Mark (mhaithaca) wrote,

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!

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