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Plain Speaking

Is academia anti-business? Is academia anti-business? I was excited when I saw the title of President Skorton's column in the January/February 2010 issue: "Building an Innovation Ecosystem." But how disappointed I was after I read it again and again—at least four times. I think I can comprehend the "ultimate" conclusion of the task force, as […]


Is academia anti-business?

Is academia anti-business?

I was excited when I saw the title of President Skorton's column in the January/February 2010 issue: "Building an Innovation Ecosystem." But how disappointed I was after I read it again and again—at least four times. I think I can comprehend the "ultimate" conclusion of the task force, as stated at the outset, but when I got to the higher education part, I got lost among the buzzwords and the references to "strategic" this and "strategic" that, and the lack of any real explanation as to how anything is going to get done. It raised a most basic question: what does "innovation ecosystem" really mean?

Most important, to my plain-speaking way of thinking, is the absence of any finding about the undisputed and undeniable fact of a hostile anti-business, anti-capitalist attitude throughout much of academia today. This absence I simply cannot comprehend, and I believe the failure to confront it is shocking. It exists everywhere and is reflected in the teaching of students from grade school to graduate school. Academic leadership's silence on the topic is deafening—and, sadly, Cornell is no exception.

Even more shocking is the business community's tolerance of this bias, as it continues to give millions of dollars to institutions that turn right around and sponsor activities, support candidates and legislation, develop policies, and scribe doctrine replete with anti-business purpose and anti-business sentiment. Perhaps at some point the economy will become bad enough that business will wake up and stop supporting the institutions that continue this course.

How refreshing it would be to see just one major academic institution acknowledge the truth, make a finding, take a stand, and, in turn, develop a plan to do something about it. Maybe others would follow, and a real "innovation ecosystem" could begin to germinate. Without confronting this major hurdle openly and forcefully, nothing will happen—no matter what the rhetoric. In the meantime, academia's silence on the subject remains deafening. The work of President Skorton's task force substantiates it. How unfortunate!

David Morthland '62
Lake Oswego, Oregon

President Skorton replies: You are undoubtedly the first person ever to read an article of mine four times! I thank you for that care and attention. I hope that you'll take a look at the task force report so you'll see how much I and the committee agree that a significant cultural change is in order in our interactions with business. I suggest the section "University Practices," which outlines recommendations for changes in academia to improve industry interaction. See pdf/IHETF_Report_FINAL.pdf (pp. 27-35). Also, I am seriously concerned by your conviction that academia in general, and Cornell in particular, is anti-business. In fact, Cornell actively supports business in dozens of ways. Several of our schools and colleges offer business-related education.

In addition, the Entrepreneurship@Cornell program promotes entrepreneurship education, events, and commercialization. And through Cooperative Extension and the Geneva Experiment Station, Cornell offers resources to many businesses. Cornell research, both in Ithaca and at Weill Cornell Medical College, has resulted in inventions and products of all kinds, and our new life sciences building, Weill Hall, includes a business incubator. More than 120 companies have ties to Cornell; many of them were founded by faculty, staff, or alumni. Last and far from least, many businesses benefit indirectly from the high-quality education that Cornell imparts to so many of their future employees and the many professionals with whom they work.


What a thrill to see that NPR is run by one of us ("On the Air," January/February 2010). I have said on several occasions that I couldn't live in a place that didn't have NPR and could live in almost any place that did. To me, NPR is oxygen. It's a link to sanity and intelligent information. What a further surprise to learn that Vivian Schiller '83 grew up just a few towns from where I did (Mt. Vernon, New York) and that she lives in the same town as my significant other.

Stephen Goldberger '69
Farmville, Virginia

I was thrilled to see "Hidden Gem" (Cornelliana, January/February 2010). My grandmother, Jeannette Brown Bostwick '30, had the same Cornell class ring, and it was passed on to me. Unlike the Linowitz ring, my grandmother's was tiny—too small to be worn by anyone with a ring size larger than 1—so I wore it on a charm bracelet. (In fact, it wasn't until recently that advances in laser technology allowed for my ring to be sized a bit larger—and now I wear it happily.) I hope the Mozersky family is able to find some answers about their ring's history, but in the meantime I hope they continue to enjoy it as a true sentimental treasure.

Jinny Van Deusen '89
Saratoga Springs, New York

Not Thrilled

Cornell has stopped giving instruction in Dutch and Swedish. The libraries have let go a distinguished conservator. (My guess is that the people who made that decision do not know what a library conservator does and hence cannot understand why such a person is vital to the functioning of a major library.) Cornell employs nearly one hundred athletic coaches. Click on a link that is supposed to lead to a site for Cornell inter-collegiate athletics—you are taken to a page on the CBS website. Cornell has attained some sort of national ranking in basketball. These scattered facts represent the current state of affairs at our university. They lead to an inevitable conclusion: the unnamed but nevertheless very real Cornell Sports and Exhibitions Authority is more important to the administration and trustees than Cornell University.

There is substantial literature on the corrupting and disruptive influence of intercollegiate athletics on higher education. This influence has become absolutely undeniable. Start, if you will, with the Library of Congress subject heading "College sports—moral and ethical aspects." A search of the Cornell libraries yields thirteen hits. They are for books alone; periodical articles, reviews, and so on are not included. Anybody for "College sports— Corrupt practices"? (This heading exists; I am not making it up.)

Donald Mintz '49, PhD '60
Trumansburg, New York

I was disappointed to see a common semantic error repeated in the article "Language Lessons" (Currents, September/October 2009). Interpretation is referred to as "verbal" communication, in contrast to translation (written communication). In fact, "verbal" means communication in words by any medium. Hence, communication by pictures or body language/facial expressions is referred to as "nonverbal" communication. The correct definition of interpretation is oral communication.

David Gorelick '68
Baltimore, Maryland

Ed. Note: We stand corrected, verbally.

Great Ideas

I was pleased to read in "Athens, Jerusalem, and Ithaca" (Currents, January/February 2010) that former students of Werner Dannhauser had paid tribute to him by publishing a collection of essays in his honor. More than thirty-five years after taking Professor Dannhauser's political theory course in my freshman year, I vividly recall his remarks on the first day of class. "In this class," he intoned, "we will read great books." He then cautioned us that the disparate ideas presented in those books might induce a state of "mental tension." He assured us, though, that there were worse mental states to endure: "Consider, for example, stupor."

Michael Hilf '76
Forest Hills, New York

Authors' Queries

I'm a college student writing a thesis on Vladimir Nabokov, looking for anecdotes and memories from anyone who took Nabokov's Masterpieces of European Fiction course at Cornell between 1948 and 1959. What was he like in person? What do you remember about his lectures, his teaching style, his posture, his accent? Would you describe him as brilliant . . . or boring (or both)? All recollections are welcome: 516-220-0885 / / 45 Wyllys Avenue, Box 90999, Middletown, CT 06459.

Stephanie Gomory
Middletown, Connecticut

I'm working on a book proposal for an anthology of airport love stories, titled Love at First Flight: Airplane Love Stories, and I'm looking for men and women— couples—who met in an airport or on an airplane who will write (or dictate to me) their stories. Contributors should have high-profile positions in business or industry and/or be well-known celebrities (authors, musicians, actors, etc.). Photos and bios will be included with each story. Please e-mail me at

Judy Mandell '61
North Garden, Virginia