One hundred and fifty years after Ezra Cornell promised “any person … any study” to students of the University he founded, this ambitious motto still remains aspirational, — and unfulfilled — according to professors who came to share their reflections in a Monday panel. For Prof. Gerard Aching M.A. ’90, Ph.D. ’91, romance studies, Ezra’s words served as “a license for experimenting and exploring.” As a graduate student, he was encouraged to take his inquiries to areas beyond his own discipline and even into other departments, he recalled. Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, Aching said he also cherished the diverse group of people from “Iowa, France, South Carolina and Puerto Rico” that he studied with. Eduardo Peñalver ’94, dean of Cornell Law School, echoed Aching’s experience in expansive learning but also added how “Ezra took the ‘any person’ language very literally.”
Peñalver said Ezra once advocated for two students who were rejected by admissions officers because “they don’t know enough.” The founder, upon hearing about this decision, asked the admissions director, “if they don’t know enough, why don’t you teach them?”
He thought college education should be affordable enough that a student could pay their way through it by working on a local farm or on the grounds. Ezra even promoted an “Earn while you Earn” program, which featured an on-campus shoe factory that allowed students to work while studying, Peñalver said, citing A History of Cornell by Morris Bishop.