In 2011, when the University indefinitely paused the much-needed reconstruction of the historic McGraw Hall, The Sun warned in a editorial called “Don’t Forget McGraw” that “projects without definitive timetables often linger and can be forgotten.” Seven years later, it is clear to see that is exactly what happened. Cornell forgot about McGraw Hall.
What message does the administration send to Cornell’s humanities students, to its anthropologists and its historians, when instead of rebuilding McGraw’s collapsing walls, it simply installs “temporary” metal support frames on its exterior and calls it a day? Students attending class and office hours in McGraw enter literally under a dark cloud — the shadow of the protective scaffolding placed above the building’s main entrance to protective from falling chunks of roof. They ride an elevator with holes in it, and sit with their professors underneath ceilings with growing cracks, and quietly ponder just how much longer this jury-rigged setup can hold out.
In the time since Cornell “paused” its McGraw Hall repairs, it has (in no particular order): renovated Stocking Hall and the Dairy Bar, built CIS a new home in state-of-the-art Gates Hall, gave the Big Red Marching Band a new perch at Fischell Center, embarked on an ambitious overhaul of Rand Hall for a fine arts library, ensconced a few lucky A&S faculty and administrators in Klarman Hall, and built an entire future-world New York City campus for Cornell Tech.
And yet, McGraw Hall still crumbles into the ground!
We are left with two questions. Firstly, does Cornell care about its history? McGraw Hall is the third-oldest building on campus. Ezra and Andrew walked its halls, heard the bells it once housed, and if statues could cry, theirs would be bawling at McGraw’s sad state. Cornell owes it to its own past to fix McGraw.
Secondly, does Cornell care about its history department? Not history as it relates to computer science, or history as it informs economics and finance. Not history in the way that it has become so fashionable to graft a whisper of the humanities onto the STEM behemoth. History as its own field of study, history as 21st century department that deserves a 21st century building.
The administration claims that it is making progress on renovating McGraw. In March, The Sun reported that “the various stakeholders” were reviewing a plan put together by consultants on how to proceed with the long-stalled project. However, this review is open-ended, and much like the 2011 “pause” comes without a timeline. In reality, there is not yet even a plan in place to fundraise for the necessary repairs, let alone a plan to complete them. Unless and until the University outlines the concrete steps it will take to repair McGraw, we can only assume the administration is focused on flashier, trendier projects.
Cornell has forgotten McGraw, but history will remember.