May 5, 2010

Urban Scholars Program Suspended Indefinitely

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The Cornell Urban Scholars Program –– which has worked to eradicate poverty in the New York City area –– has been suspended indefinitely due to lack of funding, according to the program’s website.The program’s website states: “CUSP is currently reassessing the program following funding changes and we are suspending the program until further notice.”According to Prof. Ann Forsyth, city and regional planning, the program had been funded externally by the Hecksher Foundation from 2002 until 2009, but once the financial crisis hit, the foundation could no longer maintain its funding commitment. She added that the CUSP has yet to find an alternative source of funding.In the past, the program has worked with New York City non-for-profit organizations and local government agencies to eradicate poverty in the city.“CUSP seeks to achieve this goal by encouraging Cornell’s most talented students to pursue public service careers with organizations working with New York City’s poorest children, families, and communities,” the CUSP website states.The program used to offer an undergraduate summer research internship, a graduate research fellowship in Children, Families and Community Development Policy-Making, an Urban Mentor Initiative and a social justice and public scholarship concentration.Alumni of the program, including Asa Craig ‘11, are outraged by the program’s sudden termination. In a letter drafted by Craig and other CUSP Class of 2009 alumni Adam Baratz ’11, Ali Hussain ’11, Emma Schain ’11, and Eric Woods ’11, the students criticized the University for allowing the program to shut down and invited College Deans, Provost Fuchs and President Skorton to an open discussion about CUSP, social justice and public engagement at Cornell.“We hope to raise awareness on the eradication of the Cornell Urban Scholars Program, a program whose death was hushed and has since slipped from the consciousnesses of the University,” the letter states.In the letter, the students added that the program’s ability to provide hands on experience to classroom training, to aid the efforts of innovative nonprofit organizations and local government agencies, to attract a diverse group of students, to enhance the lives of New York citizens while linking Cornell to the state of New York and to help students realize their potential for change and participation in social justice careers.They worry that the end of this program diminishes Cornell’s connection to the state and New York City.  “Today, it seems like Cornell’s only emphasis as an institution is contributing scholars to Wall Street, not Main Street,” the letter reads.Additionally, the students argue that CUSP is a perfect way for Cornell to achieve many of Cornell’s current Reimagining Cornell goals of social justice, public policy and public engagement.The letter states, “We believe that CUSP is a tangible way to transition from idealistic rhetoric to realized institutional goals: cutting CUSP indicates an institutional retreat from engagement to our New York State community.Craig added that cutting the program is not representative of Cornell’s overall institutional plan.  “The community is waiting to see how the university is going to implement all the things they want to do. So cutting urban scholars at an intermediary point may save some money here but by cutting it [I wonder] what message is being sent. This could be a symbol of what Cornell wants to move towards,” he said.As a way to alleviate the financial burden, Craig suggests that the program become university-wide and not solely hosted by the College of Art and Architecture Planning.  “One of the things that we recognize is that we are coming from all different colleges so what is the point of having one college bear the burden,” Craig stated. “This should be an institution wide program to emphasize social justice and engagement…There are things that can be instituted to make the program more efficient.”According to Forsyth, administrators are currently working on integrating the Urban Scholars Program into the Cornell in Washington Program –– using some of the program’s remaining savings.The consolidated program will have the same urban and social justice focus and will include an internship and course during the spring semester in Washington, D.C., instead of a summer internship in New York City following a spring semester course at Cornell.  “This program will allow Cornell in Washington to focus on Washington as an urban place on more of a local level and look at social equity and social justice issues in Washington, the city and region,” Forsyth stated.Craig and other alumni, however, remained unenthusiastic about the University’s proposed changes.“Unfortunately, by not being in New York, the program loses much of what it was meant to do,” Craig said.

Original Author: Michelle Honor