October 9, 2014

EZRA’S ORACLE: October 10, 2014

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Ezra’s Oracle welcomes inquiries from all 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]. Or whisper them in the ear of the Ezra Cornell statue on the Arts Quad.

Q: A February break was added to the calendar last year, but when was fall break added?

— Already Left Town ’15

A: We know that no one is reading today’s issue of The Sun since most students have already fled Ithaca for fall break, but we’ll answer this question anyway. In the midst of the particularly gray and dismal fall of 1977, approximately 500 students marched across campus at midnight to demand a week’s vacation. (The protest is perhaps best remembered for its chant: “We will stay and freeze our asses until Frank Rhodes cancels classes.”) The following year, as part of a University-wide effort to examine mental health and academic pressure, a committee recommended changes to the university calendar, resulting in an “optional” one-day break in October 1978 that few faculty actually observed. After considerable debate, including a proposal to take a full week off at Thanksgiving, a two-day break in October was instituted in 1979 and is now a welcome respite as the mid-semester prelims pile up.

Q: Last week, Cornell announced Elizabeth Garrett as its first women president. What leadership roles have women held in Cornell’s administration?

— President Garrett Fan Club ’15

A: Despite Cornell leading the Ivy League in the admittance of women students, our alma mater has trailed some of our peers in other respects. Perhaps the highest ranking woman in leadership at Cornell has been Carolyn A. “Biddy” Martin, who served as our first and only female provost from 2000 to 2008. Laurie Glimcher became the first woman to serve as Cornell’s provost of medical affairs and dean of its medical school in 2012. In 1976, Constance A. Cook ’41, JD ’43 became Cornell’s first woman vice president, serving as vice president for land grant affairs until 1980. Cornell first appointed women to full professorships in 1911, when the leaders of the Department of Home Economics (Human Ecology’s predecessor, formerly housed in the College of Agriculture) Martha Van Rensselaer and Flora Rose were promoted. A resolution from the faculty is particularly telling of the general sentiment at the time: “Resolved, That the University Faculty, while not favoring in general the appointment of women to professorships, interpose no objection to their appointment in the Department of Home Economics in the College of Agriculture.” Cornell has yet to elect a woman as chair of its board of trustees, and many individuals colleges have not yet been led by female deans.

Q: What’s the story behind the tradition of Homecoming?

— Nostalgic Alumnus ’14

A: Cornell’s Homecoming tradition dates back to November 13, 1920, when 2,000 alumni returned to campus to celebrate a “New York State Cornell Day” as a kick-off to a state-wide Cornell Endowment Fund campaign. With typically dreary Ithaca weather, the weekend featured a buffet luncheon with performances by the University Band and Glee Club, a football game against Columbia (a 34-7 victory) and an evening lecture on the “political situation in the Far East.” The next year, the second annual celebration of New York Cornellians was part of a week of activities that included the inauguration of President Livingston Farrand, the laying of the cornerstone of Baker Laboratory and the semi-centennial of the College of Architecture.

However, the first official “Autumn Alumni Homecoming” was held on November 4, 1922. The success of the previous two years convinced Cornell to encourage all Cornellians to return for a football game each fall. The weekend was combined with the 35th anniversary celebration of the Cornell Law School, and this first annual Homecoming football game was a 56-to-0 trouncing of Columbia.

Interest and attendance at Homecoming has fluctuated over the years, but a renewed focus by the University in recent years has substantially expanded programming. Attempts to increase student involvement included a parade of student organizations in 2009 and 2010. A Cornell Concert Commission show was added to the weekend in 2011, and a fireworks and laser light show added in 2012. Five years ago, it seemed like few students were even aware of when Homecoming was, but that situation seems to have changed for the better. This year, with Homecoming combined with the Trustee-Council Annual Meeting for a special sesquicentennial kick-off, next weekend will likely be particularly crowded on campus.

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