Sunday, April 23, 2006

Cornell's Self-Esteem Issues

I don't need to be sold on Cornell. My dad and my younger sister are alumni, and when the latter was a student there, I must have visited her (from Texas) six or seven times. The first couple of trips revolved around seeing her in plays on campus, and I fell in love with the area. Ithaca is just the type of isolated, cold, green, bookish place where I fantasize about taking up residence. I liked going for a variety of reasons, not least to drive myself crazy about having decided to go to school in San Antonio, which is populous, hot, flat, and not particularly bookish. Mild regret is a favorite sensation of mine.

Anyway, some students and former students think the school needs a branding makeover, lest its reputation fall significantly below that of its fellow Ivies, so they've formed an "image committee." The article gets the silly, raging insecurity out of the way early:
"Because of when most people go to college, their identity becomes closely associated with the identity of their university," said Peter Cohl, a committee founder who graduated last spring and is now working on Madison Avenue.

Let the college's standing drop in publications that rank universities, he said, and "my value as a human being feels like it's dropping." (Cornell is now ranked 13th among national universities by U.S. News & World Report.)
There's no indication that Cohl is joking, but when you see the picture of him on the second page of the article, things become a bit clearer. He looks like one of those characters that Bob Odenkirk used to play on Mr. Show, the ones who are trying to be both corporate and completely cool at the same time, managing in the process to be neither at all.

Later in the article:
The committee's roots lie in a Cornell-Yale football game in Ithaca four years ago. Yale fans in the stadium were wearing hats and other neat gear unlike anything Cornell offered for sale, Mr. Cohl said. He talked about that with students sitting nearby, including leaders of the campus Republicans and Democrats.

All were in agreement, he said. "Nobody was wearing our stuff," he said. "We didn't have cool hats, we didn't have cool hoodies."
This caused me to chortle at Mr. Cohl again, of course, but in fairness, when I saw the hat he was holding in the aforementioned photo, I kind of wanted one. Damn marketers! I despise you and crave your wares simultaneously.


Anonymous lfw said...

i'm embarrassed to be a cornell alumna after reading that. why aren't those students ... oh, i don't know ... studying? or doing something else that's remotely useful? does it occur to them that whining about cornell's reputation among the ivies might not be the best way to improve that reputation?

i think cornell is better off without the baggage that comes with being a harvard or a yale. harvard, to use an obvious example, has been getting heat lately for not being all it's cracked up to be, at least at the undergraduate level.

unfortunately, cornell will never achieve the elite reputation of, say, princeton, because three of its seven undergraduate schools are state-funded. as long as it is part-public, cornell will never be big among the snobbier academics. funny, because it is precisely this combination of private and public institutions that makes cornell unique, and a great environment in which to live, and learn.

5:24 PM  
Blogger Sarah Vita said...

What about schools rated below Ivy leaguers? How about them? Its not the schools reputation, its the quality of life you create for yourself in these universities that really resonates.

Ithaca is very beautiful, I agree, and so is San Antonio I'm sure, but if you're not a fan of feverishly cold weather then there is no reason for you to feel that regret.

3:53 PM  

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