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Architecture School’s Milstein Hall Moves Ahead (Maybe)

Hydraulic Lab Tumbles; Faculty Slam Engineering Shuffle; Tough Talk on the Cost of Higher Ed; Fig leaf couture; Connie Cook, 89; 200 Candles for Darwin; Architecture School Back in Top Spot; Grad Student Makes Beautiful Music; Let the Sun Shine In; Australia Dreamin’; Two Undergrads Die During Winter Break; Podcast Aids Young Alums in First […]


Hydraulic Lab Tumbles; Faculty Slam Engineering Shuffle; Tough Talk on the Cost of Higher Ed; Fig leaf couture; Connie Cook, 89; 200 Candles for Darwin; Architecture School Back in Top Spot; Grad Student Makes Beautiful Music; Let the Sun Shine In; Australia Dreamin’; Two Undergrads Die During Winter Break; Podcast Aids Young Alums in First Job Hunt

Building block: Now in its third iteration, Milstein Hall remains the subject of controversy. The latest version, which includes a cantilever over University Avenue, was created by "starchitect" Rem Koolhaas. While some have urged the administration to move forward with the project, others object to its design.

In January, Ithaca's Planning and Development Board approved the final site plan for Paul Milstein Hall, the much-delayed and much-discussed new facility for the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning. Designed by the firm headed by famed architect Rem Koolhaas, the 46,000-square-foot building will link Rand and Sibley halls and includes a cantilever that extends over University Avenue.

The board's approval was thought to be the final hurdle that stood in the way of construction. Not so fast, said a group of twenty-five faculty and alumni, whose letter of opposition was published in the Daily Sun three days later. Citing the University's financial crisis and a building they castigated as "provocative and setting-discordant" as well as not energy efficient, the group asked that the project be halted and the design reconsidered. They also questioned the inclusion of a multi-level parking garage adjacent to the new building, saying it was not compatible with "the University's expressed commitment to reducing traffic, fuel consumption, and greenhouse gasses."

The controversy continued into February. Letters both opposing and favoring Milstein Hall were published in the Sun, including one signed by fourteen architecture professors—among them, department chair Mark Cruvellier and dean of students Kent Hubbell '67, BArch '69—expressing admiration for the design and asserting that the building is "urgently needed" to protect the department's accreditation. On February 11, five professors opposed to the project presented a resolution to the Faculty Senate that said: "We call upon President Skorton, the Capital Funding and Priorities Committee, and the University Trustees to . . . reevaluate the current plans to ensure that this building addresses the current and future programmatic needs of AAP, while balancing the financial constraints and sustainability objectives of the University as a whole." Due to a procedural problem, a vote on the resolution was postponed.

With a construction "pause" in effect until at least June 30, the final decision about moving ahead with Milstein Hall rests with President Skorton and Executive Vice President Stephen Golding. University spokesman Simeon Moss '73, BA '82, told the Ithaca Journal that "all projects that don't have a shovel in the ground are subject to the pause, and the president and the executive vice president are reviewing those projects." As of press time, no decision had been announced. For updates, go to

Hydraulic Lab Tumbles

The mystery of how long Cornell's hydraulic lab would remain standing ended in mid-February, when a substantial portion of the decaying stone building collapsed into Fall Creek Gorge. The picturesque five-story structure (seen at right in its heyday and above in its current condition) was built at the turn of the last century; it had been unused since the Sixties, when it was damaged in a flood. Located next to the Triphammer footbridge and across from Alumni House, it was built to study water purification and the flow from the neighboring falls.

Faculty Slam Engineering Shuffle

As of January 1, the Engineering college's Department of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics (TAM) has been absorbed by the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE). While the departments' budgets have been joined, a transition committee has yet to determine the future of TAM faculty and their academic work. Faculty protested the decision, one calling it a harbinger of the University phasing out "curiosity driven" research in favor of projects that are more likely to generate grant funding. "It is definitely an experiment to see if such things are acceptable and successful enough to be carried out in other parts of the University," TAM Professor Andy Ruina told the Daily Sun. Former Dean (now Provost) Kent Fuchs defended the merger, saying it "will allow Cornell to strengthen mechanics in the college, building on the heritage of faculty excellence in both TAM and MAE."

Tough Talk on the Cost of Higher Ed

In 1980, Cornell tuition equaled 28 percent of median family income; by 2007, it was 57 percent. Those and other unsettling facts about the cost of higher education were discussed at an event at the Cornell Club-New York in January featuring President Skorton and economics professor Ron Ehrenberg. At the event, which garnered detailed coverage in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Ehrenberg addressed such issues as rising tuition at public universities and the concern that a college degree will remain out of reach for many Americans. With Cornell's endowment falling along with those of many other schools (see Currents, page 24), Skorton addressed concerns about the University's ability to trim costs while remaining true to the Founder's commitment to "any person, any study." "The only way to really save money at a university is to stop doing something," he said. "The decision to get rid of something at Cornell will be largely based on choosing between two unpleasant alternatives."


Fig leaf couture: "Eden," a sinuous silk-and-organza gown by Jessie Fair '09, won the top design award at the annual meeting of the International Textile and Apparel Association in November. Says Fair: "I wanted to capture a lush, green landscape." Fair's prize was a two-week internship in London with British designer Zandra Rhodes. The dress is modeled by Human Ecology student Sara Cahill '10.

Connie Cook, 89

Constance Eberhardt Cook '41, JD '43, Cornell's first female vice president, died January 20 of heart disease in an Ithaca nursing home, after spending the day watching the Obama inauguration with fellow residents. A Fulbright scholar, Cook represented New York State's 128th Assembly District for twelve years. A longtime champion of women's rights, she introduced a bill to legalize abortion that was passed prior to the Roe v. Wade decision. She became Cornell's vice president for land grant affairs in 1976, using her experience in Albany to advocate for the University; President Emeritus Frank Rhodes called her "a knowledgeable and powerful champion for Cornell's interests." She served as a trustee from 1969 to 1974. A Republican, she made an unsuccessful bid for Congress against a Democratic incumbent in 1984. In 1986, she was inducted into Cornell's Athletic Hall of Fame for her participation in fencing and field hockey.

Cook is survived by two children and three grandchildren. Her husband, Alfred Cook '37, died in 1998.

200 Candles for Darwin

The campus celebrated Charles Darwin's 200th birthday in February with a weeklong series of lectures, speeches, and exhibitions collectively called "Darwin Days." Kroch Library's exhibition "Charles Darwin: After the Origin" kicked off with a talk by President Emeritus Frank Rhodes. "Darwin's work had a revolutionary impact on all aspects of contemporary thought," Rhodes said. "Evolutionary theory didn't just affect the scientific world, its implications reached across the entire social and political landscape of the late nineteenth century." The exhibit, which runs through September 8, includes first editions of Darwin's books, as well as engravings, photographs, and samples of the types of butterflies, beetles, and other specimens the naturalist observed.

Other Darwin Days events included a talk by Florida high school biology teacher David Campbell '77 on the long-standing tension between "intelligent design" and the theory of evolution, as well as a panel discussion on the role of race in evolutionary biology. Though racial ideologies were once perpetuated by pseudoscientific fields like phrenology and eugenics, said University of Maryland physics professor Sylvester James Gates, evolutionary studies have helped bridge racial divides. "All of our science tells us what our religions tell us," Gates said, "that we're all brothers and sisters."

Architecture School Back in Top Spot

Cornell's undergraduate architecture program has been ranked the nation's best by DesignIntelligence magazine for the fourth time in five years. The publication's annual list, based on a survey of 200 U.S. architecture firms and organizations and 900 students, placed the University's master's program sixth. Each school was judged on its ability to prepare students for professional practice and to satisfy their needs. The interior design and landscape architecture programs were each ranked in the top five for both graduate and undergraduate study.

Grad Student Makes Beautiful Music

The New York Philharmonic has commissioned doctoral student Sean Shepherd to compose a classical piece to premiere next spring. Shepherd will have his work—which will be fifteen to twenty minutes long and include seventeen instruments—featured alongside that of six other composers in "Contact, the New Music Series." "I think everybody has his own idea of new music," Shepherd says. "I try to do what's new to me. I don't feel bound or constricted in terms of technique. When you don't feel those burdens, your imagination is free to wander." Shepherd joins an elite group of Cornell composers who have been commissioned by the Philharmonic, including Steve Reich '57 and retired professor Karel Husa. Says Shepherd: " 'Honored' only begins to describe it."

Let the Sun Shine In

The University's Solar Decathlon team is preparing to compete in the U.S. Department of Energy's competition this fall. With more than 150 student members, it is Cornell's largest student-run project. In October, twenty colleges and universities from around the world will meet on the Washington Mall, where each will build and showcase a highly energy-efficient, entirely solar-powered house. Entries will be judged on ten criteria, including engineering, market viability, and lighting design. For updates, go to

Australia Dreamin'

Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula's painting Water Dreaming at Kalipinypa (1972) is part of the exhibit "Icons of the Desert: Early Aboriginal Paintings from Papunya." The work, from the collection of Barbara and John Wilkerson, PhD '70, made headlines in 1996 and 2000 when it sold at world-record auction prices. The show runs at the Johnson Museum through April 5 before moving to UCLA and NYU.

Two Undergrads Die During Winter Break

Two students in the Arts college passed away in separate incidents over winter break; neither family has released details regarding the causes of their deaths. Eighteen-year-old Nicholas Kau '12 of New York City was the grandson of Robert Olmsted '45, BCE '46, and the son of Elizabeth Olmsted '74. Florida resident Matthew Lanzing, twenty-two, was a film major; although a member of the Class of '08, he was still working toward his degree.

Podcast Aids Young Alums in First Job Hunt

With the current economic crisis making it harder for graduates to find jobs, three Cornellians have launched a weekly podcast to aid in the search. Applied economics and management graduate student Romi Kher, Rachel Gordon '08, and personal enterprise professor Deborah Streeter started "10GoodMinutes," which updates each Monday and is available online at The podcast—which has more than 200 subscribers and has been downloaded more than 4,000 times—offers advice about the problems young grads may face in their first job hunt. Alumni are frequent guests, addressing such topics as internships, interviews, and networking. "We try to put out a positive message, the notion that there are options out there for people who are entrepreneurial and creative," Streeter says. "Even in chaos there is opportunity, and we hope people will be inspired to take control of their career and perhaps look at things beyond the traditional path."