November 20, 2014

EZRA’S ORACLE: November 21, 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.

Now that winter has suddenly appeared in Ithaca, what’s the coldest it has ever been here?

— Frosty the Snowman ’15

According to the Northeast Regional Climate Center, which is based here at Cornell, the Ithaca weather has occasionally dipped below -20 degrees Fahrenheit (-29°C). January 15 and 16, 1957 hit -25°F (-32°C), as did February 2, 1961. The Cornell Daily Sun editorialized on the frigid temperatures on January 16, 1957 with a typically Cornellian response: “We don’t mind a little suffering here and there. We don’t even mind occasional snow flurries, thunder showers or hail storms. We can even accept with some small bit of philosophy the afflictions of Ithaca’s floods and snow-storms. But when we have to suffer through the coldest night in the history of Ithaca — more or less — then we draw the line. When such an event comes, it is only natural, we think, to question the cause for it all. Why should cars be stalled or stuck, hands cold or frozen, heat minimal or non-existant [sic]? There is only one answer that we can see. Cornell has not been Living Right. Someone who has been watching all the recent antics of all sorts around and about this campus has finally decided there was only one thing to do — punish us with freezing cold. We have only one consolation. Molecular action does not cease until -273 degrees.”

But don’t despair. Summer weather is just around the corner. A corner that is very far away. If you need some warming up, Ithaca’s record high temperature appears to have been 103°F (39°C) on July 9, 1936.

I just realized that Wednesday classes before Thanksgiving break are canceled this year. When did this happen?!

— Calendar Impaired ’16

The new calendar was officially announced back in September 2012, so many students have forgotten about the changes going into effect this fall for the first time. We experienced our first February break last spring, but many forgot that we’re also getting an extra day off before Thanksgiving. Most students probably didn’t notice since they’ve been skipping classes on that day since they were freshmen, which surely played a role in the calendar committee’s recommendations.

The battle over Thanksgiving vacation actually dates back to over a century ago, when the University Trustees resolved in 1893 that Thanksgiving break be confined to only Thursday. A series of student petitions and protests in 1895 won an extended holiday, with classes suspended from Wednesday evening to Saturday morning. However, Thanksgiving break was once again reduced to a single day in 1915. Skipping class around vacations was such an issue at the time that the College of Arts and Sciences passed a resolution to put students on probation if they were absent immediately preceding or following a vacation day. In 1917, students were fined two dollars for taking vacation early. Following years of protests from the students, Thanksgiving break was finally extended again to Friday in 1927. With the exception of calendar changes during World War II, the Thanksgiving break has been largely unchanged until this year. So be thankful that you get all of Wednesday off. And that you won’t be fined or put on probation if you skip classes on Tuesday.

Is it true that Cornell is required to build new buildings in the style of the times?

— Tear Down Uris Hall ’15

While I’m unaware of an official mandate regarding Cornell’s campus architecture, it’s true that at least the unofficial policy has been to maintain an architectural diversity reminiscent of the University motto’s emphasis on diversity of students and studies. Any person, any study, any architectural style. Instead of making every new building look like the Collegiate Gothic style of the Baker dormitories, it’s easy to see the progression through time as you look around campus, from the Engineering Quad buildings once described as “1950s elementary school” style to the modern glass-covered Physical Sciences Building and Gates Hall. The University Architect and University Planner work in conjunction to ensure that each new addition to campus fits the overall goals, needs and environment. Efforts have often been made to transition contrasting styles, like the beautiful atrium connecting Baker Laboratory and Physical Sciences. While the University Architect is responsible for building designs and the consistency of campus architecture, the University Planner handles the more holistic view of building placement, land use, transportation, infrastructure and the overall campus environment. For a glimpse at what Cornell might look like in 50 years, check out the 2008 Cornell Master Plan at

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