March 27, 2014

EZRA’S ORACLE: March 28, 2014

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Ezra’s Oracle welcomes inquiries from members of the Cornell community about anything and everything related to the University. We seek out answers to campus mysteries, research rumors, and investigate issues of relevance to Cornellians. Questions can be submitted via email to [email protected].

What’s the story behind Happy Dave at Okenshields? Is he a Cornell alum? How long has he worked at Okenshields? I hear so many interesting stories about him and I’d love to know what’s true!

— Meal Swiper ’14

The best way to learn more is to ask him! Dave’s friendly face has been greeting generations of Cornellians at Okenshields since at least the mid-1990s, but he’s maintained an aura of mystery despite his celebrity status. A particularly savvy sleuth can find a bit more information online, like the fact that Dave did indeed arrive at Cornell as a student in the 1970s. But we won’t reveal all his secrets. If you’re not a frequent visitor to Okenshields, keep an eye out for him on Slope Day, happily distributing water bottles to the dehydrated masses. Perhaps the best lesson we can learn from Dave is that a smile goes a long way.

With President Skorton leaving Cornell in 2015 to lead the Smithsonian Institution, how will his successor be picked? Is nine years typical for a Cornell president?

— Future President ’14

To select Skorton’s successor, a search committee will be appointed by chairman of the Board of Trustees Robert Harrison ’76 with representatives from a variety of constituencies, likely including trustees, faculty, students, staff, administrators and alumni. Trustee Jan Rock Zubrow ’77 has been announced as the committee chair.

A 2006 American Council on Education survey found that college and university presidents served 8.5 years on average. Of the 11 Cornell presidents before Skorton, the average tenure has been about 12 years, ranging from two years (Jeffrey Lehman ’77 from 2003 to 2005) to 28 years (Jacob Gould Schurman from 1892 to 1920). But only one of the last five Cornell presidents stayed in office longer than 8 years. Cornell has benefited from President Skorton’s leadership and vision for nearly a decade, and the Smithsonian is lucky to have him.

I know Bill Gates provided funding for Gates Hall, but what is his connection to Cornell?

— Windows User ’17

Although he dropped out of Harvard University, Gates has strong ties to Cornell, as evidenced by the $25 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for the construction of Gates Hall. When Gates spoke on campus in 2004, he emphasized the many Cornellians working at Microsoft and the pioneering research done at Cornell during the development of the Internet. But Cornell University also played a key role in influencing Microsoft’s strategic direction. In 1994, Gates’s technical assistant Steve Sinofsky ’87 visited campus and noticed how Cornell was already taking advantage of the fledgling Internet for email, course listings, faculty collaborations and more. He sent an email to Gates and Microsoft staff with the subject “Cornell is WIRED!” The email led to a 300-page memo encouraging Microsoft to focus on the Internet, and web browser Internet Explorer was released a year later. Gates wrote in his own autobiography in 1995, “When I heard Steve talk about what was happening at Cornell, I began to take the Internet quite seriously.” With Gates Hall scheduled to be officially dedicated in October 2014, including another visit by Bill Gates himself, Cornell’s role in Microsoft’s success will be formally commemorated on campus.

Were the low rises or high rises on North Campus actually designed to be riot proof?

— Architectural Agitator ’16

They may be confusing to navigate, but the North Campus dorms weren’t actually designed to prevent student riots. The first of the low rises opened in the fall of 1969 during an era of student activism and protests. However, the suites and split-level design used in these buildings were considered an innovative way to better create close-knit small communities. By introducing suites, the new dorms avoided long corridors and gave residents more privacy. In a 1970 Sun interview, the director of construction described the split-level design of the high rises being built as a way of providing “a living environment, as opposed to the coldness of ordinary apartment living.” While newer dorms like the West Campus Houses still strive to create a sense of community for students, the strategies used in newer residences focus less on the physical structure and more on the programming and living-learning environment.

Curious about Cornelliana? Looking for Cornell lore behind a legend? Submit your questions to [email protected]. Ezra’s Oracle appears alternate Fridays this semester.