March 7, 2017

LEE | Progressive and Pragmatic

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From its beginning, Cornell University has been bold and unorthodox in many ways. It was one of the first few universities to become coeducational in 1870, nearly 100 years before its peers in the Ivy League. University cofounder Ezra Cornell was a pioneer in the telegraph business, devising the idea of connecting telegraph lines with glass-insulated poles. The “any person, any study” mantra that still forms the backbone of the institution today was revolutionary for the time.

Due to its origin and development, Cornell inevitably became progressive and pragmatic. Unlike many universities that have one or two colleges at the undergraduate level, devoted to a broad range of arts and sciences, Cornell houses seven different specialized colleges, each tailored to distinct interests. The School of Hotel Administration’s requirements, for instance, include 800 hours of work in the hospitality or service industry, taking professional development to a level beyond most undergraduate studies in the nation.

Moreover, Cornell places a strong emphasis on career advising and job searches. In 2015, more than 60 percent of ILR bachelor’s degree recipients reported finding employment by utilizing the school’s advisories, such as career services or on-campus recruiting. The way in which professional networking is viewed as a prized asset also indicates the university’s prevalent business-oriented ambience.

As such, Cornell has often received criticism for being too career-focused and lacking a liberal arts character in its academics. Critics, many of whom include Cornell’s very own faculty and students, assert that higher education should stress scholastic depth over mere employment preparation.

However, I don’t believe that Cornell’s career-oriented climate is harmful. Rather, it prepares graduates for the “real world,” which places emphasis on practicality over scholarly learning. The endless career service emails and campus-wide networking sessions serve as stepping stones toward achieving such pragmatism. The best type of learning encompasses both theory and experience. The demanding coursework and intense professional atmosphere at Cornell helps its students to develop a fuller undergraduate experience, both educational and functional.

Such an atmosphere can make some feel as if they’re left behind. The few classics majors struggle to preserve their specialty as the world around them demands more practicality. Those who came to Cornell in search of a more pure academic experience may be lost trying to navigate as the rest of their peers in business and engineering appear to have definitive professional goals.

Nevertheless, times have changed. The value of college does not merely lie in its academics, but also in its ability to prepare scholars for their future career path. In this age of rapid transformation, the ability to adapt to such change is a necessary virtue. Likewise, Cornell should help students acclimate to these demands of the world. It should prepare its students for adulthood by embracing the true meaning of learning in the modern day, which incorporates both scholarship and proficiency.
DongYeon (Margaret) Lee is a freshman in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at [email protected]. Here, There and Everywhere appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.