March 13, 2006

Acceptance Rate Falls to 21 Percent

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A lucky 21 percent of the record-setting applicant pool for Cornell’s class of ’10 – over 28,000 applications for 3,000 freshman spots were received this year – will be mailed “fat envelopes” on March 30. “I know a lot of you have a personal interest in that date; that’s why I mention it,” Rawlings told a chuckling Board of Trustees Friday morning. Rawlings attributed the phenomenal 35 percent increase in applications over the past two years to a combination of “artificial reasons” and “encouraging trends.”

The University’s acceptance rate’s corresponding plunge to 21 percent is a steep drop from the odds facing the class of ’07, which had a 31 percent admission rate.

Last Friday morning, Interim President Hunter Rawlings III; Tim Lim ’06, president of the Student Assembly, and Timothy McConnochie grad, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GPSA), remarked on a gamut of current campus concerns, ranging from the aftermath of the Feb. 18 West Campus stabbing to the allocation of Student Assembly Finance Commission (SAFC) funds, during the open session of the Board of Trustees meeting.

Rawlings reported that Charles Holiday, the Feb. 18 stabbing victim who was a visitor to Cornell from Union College, has returned home from the hospital and is taking a leave of absence from school this semester to recover from injuries. The university remains in close contact with his family.

Alleged attacker Nathan Poffenbarger ’08 awaits a trial by grand jury, which may occur sometime in late April, according to Gwen Wilkinson, Tompkins County district attorney. Subsequent to the attack, student groups and individuals have criticized Cornell’s emergency-response protocol.

Rawlings acknowledged the shortcomings of how the incident was handled – “We recognize we should have put out information earlier” – and went on to emphasize a concerted campus effort to make the necessary changes to improve the system.

To what extent the attack may have been racially motivated is a question that has led the Cornell community into debate over broader issues of race and diversity on campus, which Rawlings presented to the trustees as a constructive phenomenon. He called the cooperation between the Cornell administration and the coalition of twenty student groups that organized the anti-racism rally on Ho Plaza “a very positive experience,” in which the students “brought concerns forward in a very forceful, but, I think, very reasonable manner.”

Rawlings said that the topic of having a required course in diversity is “a vexing question – one that has come up before.” Nevertheless he praised the recent efforts, as seen in “the excellent dialogue between students, faculty and involved administration [like Provost Biddy Martin].”

“A diversity plan is in the works and should be ready in a few weeks to present to the campus community,” said Rawlings.

Despite what he called “a great deal of work [still] to do,” Rawlings provided the trustees with some encouraging numbers on campus diversity. Cornell experienced a 58 percent increase in African-American applicants in the past two years and recently won an $810,800 share of the $6.78 million Jack Kent Cooke Foundation grant, which is awarded to eight elite universities to facilitate the transfer of low-income, high-achieving community college students into selective four-year institutions.

According to a Cornell press release on Mar. 6, “One of the major motivations behind the Cooke Foundation grants is to diversify the socioeconomic spectrum of major competitive colleges and universities.”

Lim announced the establishment of another new fund on campus, the Renewable Energy Fund, which was initiated and brought to the Student Assembly for approval by student group Kyoto Now. The fund earns Cornell renewable energy credits from the state of New York by agreeing to purchase a certain percentage of campus electricity from renewable energy sources. He called this commitment symbolic of Cornell’s priorities and warned that we are one of the last in the Ivy League to commit funds to this type of project, with “Harvard [being the first] to take the step forward … and we feel we are sort of on the back burner.”

Aside from drawing out of the student activity fee, other finance options for the fund include having individual $10 contribution options available for checking-off on student bursar bills.

In another comparison to the rest of the Ivies, Lim reported Cornell’s student activity fee, $182 per student, as currently the third highest in the league – “likely to be first highest in five or six years.” Lim said, “We recommend a more stringent process for requesting funding [from the SAFC, for student organizations].” Lim gave suggestions such as requiring groups to submit funding proposals to a faculty reviewer.

The other president McConnochie spoke to the trustees on behalf of the GPSA regarding graduate housing concerns and student-elected trustees.

“I submit it is undesirable that [under the current system] it is possible for both student trustees to be graduate students, with no undergraduate representation, and [vice versa],” said McConnochie. “We argue for a guaranteed seat for both a graduate and undergraduate trustee.” He also noted the presence of difficulties currently standing in the way of this proposal.

A prominent example of housing concerns among graduate students is the University’s plan to house undergraduates in Hasbrouck Apartments, a graduate student community. Graduate students now are voicing concerns over their housing situation at Cornell.

Though Cornell cited a 30-percentage vacancy statistic when making plans for Hasbrouck, McConnochie referred to incidents of graduate students being turned down for housing at Hasbrouck. Vice President Susan Murphy told The Sun, “We are looking into it.”

Aside from the Hasbrouck question, McConnochie pointed to a considerable deficit in informational and advising resources for newly arrived graduate students.

“Over 80 percent of Cornell grad students live off campus…[yet] there is a lack of expertise available to advise them [on how to obtain quality, affordable housing].” He proposed establishing an off-campus housing office within Campus Life to address the vast majority of graduate students’ housing needs, along with those of a sizable portion of the undergraduate population, better.

As Murphy told a small group of graduate students following the open session, “One thing that has clearly emerged is that there is a lot we have to learn about graduate housing here.”

Archived article by Suzy Gustafson
Sun Staff Writer