Finding a song on YouTube often drags one into the land of the absurd. While sometimes you can find just a song, many times you get more than you bargained for.
Annoying sound effects before and after the song, flashing text, funky transitions, boxes popping up and psychedelic colors abound everywhere. Even better, the song often comes with a music video splicing together clips of either Dragonball or some obscure anime you have never heard of. And of course, the author says, “Plz rate and comment!!1!!1!”
I just wanted the song.
Similarly, as many of us come to Cornell for just a simple education, we get inundated with the many bells and whistles of Cornell’s making — diversity, sustainability, social justice, etc. While these mimic the kinds of programs enacted in a state like California, perhaps we need to reconsider how we spend our money as we try to eliminate our California-sized deficits.
An ideal strategy would work similar to what the College of Engineering did in the previous round of budget cuts, focusing cuts in areas not related to academics. Even then, that did not keep the Department of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics off the chopping block.
Likewise, the central administration has focused on contracting the size of Day Hall. The eventual goal is to reach a state where both of your hands are sufficient to count the number of vice presidents and vice provosts.
Yet even in the realm of academics, one can sometimes lose focus. A prime example comes from Duffield’s poster events, which I will now explain for our non-engineers.
On the day of poster events, our beloved study space in the Duffield atrium is cleared out so all the graduate students can fill it with posters about their research. Posters can even win awards for highest average word length, highest density of technical jargon and most complicated illustration.
Pick any major, even your own, and the quintessential poster event remains the same. Once, when the indecipherable posters all had a connection to sustainability, there was much better food, coverage in The Sun and an appearance by President Skorton.
While the prizes were obviously fabricated, the attention given to sustainability is not. Stories like these have happened before and will happen in the future. In fact, in 1996, physicist Alan Sokal submitted a paper to the “Science Wars” issues of Social Text titled “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.”
In addition to having excellent potential in poster form, Sokal’s paper basically was a nonsensical combination of random mathematical and physical statements with platitudes about postmodernism and social justice. But while his paper had less scientific rigor than the stereotypical perception of creationist literature, it got published with no questions asked in what is now called Sokal’s hoax.
Thus, instead of questioning Skorton on Cornell’s commitment to sustainability, students should ask Skorton which sustainability initiatives are saving Cornell money; for the ones that don’t save money, how cost effective are they; and whether, instead, the money should be spent in areas more closely linked to academics. Such questions will lead to the development of a sustainable budget.
Clearly, as administrators reimagine the university, Cornell can literally not afford to have a buzz word culture, as this often leads to poor financial decisions. Back in the ’90s, the Internet was a huge buzz word, which led to the infamous tech bubble. One expects to see a bell curve when looking at student grades, but they do not expect it when looking at a graph of the NASDAQ’s value over time.
Unlike the Internet, today’s buzzwords usually have moral connotations attached to them, which further obscures the debate on them. For example, proponents of racially-themed program houses often frame the debate so that if you eliminate them, minority support spaces will disappear and minorities will be assimilated into the “whiteness.”
I do not doubt, as my colleague Navid Farnia ’09 states, that these program houses promote cultural identity. But do they promote a University full of disjoint and segregated cultures or one single University? (And no, Cornell is not trying to assimilate everyone into the whiteness — The Sun has unearthed a lot of secret documents, but they do not include a white paper detailing the top-secret assimilation agenda).
Given how many proponents of “diversity” so frequently rail against the whiteness, and how an Ujamaa resident can even be shunned for not voluntarily choosing to live there (as I detailed in a column last school year), Cornell clearly has the answers it needs on the issue of program houses. Besides, it makes more sense and causes a lot less controversy to directly invest some of those funds into existing academic support networks for minorities.
Cornell has many tough decisions ahead, but if it can learn to see past distracting rhetoric and to keep its focus on academics, these decisions will become a lot easier. If people want to come here to study ethnic studies or fields related to sustainability, then I hold nothing against them. As for me, though, as a computer science major, I came to Cornell to study data structures like trees, not to hug them.
Mike Wacker, a senior in the College of Engineering, is a Sun Senior Editor in the Web department. He may be reached at email@example.com. Wack Attack appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.