Due to severe structural deficiencies, the Big Red Barn, a historic landmark that has been on campus since the 1870s, will “remain closed indefinitely” while undergoing evaluation and repair, according to its website. Originally a carriage house to the Cornell president’s home and currently a campus dining facility and graduate and professional student center, the BRB’s closure at 2 p.m. on Dec. 3 incited a strong reaction from Cornell’s graduate student community.
At the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly Council of Representatives meeting on Dec. 10, GPSA student representatives, Sunny Power, dean of the Graduate School, and Brenda Wickes, assistant dean of graduate student life, discussed the BRB’s closure and other topics related to the University’s graduate population such as the Graduate Community Initiative (GCI).
“We are not sure if [the BRB] will re-open in the spring,” Power said. She acknowledged, however, that there is “a good sense of urgency among the administration” citing “a lot of panic when the Barn closed down.”
The BRB is on the University’s historic register. Renovating it, according to Power, poses complications as the University must decide whether the building should be fixed to stand permanently, or to suffice for the next two to five years.
Over Thanksgiving break, the roof of the Barn was reportedly caving in, and according to Wickes, the snow and ice will only make it worse for the stability of the building and the safety of those within it. Power said that even though the BRB is not considered a “major renovation building,” it has been “moving through the system since last fall.” A new graduate and professional student center is part of the University’s long-term Master Plan, but Power stated that now there is “more pressure to find a space quickly.”
Meanwhile, graduate students are left without a place to hold administrative and social events. Power stated that while the University does understand the importance of having a graduate and professional student center on campus, there is no set timeframe for the creation of a new one. “It is not inconceivable that some slight opening of space could be used for graduate students,” she said.
The GCI, a long-term “vision” created by members of the GPSA, was presented to the Cornell community and University administrators including President David Skorton, Provost Biddy Martin, Vice Presidents Susan Murphy and Tommy Bruce, Deans Alison Power and Kent Hubbell, Executives of the Employee Assembly, University Assembly, and Student Assembly and the Board of Trustees. According to Michelle Leinfelder, GPSA vice president, the GCI addresses aspects of graduate and professional student life at Cornell such as housing, career services and student activities.
According to the GCI, “Graduate and professional students alike feel disenfranchised from the wider Cornell community and undervalued by the university as a whole.” The GCI continues: “Undergraduate facilities, residences, financial aid and student services have prospered in the past few years,” while “graduate and professional students remain on the edge of campus concerns.”
As outlined in the GCI, grads feel they are “Lacking a well-equipped central space on campus or a strong residential presence,” and as a result “remain a disparate community,” that is confined “in their labs or libraries, or in their professional school.” Numerous GPSA representatives voiced their feelings that the creation of a new student center would facilitate a more tight-knit community among the University’s graduate students.
“There are risks where grads fall through the cracks in terms of services on campus,” Power said, citing specific issues that she considers “both short and long term,” like transportation, childcare and career services, which she said “doesn’t go into academic career options.” The GCI also calls for a closer relationship between Cornell’s career services and local Ithaca employers, not only for grads, but also for their spouses: “Many students choose not to attend Cornell because their spouses are unable to find employment in the local area. While we recognize that this is a priority with faculty hires, some consideration must be given to incoming graduate and professional students.”
Wickes also announced changes in University housing that will affect graduate students. The Thurston Avenue apartments, as well as Hasbrouck Apartments, will be returned to graduate students. She said by 2020, Maplewood Park apartments will close and there will be a new residential area for graduates with an additional 500 beds. This initiative coincides with a housing plan for undergraduates providing future classes with 1,000 more beds.