cornell to recruit professors and students, and dropping below the top ten schools meant it was difficult to receive media coverage. A drop in ranking often meant a drop in standardized test scores, and Cohl pointed out that professors often used these scores as a measure of student quality.

Other recommendations included forming a no-loan tuition program for low-income students, a program that competitive schools such as Harvard and Princeton have already successfully implemented. They pointed out that Cornell was also one of the few top-tier schools that did not have a fully-subsidized on-campus daycare center for students, faculty and staff.

The image committee also brought up the idea of developing a “Cornell Center” in Manhattan, which, according to yesterday’s presentation, would “function as a living/learning community for students … in New York. [It] would also serve as host to international conferences, academic programs, extension services, continuing education, and graduate programs. It would contain a visitors’ center, museum of Cornelliana, and interactive attractions promoting Cornell’s involvement in such efforts as space exploration, nanotechnology and robotics.”

“There’s a lot of talk about Cornell as a transnational university and building a global presence for Cornell. I think that that starts by raising Cornell’s presence in New York City,” Cohl said. “The reality is, New York is the center of the world and if Cornell wants to be a player in the transnational university business, we have to have a stronger relationship with the city of New York. By increasing our profile there, we’ll improve our stature, not only in the rankings, but in the world of higher education.”

Grantham noted that the future implementation of these recommendations is merely a “matter of proposing more details [to the administration].” While there remains many suggestions that have yet to be implemented, Cohl reiterated the administration’s continued receptivity to the committee’s evaluations and proposals. “We’re not singing empty praises,” Grantham added.

When asked about what standards the image committee was comparing Cornell to, Cohl answered, “Our competitor schools; Harvard, Yale … for example, the admissions website for Harvard is very good.”

In terms of how such changes would be financed, Cohl insisted the money spent on implementing them would be “well worth it … The marketing will pay off.” Cohl said the University has already spent “hundreds of millions of dollars on campus” to build facilities such as the west campus and north campus initiatives. He added that for example, funding the no-loan tuition program for low-income students would be relatively easy, saying that many alumni contributors want to give money specifically for scholarships.

The image committee will continue to work with the administration on its stated goal. Cohl explained, “Student are ultimately consumers. So if students are unhappy as consumers, then the University stands to lose revenue … the administration will listen to [us].”

The S.A. additionally pledged yesterday to work on exploring, improving and implementing an undergraduate peer advising network in each of the undergraduate colleges and also received a report and proposal from Cornell Information Technologies about problems with spam in Cornell e-mail.