Michael Wenye Li / Sun Staff Photographer

Provost Michael Kotlikoff presenting the new Cornell housing master plan, which has been slated for completion by fall 2020 at the Student Assembly meeting Thursday.

December 1, 2016

Kotlikoff: New Housing Plan Increasing Enrollment Could Drop Cornell’s Ranking

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Correction appended

Provost Michael Kotlikoff revealed that his proposed housing plan — which would be financed by an increase in class size — could cause Cornell’s U.S. News and World Report ranking to drop at a Student Assembly Rockefeller Hall Thursday.

At the meeting, the assembly also passed a resolution supporting the petition for Cornell to become a sanctuary campus, in addition to weighing the ramifications of building new housing. A new Cornell housing master plan is slated for completion by fall 2020.

Kotlikoff explained that, partly because of the 2008 recession, Cornell’s financial health had deteriorated. This decline meant Cornell would have to defer important renovation and construction projects such as the McGraw Hall renovation.

“We have the largest class size but one of the smallest endowments out of all the Ivies,” Kotlikoff said.  “We simply don’t have the ability to construct extensive housing projects right now.”

He also said that any new project would not be funded through conventional methods, like alumni donations or tuition fee increases, but by increasing Cornell’s class size.

“We are looking to increase the freshman class size by 250 to 275 students. This increase will give us sufficient capital for construction, without requiring any tangible expansion in dining and other facilities across campus,” Kotlikoff said.

In the long term, however, the plan envisions a sophomore housing community on North Campus, with a capacity between 1,250 and 2,000 students.

“Only 59 percent of sophomores currently reside on campus,” Kotlikoff said. “We’d ideally like to see an increase of about 15 percent in that figure.”

However, the provost also noted that increased enrollment could have potential downsides, including a lower rankings in the U.S. News and World Report.

Kotlikoff argued that if the new housing plan is delivered, it would significantly improve the University’s logistical issues, and even provide additional investment for academic purposes.

“These immense positives mean that a slightly lowered University rank cannot really be considered a major failure in the long run,” he said.

The other significant issue at hand for the assembly was the resolution declaring Cornell a sanctuary campus for DACA students.

Julia Montejo ’17, the S.A. vice president for diversity and inclusion, argued that while the Trump administration can repeal the DACA program, the University and Cornell University Police Department would still be under no legal obligation to release the personal information of DACA students.

“We aren’t asking for a substantial allocation of resources to assist DACA students,” Montejo said. “The Cornell Law School already runs free legal clinics — these should be expanded to accommodate legal assistance for those under threat from U.S. Immigrations and Customs authorities.”

S.A. vice president for internal operations, Mitchell McBride ’17 objected to this assertion, arguing that a refusal to cooperate with U.S. immigration authorities could cause Cornell to lose government funding.

“Losing our financial aid capability will hurt more students than a repeal of DACA status,” he said.

Montejo replied by pointing out that many other prominent institutions, including Harvard and University of Pennsylvania, had already declared sanctuary status, and Cornell should follow their lead by placing moral principles above financial concerns.

Christian Brickhouse ’17 argued the same point on ethical grounds, invoking Ezra Cornell’s founding principles as a reason to pass the resolution.

“If we don’t pass this resolution we’re essentially conveying the message that Cornell isn’t a place for ‘any person’ anymore,” he said. “Even if the resolution has no actual effect on Cornell’s response, it’s important for us to send the right message.”

The resolution eventually passed with a resounding majority.

The assembly also discussed the renovation of areas outside Schwartz Center, changes in the collegiate subscription structure of the New York Times and changes in candidates’ expenditure regulations during the spring 2017 S.A. elections.

After prolonged debate over the nature and costs of campaigning, especially through social media, the assembly passed revised limits on out-of-pocket spending by candidates, as well amended the amounts that candidates would be reimbursed by the S.A. following elections.

A previous version of this story incorrectly quoted Provost Kotlikoff as stating that Cornell has the smallest endowment of any Ivy League school. In fact, he said Cornell has one of the smallest endowments.