Arenson, Karen W. "Cornell Announces Plans to Put Greater Focus on Undergraduates," New

 

Arenson, Karen W. "Cornell Announces Plans to Put Greater Focus on Undergraduates," New
York Times, 24 October 1998, pp. B1, B4.

Joining the growing list of elite research universities that are making undergraduates more of a
priority, Cornell University announced plans yesterday to transform undergraduate education
changing everything from the way students live to the way they learn.

Cornell's president, Hunter Rawlings, made the announcement during a major policy address to
trustees and alumni. It comes as more and more universities - from Duke to Stanford to the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology - respond to growing criticism that they have shifted their
focus to graduate students, often at the expense of underclassmen.

"There is a broadening recognition that this needs to be done," said Robert Zemsky, director of
the Institute for Research on Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania. "But it is not
clear that we know how to do it."

Mr. Rawlings said he would ask Cornell's trustees to approve investing more than $200 million
in the coming decade in the changes, which are intended to reach from the residence halls to
student participation in research laboratories. Cornell, in Ithaca, N.Y., has 12,500
undergraduates.

The university will move all freshmen together on the university's north campus, where new
buildings will be built to accommodate them. Having them together will make it easier "to weave
academic pursuits into the fabric of student life" for the freshmen, the university said.

Mr. Rawlings has asked a committee of students and faculty and staff members to develop a plan
for a system of residential houses for upper-class students, like the house systems at Harvard and
Yale, to bring students into greater contact with professors.

Cornell also announced a campaign to raise $200 million in endowment for student financial aid.

"As good as we are in undergraduate education, we aim to become even better - in fact, the best
research university for undergraduate education in this country," Mr. Rawlings said. "The new
initiatives and financial commitment will provide the foundation for that improvement."

Many of the oldest research universities, like Harvard and Yale, started life as small
undergraduate colleges, centered on nurturing and educating their young students. But since
World War II, their research activities have mushroomed.

Faculty members who once involved themselves deeply in the lives of their colleges and of their
students have increasingly become oriented toward their graduate students and professional
societies.

Isaac Kramnick, chairman of Cornell's government department, who will head the new
committee on reshaping residential life for upperclassmen, said that had been the case at Cornell.
"When I came to Cornell in 1972, faculty meetings were filled," he said. "Now it is sometimes
hard to get a quorum."

He said that while he and other faculty members still carried the same teaching load, many spent
less time advising and acting as mentors for students.

In many ways, research universities have been thriving. Endowments have soared. Applications
are reaching records.

Nonetheless, the universities have increasingly come under fire for their preoccupation with
research and neglect of undergraduates.

"A lot of institutions were doing really terrific things, but it was hit and miss," said Shirley Strum
Kenny, the chairwoman of a report for the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of
Teaching last spring that called for an overhaul of undergraduate education at universities.

" I think what is happening now, at Cornell and elsewhere, is more focus on the totality of the
undergraduate experience," said Ms. Kenny, who is also president of the State University of New
York at Stony Brook.

Mr. Rawlings has been trying to make changes in undergraduate life throughout his four-year
tenure at Cornell, but he said the Carnegie report had added impetus. "We want to be
responsive," he said.

Mr. Rawlings, however, said that the goal was to build on some programs Cornell had in place,
like drawing more students into faculty research laboratories, where they can become partners in
work under way.

He said that besides creating opportunities for more faculty-student interaction in the residence
halls he wanted to expand on programs like Cornell's Presidential Research Scholars Program, in
which students conduct paid, part-time research with a faculty mentor during their four years on
campus.

"I want to give that some momentum," he said.

Professor Kramnick said that he thought change was entirely possible. "You're never going to
change the whole faculty," he said. "But some of the faculty will change. Some of this is in their
own interest. They want exciting students to be around."

Kevin Yamamura, the editor in chief of The Cornell Daily Sun, said he thought the initiative had
the potential for creating "dramatic improvement. "

"Fostering relationships with more faculty is something undergraduates need," said Mr.
Yamamura, a senior in American studies from Fair Oaks, Calif.