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Cornell: A History, 1940–2015

Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    In their history of Cornell since 1940, Glenn C. Altschuler and Isaac Kramnick examine the institution in the context of the emergence of the modern research university. The book examines Cornell during the Cold War, the civil rights movement, Vietnam, antiapartheid protests, the ups and downs of varsity athletics, the women's movement, the opening of relations with China, and the creation of Cornell NYC Tech. It relates profound, fascinating, and little-known incidents involving the faculty, administration, and student life, connecting them to the "Cornell idea" of freedom and responsibility. The authors had access to all existing papers of the presidents of Cornell, which deeply informs their respectful but unvarnished portrait of the university.

    Institutions, like individuals, develop narratives about themselves. Cornell constructed its sense of self, of how it was special and different, on the eve of World War II, when America defended democracy from fascist dictatorship. Cornell's fifth president, Edmund Ezra Day, and Carl Becker, its preeminent historian, discerned what they called a Cornell "soul," a Cornell "character," a Cornell "personality," a Cornell "tradition"-and they called it "freedom."

    "The Cornell idea" was tested and contested in Cornell's second seventy-five years. Cornellians used the ideals of freedom and responsibility as weapons for change-and justifications for retaining the status quo; to protect academic freedom-and to rein in radical professors; to end in loco parentis and parietal rules, to preempt panty raids, pornography, and pot parties, and to reintroduce regulations to protect and promote the physical and emotional well-being of students; to add nanofabrication, entrepreneurship, and genomics to the curriculum-and to require language courses, freshmen writing, and physical education. In the name of freedom (and responsibility), black students occupied Willard Straight Hall, the anti-Vietnam War SDS took over the Engineering Library, proponents of divestment from South Africa built campus shantytowns, and Latinos seized Day Hall. In the name of responsibility (and freedom), the university reclaimed them.

    The history of Cornell since World War II, Altschuler and Kramnick believe, is in large part a set of variations on the narrative of freedom and its partner, responsibility, the obligation to others and to one's self to do what is right and useful, with a principled commitment to the Cornell community-and to the world outside the Eddy Street gate.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-7189-6
    Subjects: Education, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface: The “Cornell Idea”
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Authors’ Note
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Part I 1945–1963

    • 1 Building a Research University
      (pp. 3-46)

      The news of Japan’s surrender August 14, 1945, burst from loudspeakers and swept over Cornell students assembled in front of Willard Straight Hall, who answered the announcement, which effectively signaled the end of World War II, with vigorous chants: “We want liberty!”¹ The university had itself made an extraordinary contribution to the war effort: 4,500 of its undergraduates had left campus for the armed services; 3,758 army and 13,577 navy personnel, and 30,144 workers in twenty-three New York State industrial centers, received training in various Cornell programs, and the university was remunerated $10.6 million for training and research from the...

    • 2 The Death of In Loco Parentis
      (pp. 47-73)

      The wartime students who had chanted “We want liberty!” in front of Willard Straight the day Japan surrendered continued their celebrations when classes were cancelled. They left, according to one account, “State Street strewn with beer bottles.” They could not know then that their numbers, relatively small because of wartime, would grow dramatically with the postwar “GI invasion” of East Hill.¹ Six months after the end of hostilities, President Day, along with eighty-five other presidents of institutions of higher education in New York State, was summoned to a meeting in Albany to help Governor Thomas E. Dewey develop a strategy...

    • 3 The Cold War at Cornell
      (pp. 74-100)

      “Cornell goes Bolshevist,” proclaimed theNew York World-Telegramon October 19, 1943. The university’s Russian courses, the newspaper declared, were being taught by communists, making Cornell a breeding ground for “Muscovites.” For the next several days the paper repeated its accusation in articles and editorials carried in other Scripps Howard and Hearst papers across the country.

      The attack was focused on two Russian émigrés, Joshua Kunitz and Vladimir Kazakevich, who had been hired to teach in the Intensive Russian Language and Culture Program, which the university had designed for the United States Army in the summers of 1943 and 1944....

  7. Part II 1963–1977

    • 4 The Bureaucratic University and Its Discontents
      (pp. 103-154)

      Like Ezra Cornell, President James Perkins was a Quaker. With a sense of social commitment and an urge to do good, he seemed to be ideally suited to be Cornell’s leader during the 1960s. Perkins got off to an auspicious start. With a booming economy in the United States in the first half of the ’60s, the New York State Legislature, federal government agencies, and philanthropic foundations made higher education a high priority and allocated substantial sums of money to elite research universities, including Cornell. Faculty hiring in traditional areas and in new fields of specialization accelerated, and interdisciplinary programs,...

    • 5 Race at Cornell
      (pp. 155-203)

      When Fred Parris ’62, a black Cornell undergraduate, appeared on stage singing with the Glee Club at the 1959 Christmas concert in Indianapolis, one audience member and his wife walked out of the room. The audience member was Harry V. Wade ’26, CEO of the Standard Life Insurance Company and a six-year member of the Cornell University Trustee Council. President of the city’s Cornell Club, Wade had sent word to Professor Thomas Sokol, the director of the Glee Club, earlier that afternoon “that it might be better if Parris went to a movie.” If he didn’t, Wade noted, after the...

    • 6 The Wars at Home
      (pp. 204-238)

      The semester before she graduated, Janet Reno ’60 worried that Cornell students had already been co-opted into the 1950s “silent generation.” In a letter to theCornell Daily Sun, Reno, a chemistry major and president of the Women’s Self-Government Association—and future attorney general in the Clinton administration—criticized her classmates’ “lack of interest” in and “disdain” for politics. While they had recently mobilized in great numbers against university restrictions on their social lives, she contended that they shared the era’s pervasive complacency about the larger “off-campus issues of our time” and, like their parents, left public affairs in the...

  8. Part III 1977–1995

    • 7 The Rhodes Years
      (pp. 241-284)

      It did not take long to select a successor for Dale Corson. The board of trustees search committee, chaired by Austin Kiplinger ’39, identified only one finalist—Frank H. T. Rhodes—and moved quickly to invite him to campus for discussions with faculty, staff, and members of the community. At that point, in 1977, Rhodes expressed surprise that Cornell had sought him out and claimed not to be familiar with a single faculty member outside of the Geology Department. He had been to Ithaca only once, to deliver a guest lecture in 1960 in the middle of winter, when his...

    • 8 Academic Identity Politics
      (pp. 285-322)

      “For at least four years,” Harry Levin, dean of Arts and Sciences, reminded Provost David Knapp in 1977, Cornell had responded to students’ requests for various ethnic studies programs “by putting them off.” Led on, “cynically,” by the administration, the students had worked hard and in good faith. Levin was “amazed at their patience.” Acknowledging that “ethnicity is in vogue,” Levin urged frankness and shared with Knapp his “firm decision” to oppose ethnic studies programs. Although the proposals had “been dressed in the guise of providing appropriate courses that have intellectual merit,” Levin believed the students’ primary motivation was to...

    • 9 Political Engagement, Divestment, and Cornell’s Two-China Policy
      (pp. 323-352)

      When the United States invaded Grenada in 1983, protest rallies once again enlivened the Cornell campus. And that fall three hundred people gathered outside Willard Straight Hall to demand that the board of trustees stop investing university funds in companies doing business with South Africa’s apartheid regime. Despite these events, however, political activists felt that during the Rhodes years rallies had grown rarer, quieter, and less likely to attract widespread support on campus than they had been in the 1960s and early ’70s.

      In the new era protestors were often greeted with hostility and derision. In 1977, after a question-and-answer...

  9. Part IV 1995–2015

    • 10 Into the Twenty-First Century
      (pp. 355-408)

      In the early 1990s research universities faced a wave of challenges. In 1994, President Rhodes enumerated the “important and rapid changes” in higher education in the United States that directly threatened the health of Cornell and fellow institutions. These changes included a growing public resistance to tuition increases in excess of inflation; uneven and uncertain growth in federal government funding of research; budget cuts by the state; demographic shifts in the college-age population; and public dissatisfaction with the education and training of undergraduates. Because the stakes were so high, Rhodes declared, it was “imperative that we think carefully about our...

    • 11 The New Normal in Student Life
      (pp. 409-448)

      In the late 1990s, a transformation of undergraduate life was under way. Observers of higher education suggested that colleges and universities had begun to adopt an updated and subtler version ofin loco parentis. They asserted that many baby-boomer parents expected more college involvement in their child’s activities outside the classroom, that students were more accustomed to guidance by adults than they had been in the 1960s and ’70s, for example, and they were more amenable to residing in living and learning communities presided over, or at least shared with, faculty and staff.

      They were only partly right.In loco...

    • 12 Going Global
      (pp. 449-478)

      Three days after September 11, 2001, at the memorial convocation for some twelve thousand members of the Cornell and Ithaca community—possibly the largest gathering on the Arts quad in the university’s history—Walter LaFeber, one of America’s most respected historians of foreign policy, offered a geopolitical perspective. LaFeber noted that the United States was “the world’s most powerful nation, militarily strong while others feel defenseless; rich, while others are poor; often culturally dominant, while others fear the loss of their ancient traditions.” A serious study of history, he cautioned, reveals that these disparities “will inevitably change.” If Americans were...

  10. Postscript
    (pp. 479-482)

    In the fall of 2014, to mark the beginning of the yearlong celebration of its sesquicentennial, Cornell University dedicated the Sesquicentennial Commemorative Grove, designed by the New York City firm of Weiss/Manfredi, on the top of Libe Slope between Morrill and McGraw halls. A grove of trees, shrubs, stone walkways, and benches, it looks west from Cornell’s original “Stone Row” buildings and is on an axis with A.D. White’s seated statue, placed on the Arts Quad on the university’s fiftieth birthday in 1915, and Ezra Cornell’s standing statue (1919).

    On the walkways appears an engraved timeline marking significant events in...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 483-514)
  12. Index
    (pp. 515-526)