Cornell has a way of isolating itself from the rest of the world both physically and mentally. Physically is obvious — we sit on the top of a hill in a city that is over an hour from what native urban dwellers would call civilization. It is easy to go a day or a week or even a semester without having to interact with anyone who doesn’t have a NetID; this is only amplified if you don’t have a car or bike and refuse to use the TCAT. Mentally, we have, as a campus, found a way to continue this policy of isolationism. Although we have free access to the New York Times (both print and online), USA Today and countless digital accesses to every news outlet in the world, it is rare to hear in passing a conversation about current events. This upcoming election is no exception. Even in our campus newspaper, election coverage has been minimal, and there have been few passionate back-and-forth debates on the issues.
So what is going on? If we aren’t learning about news in our courses or from secondary sources and don’t have time to watch T.V., how are we staying current with global happenings? We are sorry to say we think the answer is that Cornell students aren’t and we blame this partially on the structure of our courses, which focus more on measured outcomes than on learning outcomes.
How much do you know about the people who you sit next to in your 10:10 class? What about the people who sit behind you? Two rows? If the answer is what we suspect most of you are shaking your head and thinking, “not even their names,” what a shame!
Although most of us are now thankfully removed from the College Admissions process, do you remember back to Senior Year when you poured your free time into full-cover glossy magazines about Cornell? Remember those pie charts of diversity, lists of extracurriculars that we did in high school and stats that showed how intelligent our future classmates would be?
Now think back to your group of friends. How different are you? If you are like most of the people we have met, your Freshman floor was diverse and then, as you progressed through your Cornell career, your social circles became smaller and more homogeneous. This isn’t bad at all! It’s just a normal trajectory. As you joined or didn’t join a Greek letter organization, got more engaged with causes you are passionate about and got busier with research and coursework, your life just became surrounded by similarity. We are attracted to people like us. It’s the difference between a conversation that goes on for hours and one that you can’t wait to be over, four-hour drives that feel like a trip to Wegmans and, our favorite, meals you never want to end — it’s just human nature.
As our Cornell circles have developed and flushed out, though, we fear we have become more close-minded, our lives have become less diverse and our worlds have become smaller as a result. There is, of course, a solution — we need to, as a Community, better engage one another. No person should ever eat alone, let alone two people in the same Dining Room. We should all know about issues that our classmates and professors care deeply about. Last but not least, we should feel like One Cornell and not distinguished pockets of like-minded individuals who are in Ithaca.
The solution is simple: more two-way dialogue. If professors saw their role as less lecturer and more facilitator we think they would quickly realize that we are as interesting as those fact sheets that Admissions publishes every year. They have as much to learn from us as we have to learn from them. After all, most Professors do studies on college students anyway; we have always been puzzled as to why they don’t ask more questions that aren’t just about what they have just said. It also seems easier to prepare thought-provoking questions about a topic than a 75 minute PowerPoint presentation recap of what the students’ were supposed to read but that 90 percent have not even looked at.
For students of higher education, this idea should sound familiar because it is the Socratic Method that Harvard Business School famously employs. All classes are taught around case studies and the talking time is dominated by students, who are graded on how much they contribute. Unlike Cornell, where grades are determined by the three P’s — papers, prelims and projects — Harvard Business School determines grades based on participation: how engaged and engaging you are. If you never challenge your peers in thoughtful intellectual discussion, if the professor never even knows your name, you do not pass, let alone receive an A. This approach just makes sense to us. Studying in the style that Cornell fosters with the three P’s does not seem to prepare graduates for leadership in their careers. Employers seem to want to hire interesting, multi-faceted people, not just those who can follow rules. In school, we call these people radicals yet in careers they are called innovators. Rule followers, even those with A-averages, are being left behind in a job market that caters more to transferable skills than to transcripts, so why can’t Cornell be more like Harvard Business School?
Daniel Green in a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He can be contacted at email@example.com. Teddy Brinkofski is a senior in the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.