October 4, 2023

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Cornell Should Pay its Fair Share

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To the editor:

Cornell University has the immense privilege of being exempt from property taxes. It enjoys this privilege due to New York State law’s treatment of nonprofit organizations, the underlying purpose of which is to help sustain institutions that will serve the public interest. The tax exemption is a public subsidy to Cornell to support its mission to provide education for the common good. The public mission of education reflects the democratic value of education, which should benefit society as a whole and should not serve as a private commodity benefiting only the individual student or faculty member.

This tax exemption — this public subsidy — heightens Cornell’s moral obligation and social duty to act as a responsible member of the communities in which it is embedded. The communities of Ithaca and Tompkins County benefit from Cornell’s presence. However, that is only a part of the story. Cornell’s presence also imposes heavy financial and social costs on these communities through Cornell’s use of public services, its enjoyment of the benefits of this region and its negative impact of raising the cost of living in Ithaca and surrounding communities. To maintain its legitimacy as an educational institution for the common good and to fulfill its moral and social obligations to contribute to the well-being of these communities, Cornell should pay its fair share to defray these heavy costs and contribute positively to the communities in which it lives. To maintain its standing as a national leader in sustainability and social progress, Cornell must show leadership in its own community by making payments commensurate with its rapid growth.

Further, as revealed by the Cornell University and Indigenous Dispossession Project, Cornell was founded on, and has profited from, Indigenous dispossession and land theft here on Gayogo̱hó:nǫɁ homelands and throughout the country. In addition to the forms of reparation called for by the Project, the University must change its extractive relationship to the communities of which we are a part. 

Cornell’s privileged legal status is a prime reason why Ithaca has accumulated a large public debt, why Ithaca faces a budget deficit this year and why Ithaca faces a sustainability crisis in the long term. For the last twenty years, Cornell has made a miserly contribution to the City of Ithaca, and even less to the wider communities in Tompkins County. Its contribution, moreover, has been heavily restricted so that much of the funding it does provide must be spent on priorities set or agreed to by Cornell, rather than on priorities established by the democratic process.

It is time for Cornell to face up to its responsibilities and to contribute its fair share. This requires Cornell to increase its payments to the City of Ithaca and other elected bodies, substantially beyond the $4 million currently on offer; to fully remove restrictions on the use of these funds; to remove prohibitions against advocating for changes to nonprofit tax law; and to agree to a more regular updating to account not just for inflation but for the growth of Cornell and new costs facing our communities.

Like many large enterprises, Cornell brings many benefits to the region. In making its case to the public, however, the University does not account for any of the costs it imposes alongside these benefits. For example, it lists the size of its payroll (as if though paying employees is an act of kindness), but does not list Ithaca’s shortage of affordable housing, or the higher property taxes paid by homeowners — and by extension renters — that results from Cornell’s tax exempt status. It lists grants it has provided to small businesses, but does not consider the enormous wear on public infrastructure generated by the influx of students, parents or alumni. It lists its investments in community organizations, but does not note the lack of public investments that results from its non-payment of taxes.

As faculty, we are members of the Cornell community. As residents of Ithaca, Lansing, Dryden, Trumansburg and elsewhere, we are also members of a wider set of communities in Tompkins County. These communities should not be separated based on their well-being and standards of living. But as long as Cornell continues to exempt itself from its social responsibilities, to believe that unlike other major employers and property owners it can set for itself the terms upon which this responsibility is met, Cornell makes our communities separate and decidedly unequal. While Cornell might privately decide to invest in local organizations, this is not equivalent to an investment in the public services and infrastructure under community direction and control that only public governments can achieve. 

Expanding public investments is an issue of racial and economic justice. Many workers, including many who are employed at Cornell, cannot afford to live in the City of Ithaca and rely on underfunded and inadequate public transportation to get to work. This visible and felt inequality makes it difficult to hire or retain workers of color. An Ithaca in which wealthier academic peers are segregated into overwhelmingly White neighborhoods while Ithaca’s historically Black neighborhoods remain cut off from Cornell’s wealth is not a welcoming environment for faculty or staff of color. 

As faculty at Cornell, we take note of the University’s stated commitments to diversity. A robust commitment to diversity requires paying a fair share to the city toward improved public infrastructure and public life. Rather than dispensing financial incentives to individuals that cumulatively yield professional redlining and exacerbate inequality, we call on the University to adopt holistic approaches toward recruitment and retention that involve public investments. Substantially increasing Cornell’s payment through a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) would be part of such a change, and could address the displacement experienced by low income and communities of color in Ithaca while creating more reciprocity between the University and the city.    

We call on Cornell to do the right thing and pay its fair share to the City of Ithaca and additional communities affected by Cornell’s presence, including Dryden, Lansing and Tompkins County. With its $10 billion endowment, Cornell can and should significantly increase its financial contribution to these communities. Cornell should engage in further negotiations to reach a fair agreement. 


Begum Adalet, Assistant Professor of Government

Chloe Ahmann, Assistant Professor of Anthropology

Esra Akcan, Professor, Department of Architecture

Michael Ashkin, Professor, Department of Art

Juan Manuel Aldape Muñoz, Assistant Professor, Performing and Media Arts

Annetta Alexandridis, Associate Professor of Art History and Classics

Santiago Anria, Assistant Professor, ILR

Ananda Cohen-Aponte, Associate Professor, History of Art

Oumar Ba, Assistant Professor of Government

Sandra Babcock, Clinical Professor of Law

Christine Bacareza Balance, Associate Professor of Performing & Media Arts (PMA) and American Studies

Diane Bailey, Geri Gay Professor of Communication

Audrey Baker, Public Health Program, Instructor and Manager of applied practice

Ernesto Bassi, Associate Professor, History

David Bateman, Associate Professor of Government

Richard Bensel, Gary S. Davis Professor of Government

Sarah Besky, Associate Professor, ILR School

Eliza Bettinger, Associate Librarian, Director of Digital Scholarship Services, Cornell University Library

Rachel Bezner Kerr, Professor, Department of Global Development

Amiel Bize, Assistant Professor of Anthropology

Alexandra Blackman,  Assistant Professor of Government

Caitlin Blanchfield, Visiting Lecturer, Architecture

Justin Bloesch, Assistant Professor, ILR

Erik Born, Assistant Professor, German Studies

Jonathan Boyarin, Professor of Anthropology

Jeremy Braddock, Associate Professor of Literatures in English

Leslie Brack, Lecturer, Department of Art

Anne Marie Brady, Research Director, Worker Institute, ILR School

Mary P Brady, Professor, Literatures in English, Director, American Studies Program

Ross Brann, Milton Konvitz Professor of Near Eastern Studies

Kate Bronfenbrenner, Senior Lecturer, Global Labor and Work, ILR

Laura Brown, John Wendell Anderson Professor, Department of Literatures in English

E. Wayles Browne, Professor Emeritus, Linguistics

Jamie Budnick, Assistant Professor of Sociology

Iliana Burgos, Emerging Data Practices Librarian, Olin Library

Jodi Byrd, Associate Professor, Literatures in English, American Studies, American Indian and Indigenous Studies

Marty Cain, Visiting Lecturer, Literatures in English

Andrew Campana, Assistant Professor of Asian Studies

Thomas J. Campanella, Professor of City and Regional Planning

Patricia Campos Medina, RTE Faculty, ILR Extension The Worker Institute

Cathy Caruth, Class of 1916 Professor, Literatures in English and Comparative Literature

Jean Bernard Cerin, Assistant Professor, Music

Derek Chang, Associate Professor of History & Asian American Studies

Julia Chang, Assistant Professor, Romance Studies

Suzanne Charles, Associate Professor of City and Regional Planning, Real Estate

Allison Chatrchyan, Research Associate, School of Integrative Plant Science

Eric Cheyfitz, Ernest I. White Professor of American Studies and Humane Letters, Professor of American Indian and Indigenous Studies

Michell Chresfield, Assistant Professor, Africana Studies

Jeffrey M. Chusid, Associate Professor, City and Regional Planning

Reyna Cohen, Extension Associate, ILR Climate Jobs Institute

Elisha Cohn, Assistant Professor, Literatures in English

Monica Cornejo, Assistant Professor, Department of Communication

Angela B. Cornell, Clinical Professor of Law

Erin York Cornwell, Associate Professor of Sociology

Raymond Craib, Marie Underhill Noll Professor of History

Cathy Creighton, Director ILR Buffalo Co-Lab

Iftikhar Dadi, Professor of History of Art

Anne DeCecco, Senior Extension Associate, ILR

Jim DelRosso, Librarian, Assistant Director of Catherwood Library

Ileen A. DeVault, Professor of Labor History, ILR School

Molly Diesing, Professor, Linguistics

Laurie Drinkwater, Professor, School of Integrated Plant Science
Virginia Doellgast, Professor, ILR

Christophe Duplais, Associate Research Professor, Department of Entomology

Deborah Dinner, Dorothea S. Clarke Professor of Law

Shimon Edelman, Professor of Psychology

Reanna Esmail, Lead Librarian for Instruction, Cornell University Library

Lara Estroff, Department Chair, Materials Science and Engineering

Matthew Evangelista, President White Professor of History and Political Science

Darlene Evans, Senior Lecturer, Knight Institute, CAS (retired)

Ding Fei, Assistant Professor, City and Regional Planning 

Paul Fleming, Director, Society for the Humanities

Carolyn Fornoff, Assistant Professor of Latin American Studies

Jill Frank, President White Professor of History and Political Science, Dept of Government
Robert H. Frankj, Professor Emeritus, JGSM

Chelsea Mikael Frazier, Assistant Professor, Dept of Literatures in English

Emily Fridlund, Associate Professor of Literatures in English

Eli Friedman, Associate Professor of Global Labor and Work

Kelley Gallagher, Assistant Professor of Microbiology

Maria Cristina Garcia, Howard A. Newman Professor of American Studies
Albert George, John F. Carr Professor Emeritus of Systems, Mechanical Engineering, and Aerospace Engineering

Carl Ginet, Professor of Philosophy Emeritus

Shannon Gleeson, Edmund Ezra Day Professor, Chair Department of Global Labor and Work – School of Industrial and Labor Relations, and Brooks School of Public Policy

Jane Glaubman, Visiting Lecturer, Literatures in English 

Lawrence Glickman, Professor, History

Rachel T. Goldberg, Associate Clinical Professor of Law
William W. Goldsmith, Professor emeritus, City and Regional Planning

Jenny Goldstein, Assistant Professor of Global Development, CALS

Seema Golestaneh, Associate Professor of Near Eastern Studies

María González Pendás, Assistant Professor, Department of Architecture

Charlie Green, Senior Lecturer, Department of Literatures in English

Denise Nicole Green, Associate Professor, Human Centered Design

Joanna Green, Senior Extension Associate, Retired

Ian Greer, Research Professor, ILR School

Kate Griffith, Professor, ILR

James A. Gross, Professor Emeritus ILR

John Haines-Eitzen, Senior Lecturer, Department of Music

Kim Haines-Eitzen, Hendrix Memorial Professor, Department of Near Eastern Studies

Elisabeth Haly Meyer, Associate Professor, Department of Art

Jessica Hanshaw, Instructor, PE Department 

Karla Hanson, Professor of Practice, Dept. of Public & Ecosystem Health 

James Hardwick, Adjunct Professor of Law

Matthew Hare, Associate Professor, Natural Resources and the Environment

Samia Henni, Assistant Professor, Department of Architecture

Stella Hein, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Neil Hertz, Professor Emeritus of English

Andrew Hicks, Associate Professor of Music and Medieval Studies 

TJ Hinrichs, Associate Professor of History

Daniel Hirschman, Associate Professor of Sociology

Saida Hodzic, Associate Professor of Anthropology and FGSS

Judith Hubbard, Visiting Assistant Professor, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

Allison Hutchison, Senior Lecturer, Engineering Communications Program

Rehana Huq, Lecturer, ILR School

Misha Inniss-Thompson, Assistant Professor, Psychology

Bryan L. Isacks, Sr., Former Chairman and Professor Emeritus, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

Tristan Ivory, Assistant Professor (Global Labor and Work)

Mari Jarris, New Faculty Fellow, Department of German

Kurt A. Jordan, Professor of Anthropology and American Indian and Indigenous Studies

Daniel Katz, Assistant Professor, School of Integrative Plant Science

Peter Katzenstein, Walter S. Carpenter Jr. Professor of International Studies, Department of Government

Patricia Keller, Associate Professor of Spanish and Comparative Literature

Lori Khatchadourian, Associate Professor, Near Eastern Studies and Anthropology

Athena Kirk, Associate Professor of Classics

Nicholas Klein, Assistant Professor of City and Regional Planning

Sally Klingel, Senior Extension Associate, Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution, ILR School

Allen Knutson, Professor, Department of Mathematics

Alex Kowalski, Assistant Professor, ILR

Paul Kohlbry, Postdoctoral Associate, Anthropology

Julilly Kohler-Hausmann, Associate Professor of History

Theodore Korzukhin, Senior Lecturer, Philosophy

Whitney Kramer, ILR Research and Data Librarian, Catherwood Library, ILR

Amy R. Krosch, Assistant Professor of Psychology

Sarosh Kuruvilla, Professor

Brian Lazzaro, Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor, Departments of Entomology and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Jane-Marie Law, Associate Professor, Asian Studies

Ruth Lawlor, Assistant Professor of History

Tashara M. Leak, Associate Professor of Nutrition
Johannes Lehmann, Professor, School of Integrative Plant Science, Department of Global Development

J. Robert Lennon, Ann S. Bowers Professor of Literatures in English

Christine Leuenberger, Senior Lecturer, Science and Technology Studies

Caroline Levine, David and Kathleen Ryan Professor of the Humanities

David A. Levitsky, Professor Emeritus, Nutrition and Psychology

Neil Lewis, Jr., Associate Professor of Communication Angie Liao, Extension Associate, Climate Jobs Institute

Risa Lieberwitz, Professor of Labor and Employment Law, ILR

Alexander Livingston, Associate Professor of Government

Greg Londe, Senior Lecturer, Literatures in English

Edwin J Lopez-Soto, Senior Extension Associate

Farzin Lotfi-Jam, Assistant Professor of Architecture

Beth Lyon, Clinical Professor of Law

Barbara D. Lynch, Retired Visiting Associate Professor, City and Regional Planning

Fouad Makki, Associate Professor, Global Development
Steven Mana’oakamai Johnson, Assistant Professor of Natural Resources and the Environment

Joseph Margulies, Professor of the Practice of Government

Patchen Markell, Associate Professor, Government

Owen Marshall, Visiting Assistant Professor, Science & Technology Studies

John McCarthy, Associate Professor, ILR

Sally McConnell-Ginet, Professor Emerita, Linguistics

Kate McCullough, Associate Professor, English and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Philip McMichael, Professor Emeritus, Global Development 

Tracy McNulty, Professor of French and Comparative Literature

Leeza Meksin, Assistant Professor, Art, AAP

Natalie Melas, Associate Professor, Comparative Literature

Jamila Michener, Associate Professor of Government and Public Policy

Christopher J. Miller, Senior Lecturer, Music

Mostafa Minawi, Associate Professor, History

Andreea Minca, Professor, Operations Research and Information Engineering

Barbara Mink, Senior Lecturer, JGSM

Justine Modica, Klarman Postdoctoral Fellow

Andrew Moisey, Assistant Professor, History of Art and Visual Studies

Jason Mokhtarian, Neuman Associate Professor, Near Eastern Studies

Jonathan B. Monroe, Professor, Comparative Literature

Rebecca Morgenstern Brenner, Senior Lecturer, Public Policy

Nicholas Mulder, Assistant Professor of History
Kathleen Mulligan, Senior Extension Associate, The Worker Institute

Shaila Musharoff, Assistant Professor, Department of Computational Biology

Paul Nadasdy, Professor, Anthropology

Alex Nading, Associate Professor of Anthropology

Tejasvi Nagaraja, Assistant Professor, ILR

Corinna Noel, Assistant Professor, Department of Public and Ecosystem Health

Sophie Oldfield, Professor, City and Regional Planning

Cecilia Oyediran, Labor and Employment Law Program, ILR

Iris Packman, Faculty, ILR Climate Jobs Institute

Jeffrey Palmer, Associate Professor PMA

Slava Paperno, Senior Lecturer, Comparative Literature, CU

Maria Park, Associate Professor, Department of Art

Elizabeth Parker, Archivist, Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation & Archives

Juliana Hu Pegues, Associate Professor of Literatures in English, Asian American Studies, and American Indian and Indigenous Studies

Juliana Pepinsky, Senior Lecturer, Department of Music

Thomas Pepinsky, Walter F. LaFeber Professor of Government and Public Policy

Isabel M. Perera, Assistant Professor of Government

Benjamin Piekut, Professor of Music

Sophie Pinkham, Professor of Practice, Comparative Literature

Jocelyn Poe, Assistant Professor CRP

Verity Platt, Professor, Classics and History of Art

Gali Racabi, Assistant Professor, ILR

Natasha Raheja, Assistant Professor of Anthropology

Lucinda Ramberg, Associate Professor, Anthropology and Feminist, Gender, & Sexuality Studies

Paul Ramirez Jonas, Professor, AAP

Masha Raskolnikov, Associate Professor of Literatures in English

Eric Rebillard, Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities

Jaleesa Reed, assistant professor, human centered design

Barbara Regenspan, Emerita Professor of Educational Studies, Colgate University, Instructor, John S. Knight Writing Program, Cornell Summer Sessions, Challenges of Modernity as ENGL 1131, 2019-2022

Emilio Rojas, Visiting Critic, Studio Arts, AAP 

Peter Rich, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Public Policy

Annette Richards, Professor, Department of Music

Russell Rickford, Associate Professor of History

Ben A. Rissing, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior, ILR School

Kristin Roebuck, Assistant Professor of History

Ken Roberts, Richard J. Schwartz Professor of Government

Aaron Sachs, Professor of History

Juno Salazar Parrenas, Associate Professor of Science and Technology Studies and Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies

Shirley Samuels, Professor, Literatures in English

Marian L. Schmidt, Assistant Professor of Microbiology

Rebecca Schneider, Associate Professor, DNRE

Katherine Sender, Professor, Communications/CALS

Suman Seth, Marie Underhill Noll Professor of the History of Science, STS Department

Anna Shechtman, Klarman Fellow, Literatures in English

Christina Sheley, Librarian, Business,Engineering, and Entrepreneurship, Cornell University Library

Samantha Sheppard, Associate Professor, PMA

Melissa Shetler, Senior Extension Associate, ILR Climate Jobs Institute

Linda Shi, Assistant Professor of City and Regional Planning

Aubryn Sidle, Lecturer, Department of Global Development 

Elke Siegel, Associate Professor of German Studies

Nicholas Silins, Professor, Philosophy

James Spinazzola, Associate Professor of Music

Willow Starr, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy

Scott Steinschneider, Associate Professor, Biological and Environmental Engineering

Barbara Strupp, Professor, Division of Nutritional Sciences and Psychology

Camille Suárez, Assistant Professor, History Department

Laura Tach, Professor of Public Policy & Sociology

Eric Tagliacozzo, John Stambaugh Professor of History

Noah Tamarkin, Associate Professor, Anthropology and Science & Technology Studies

Janice Thies, Associate Professor, Soil and Crop Sciences

Lynn Thitchener, Librarian, College of Arts & Sciences, Olin Library

Chantal Thomas, Radice Family Professor of Law

Lindsay Thomas, Associate Professor, Literatures in English

Paraska Tolan-Szkilnik, Assistant Professor, History 

Dan Torop, Assistant Professor, Department of Art

Irina Troconis, Assistant Professor of Latin American Studies

Katherine Tschida, Assistant Professor, Psychology

Lowell Turner, Professor Emeritus, Founding Director the Worker Institute, ILR

David Unger, Senior Extension Associate — The Worker Institute/ILR

Parisa Vaziri, Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature

Claudia Verhoeven, Associate Professor, History

Sofia Villenas, Associate Professor of Anthropology

Helena Maria Viramontes, Distinguished Professor of Arts & Sciences in English

Mukoma Wa Ngugi, Professor of Literatures in English

KC Wagner, Worker Institute, Cornell ILR

Maureen Waller, Professor of Public Policy and Sociology 

Mildred Warner, Professor, City and Regional Planning and Global Development

Makda Weatherspoon, Senior Lecturer of Arabic, Near Eastern Studies

Rachel Weil, Professor of History

Gregory Weiland, Associate Professor, College of Veterinary Medicine

Allison Weiner Heinemann, Senior Lecturer and Director of Writing, ILR

Marina Welker, Associate Professor of Anthropology

Charley Willison, Assistant Professor of Public and Ecosystem Health
Jennifer Wilkins, Retired Senior Lecturer, Courtesy Professor of Practice, DNS

Andrew Wolf, Assistant Professor, ILR

Steven Wolf, Department of Natural Resources and the Environment 

Mary N Woods, Professor Emerita, Architecture
Ben Wrubel, Archivist, Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation & Archives

Wenfei Xu, Assistant Professor, City and Regional Planning

Duanyi Yang, Assistant Professor, ILR

David Yearsley, Herbert Gussman Professor of Music

John Aloysius Zinda, Assistant Professor, Global Development

Emily Zitek, Associate Professor, ILR

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