February 17, 2011

When in Rome…

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If you’re a student in the School of Industrial Labor Relations, College of Human Ecology or College of Art, Architecture and Planning, you should know that the administration doesn’t think you ever deserve to be considered in the same light as your peers. This is because they obdurately refuse to bestow you with the same praise as your fellow students in other Cornell colleges. No matter how hard you work, how much research you do and how high your grades are, you will never be able to graduate with the same academic honors as your fellow 11,000 classmates.Our administration would agree with Ann Coulter ’84 in saying that your degree is worth less by virtue of the college you attend. Not so long ago, Coulter, playing her usual role of agent provocateur (read: self-promoting extremist sociopath who is destroying America), alleged that Keith Olbermann ’79 did not attend “the real Cornell.” Rather, because he graduated from a statutory college, Olbermann’s degree came from “Old MacDonald Cornell.” Coulter’s allegations were not only ludicrous and petty, but also untrue and contrary to the founding ideal and motto of our school: “any person, any study.” But now, our own administration is embracing this very message by enforcing policies that, like Coulter’s statements, hammer a powerful symbolic wedge between three of our seven colleges.Students in the Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Agriculture and Life Sciences and the School of Hotel Administration can graduate with three levels of Latin honors: (1) cum laude (“with honor”), (2) magna cum laude (“with great honor”) and (3) summa cum laude (“with highest honor”). Within these colleges, different majors have different GPA cutoffs and specific requirements for Latin honors, but the point is that all are afforded the opportunity to receive them. This is the fundamental injustice for students in ILR, HumEc and AAP — they are not afforded the same opportunity. They can only graduate with the all-or-nothing designation “with honors” by writing a thesis or the ambiguously-phrased “distinction” for exceeding minimum grade requirements. Distinction? Covering my clothes with a coat of feces before going to class is highly distinctive. Achieving a 4.2 as a Policy Analysis and Management major is not just distinctive, it merits graduating with highest honor.Why should some schools have Latin honors, while others don’t? The answer is that there is no answer. The distinctions are arbitrary. Arbitrary distinctions define inequity and epitomize the commands of dictators, morals of racists and beliefs of cretins, not the policies of prominent international research universities.These arbitrary distinctions result in some pathetically unjust anomalies. For example, both the College of Human Ecology and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences offer the exact same major: “Biology and Society.” However a graduate of the latter college can receive three levels of Latin honors, while a graduate of the former cannot. To graduate with “distinction” in Human Ecology, you must be in the top two percent of your class — a requirement that would typically merit the highest praise (summa cum laude) in a Latin honors system. Why do Human Ecology students need to work harder and perform better for lesser academic distinctions? Because the administration thinks that a degree from the College of Human Ecology is worth less than one from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.How cruel an irony it is for Cornell to proclaim (in its strategic plan for the future) that its “core values” are to “reward and recognize merit,” as well as “embrace difference and diversity,” while simultaneously ignoring the academic merit and punishing the intellectual diversity of more than 2,000 students by refusing to give them the recognition they deserve. This disparate treatment is not a novel or passing concern either, but rather a protracted bureaucratic intransigence. Even a simple Google search of the very generally phrased “Cornell graduation honors” reveals (as top results no less) numerous articles and forum discussions expressing frustration with this institutional inequity. Yet, the University has done nothing. This must stop. If it wasn’t before, it is now finally time for us to make the University do something. Give Latin honors to everyone who has earned them.

Original Author: Sebastian Deri