I am a proud Cornellian. As a second-semester senior, I can easily say that I have experienced the roller coaster of ups and downs that virtually every Cornellian before me has felt. Regardless of what highs and lows this school has brought me to, I truly believe that this school, and the students in it, are a testament to what an elite education can do for both the individual and society as a whole. Cornell is, quite simply, a remarkable institution, with brilliant professors and students. Unfortunately, the university’s administration is a great stain on an otherwise incredible and noble history.
In past columns, I have described the problems with the administration’s compulsive spending and inattention to the needs of lower-income students. But I never delved into the root of these problems. At the heart of the issues that plague everyday students is an administration that, quite simply, sees its students as numbers and not as human beings.
One of my favorite examples of the heartless attitude of Day Hall was during my freshman year. The University’s president at the time — David Skorton, who is now the Secretary of the Smithsonian — announced, out of nowhere, that all students would be forced to pay a $350 health care fee. Naturally, students were outraged (oddly enough, however, there was no backlash to Skorton’s massive yearly increases in tuition). A group of about 100 students marched into Day Hall to protest Skorton’s fee. Upon arrival, the president got into the face of a student and screamed, “The fact that you’re pissed off doesn’t change the bottom line of the university.”
I was outraged by the Skorton comment — and so was most of the rest of campus. Skorton spent literally billions of dollars of university money in constructing new buildings and a new tech campus, and threw Cornell an extravagant 150th birthday party that year (heck the guy even renamed Gannett after himself). Skorton then had the gall to yell at a student who was, quite naturally, angry that the president was stealing more money from Cornell families.
Flash-forward three years, and another Cornell president spit in the face of Cornellians. This time, President Pollack did not support an independent audit of the university’s mental health programs. Cornell’s mental health programs, which routinely neglect to provide the kind of services necessary to have a healthy student body, was allowed to remain in the shadows and continue to fail students.
Skorton and Pollack represent threads in a larger fabric of indifference to the real problems that face students. In my four years at Cornell, tuition has increased $7,500 — an increase that hurts the wallets of every all but the wealthiest students across campus. There has been no remorse for this decision, no apology, no pledge to work to halt the skyrocketing costs. The administration simply keeps burdening students with bills they cannot afford, to pay for projects that are unnecessary and a waste of valuable resources.
One of the great reasons why this tragedy has allowed to continue for years is that there is nothing standing in the way of the administration. The Board of Trustees has absolutely no stake in the game: they are largely a group of wealthy, well-connected alumni who have absolutely no idea of what it means to be on a budget. Their wealth and privilege isolate them from the very real problems — financial or otherwise — that face the majority of the student population. More importantly, there is no reason for them to feel accountable because they are not elected by students and their families. They are either elected by each other, or by detached, distant alumni who no longer pay tuition bills and no longer live the daily trials of student life.
In the face of this egregiousness, some have done the brave work of standing up to the administration. I was shocked when Prof. Isaac Kramnick, government and Glenn Altschuler, dean of School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions, rebuked the administration and the Board of Trustees in their address at Cornell’s sesquicentennial celebrations in 2015. Some students have also protested, written columns in The Sun, and have demanded accountability from Day Hall. Yet these isolated acts are not enough.
If Cornell is to improve and be held accountable to the very people that fund its operations, students and professors alike must be willing to take a bigger stand against the injustices of the Administration. A dialogue should begin, and people should be willing to press the university on its administrative and budgetary decisions. It is only when students stand up for themselves that Day Hall will no longer look at us as simply numbers in their grander ploy for prestige.
Michael Glanzel is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Cornell Shrugged appears alternate Mondays this semester.