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A response to President Skorton - Mark's Journal
A response to President Skorton
[A letter in response to this e-mail sent to staff and faculty today.]

President Skorton, I want to thank you for this thoughtful letter to staff, which makes some good points and raises some good topics for further discussion and contemplation.

But also, I'd like to call your attention to one item that reminds me of one of my biggest concerns for Cornell's future:

> - Examine all aspects of the operations of the Ithaca campus, which
> must continue to progress as a single entity.

Tragically, we aren't a single entity, and haven't been for years. The ongoing and growing dispersal of one of Cornell's most precious resources, its staff, has been bothering me for quite some time. Pushing more and more Cornell staff members away from the Ithaca campus drives them away from the feelings of community and academic spirit that are so crucial to retaining a strong staff in an economic climate that doesn't let us QUITE keep up with more material forms of compensation.

The benefits we claim to offer our staff, including access to world-class library and museum facilities, fitness and dining centers, and the very student body we're meant to be serving, are becoming unavailable (or at least sharply inconvenient) to a growing population of off-campus staff members, whether they're in satellite buildings, or near the airport, or downtown, or in new off-campus construction. Many of these people thought they were signing on to work AT Cornell, not near Cornell, and the difference, while sometimes subtle, is also significant.

Certainly, we have non-academic staff who've never attended Cornell, never worked on campus, and have no connection other than the logo on the (now proverbial) paycheck. They may never know what they're missing, and I think this is a huge disservice we're doing them. As a Cornell alum who chose to stay in town, and who worked on campus before working off campus, I know what I'm missing.

Of course, I realize the huge pressures and constraints on space on central campus, not least because I'm a member of the hugely optimistic (we've been called delusional) University Club task force led by Peter Stein. Trying to juggle the competing and conflicting needs for academic and administrative and community space on campus has to be a daunting challenge, and I don't envy the people responsible for that job.

But I do feel strongly, especially as a CIT staff member who had to move off campus several years ago, that we must do our very best to fight against this trend. Push people away from Cornell only as a last resort, when we've slowed and delayed these trends to the best of our abilities. And, where possible, use the creativity available to us to make the most of the space we DO have on campus.

I long for the day when I can work on campus again. I miss the vibrant feeling of being surrounded by students, faculty, and fellow staff members as I walked to work, or between campus buildings. I miss being able to have lunch at any of a dozen eateries within a five-minute walk. I even contemplate looking for other jobs so I can work at Cornell once again, rather than in the spread-out CIT that is itself too dispersed, with only a farther-from-campus hypothetical future building to look forward to.

Don't worry, I have no illusion that this is a crisis you'll be able to directly solve anytime soon, but I do urge you to keep it in mind as you and fellow University leaders think about our growth and our future.

Thanks for listening!
3 comments or Leave a comment
_remy_ From: _remy_ Date: September 27th, 2008 01:34 pm (UTC) (Link)

For whatever it's worth...

One of the things that's been stuck in my teeth since I started with the Medical College is remarkably similar to your argument here: the NYC campus is largely ignored when it comes to the goings on of the University. Skorton's email? I haven't received it yet, and I probably won't until the middle of next week when someone in Public Affairs decides to pass it along.

The other example I usually point to, despite it being a year or two old, is when Musharraf came to the Medical College to speak in (our) Uris auditorium. Being a staff member who knows to keep an eye on the Chronicle, I heard about the event. I knew that tickets and a shuttle bus were being offered for Ithaca staff who were interested in attending. I knew the event would be transmitted to multiple auditoriums on the Ithaca campus.

The only information given to WCMC employees? Essentially: "There is a high-profile event happening Tuesday evening. These hallways will be closed at 5PM. Please plan accordingly." No tickets. No videoconferences or broadcasting. And truthfully, I felt a bit insulted - it's certainly an event I would've liked to have gone to, but I wasn't even given the opportunity. (I was tempted to have one of my parents run to WSH to grab a ticket and FedEx it to me!)

The Medical College employees 4,000+ employees; and out of the 200 or so I directly work with, I don't know of any strongly identify with the campus identity, save maybe the two other alumni I know. And why would they? It doesn't feel like it extends to the NYC campus. I'm glad Skorton has a One Campus initiative, and I know researchers and faculty have found the services within that initiative useful, but I think effort should be spent on reinforcing the identity with the remainder of the staff as well.

Sorry for the rambling - it's early, and I haven't had my tea yet. :)
_remy_ From: _remy_ Date: September 27th, 2008 01:36 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: For whatever it's worth...

Minor correction: the email seems to have just appeared in my inbox. Well timed.
brannanjp1 From: brannanjp1 Date: September 28th, 2008 05:17 am (UTC) (Link)
3 comments or Leave a comment