Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Does Cornell Have A Complex?

An inferiority complex, that is.

The first line of the official Cornell campus tour video:
Cornell University is a proud member of the Ivy League.
Instead of stating where Cornell is located, or when it was founded, the video announces Cornell's membership in an athletic conference.

But as Wikipedia informs us, the Ivy League stands for something more:
The Ivy League is an athletic conference comprising eight private institutions of higher education in the Northeastern United States. The term also has connotations of academic excellence, selectivity in admissions, and social elitism.
As much as we like to laugh at Andy Bernard's ridiculousness, his mindset about his alma mater isn't much different from that of many of Cornell's students and alumni. We feel that we went to a "better" school than any non-Ivy university, but recognize that we don't stack up well against the other Ivies (except maybe Brown).

It seems that Cornell would rather try hard to be identified as an Ivy school, and thereby receive the kind of respect people reserve for the likes of Harvard and Yale, than to try to define itself independently. We're fine with being at the bottom of the Ivy cluster, so long as we are still in the Ivy cluster.

Which is too bad. Cornell has so many assets -- from the beautiful campus, to the official connections to New York state, to the diversity and uniqueness of academic programs -- that it could do well to stand on its own two feet. Honestly, if we were to just hand a prospective student one of our massive course catalogs, and let him or her flip through it for a few minutes, I think that would do more than any Ivy-draped (uppercase I) image of Cornell.

There are tangible benefits to being Ivy Cornell, such as selective admissions and strong alumni identity and support. Go out on its own, and Cornell might lose a little bit of this elitism. But if we give up on trying to always be Ivy first and Cornell second, we free ourselves to be so much more. I'm not saying we need to leave the Ivy League, but maybe we should stop holding onto the second-to-bottom rung of the Ivy ladder with both hands and instead use them to show the world what makes us unique.

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