Cornell is leveling its hundred year-old baseball field to begin building a hundred million dollar computer science building later this year.
The razing of Hoy Field is about so much more than baseball. It’s a sign of how narrow our conception has become of what kind of human you can be at Cornell.
I toured Cornell’s campus with my dad on a warm spring day in 2018. Immediately after arriving, I looked out from our parking spot in Hoy Garage and noticed a baseball game happening below. “Look at those buildings,” I said, pointing to Rhodes and Gates excitedly. “I could catch a ballgame while studying!”
This memory strikes me when I walk by Hoy Field. My high school self had a conception that I should be a full human at Cornell, one who blended work and play and had passions outside of the classroom. But at our worst, Cornellians are little more than problem set-producing robots with neck pain.
The things we build communicate our values — and we should value a baseball field above a new computer science building, even one with colorful furniture and central heating. What values does a field for baseball convey?
Baseball teaches us how to fail. Much like an undergrad taking an organic chemistry prelim, if a batter fails on two-thirds of his attempts, he’s considered excellent. Baseball eschews instant gratification — games are long and lack the violence or speed that make other sports stimulating. Baseball creates a link with our past — the Yankee great Lou Gehrig hit (an estimated) 450-foot home run at Hoy Field while playing for Columbia in 1923. This is why the theologian Stanley Hauerwas calls baseball “America’s greatest gift to civilization.” The game teaches patience in a world that keeps speeding up.
A bland new computer science building says that market logic should trump all other considerations. Cornell’s reason for building this unnamed computer science building is the sixfold increase in computer and information science enrollment in the past decade. Computer science didn’t suddenly become six times more interesting — the enrollment rise is driven by the lucrative salaries being handed to tech workers and Cornell’s belief that setting ourselves up to make money should be our biggest educational goal. To be more precise, a plurality of these graduates are going to work at Meta — which isn’t exactly the Mother Teresa of companies.
The building itself pays homage to Big Tech and the megacities drawing Cornell graduates by the thousands. The greige walls and nonspecific design give the same banal vibes as urban five-over-ones and the new dorms on North Campus — not to mention the tech campuses beckoning to computer science graduates. The building is and says nothing unique.
I think Cornellians are perfectly rational for wanting to study computer science. College and life are expensive, and some people find coding genuinely interesting. But as the tech world’s gravity becomes stronger, Cornell’s orientation will move away from molding students into more complete humans and towards giving the best bang for one’s buck. A Gimme! Coffee will sit in the new building’s lobby, aptly named for how students are being taught to approach their education — how much value can you take?
But I shouldn’t be so mean to my computer science friends. I’m no innocent observer; I’m as culpable in creating a University that values buildings over baseball as anyone else. I’ve never actually watched a Cornell baseball game, and I’m guessing you haven’t, either. A friend invited me on a sunny Sunday last spring, but I was too busy with homework.
Cornell used to see education as more than a mental marathon. In 1902, Professor Robert H. Thurston, director of the College of Engineering and namesake of Thurston Avenue, waded through cigar smoke to deliver a speech at Cornell’s “Sophomore Smoker” event. Thurston used his stump to praise athletics as part of a “golden mean” of activities making Cornellians “stronger physically and better spiritually and cleverer intellectually.”
Irony of the whole smoking thing aside, note how Thurston makes the case that Cornellians should be whole humans. Our physical, spiritual and intellectual lives are inextricably linked. But a University that gobbles up green space and charges for gym memberships sees career life as essential and other spheres as optional.
Hoy Field’s loss is symbolic of how out of whack Thurston’s golden mean has become. Of course we have inhuman sleep schedules, carpal tunnel and vitamin D deficiency. Our bodies don’t matter; only our minds do.
When the baseball team plays its last slew of home games next month, a smattering of fans might stop by. The Cornell Daily Sun might even cover it. But the battle is already over: We love money, gratification, career and computer science. There’s no room in our Google Calendars for a low-EV proposition like baseball.
And if I haven’t made this clear enough already, I think we’re the worse for it. There’s no crying in baseball. There will be plenty of crying in this new computer science building.
Jack Kubinec is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached [email protected]. You Don’t Know Jack runs alternate Thursdays this semester.