Heavy Snow and Workloads

The prelims and projects have begun and we’re entering the thick of the semester here at Cornell. The snow has become a permanent presence in our lives and I don’t recall when the temperature outside was above zero (celsius). Occasionally, someone takes a beautiful, snowy photo of the campus and I share it with my friends and family. I find consolation in their romanticization (is that not a word?) of wintry Cornell.

Photo by Michael Raspuzzi

Cornell at Dusk. Photo by Michael Raspuzzi


#FightTheFee With Some Respect

Last week, Cornell announced a new health of $350 fee for students who are not currently on Cornell’s student insurance (SHIP). As an international student, a health insurance plan is mandatory and given the high medical costs in the United States, it is necessary to have one. Enrolling in SHIP means all medical costs will be billed to my bursar account, which is convenient for me. Also, visits to the on-campus health center, Gannett, seem best covered by SHIP. So I have been enrolled in it for the past two years and have received proper and timely medical care so far.

However, domestic students tend to have external health insurance and do not buy SHIP. The new health fee could be a burden for them. There were many dissenting student voices online, especially on Cornell’s unofficial Facebook group. Explaining the additional fee, President Skorton said that funding healthcare services at Cornell has become a growing fiscal challenge and a personal concern for him.

Unsatisfied with the response, a group of student protesters “occupied” Day Hall, Cornell’s central administrative building this morning. Protests were also held at Willard Straight Hall in Ho Plaza. Some protesters interacted with President Skorton in a direct question and answer session and posted a video on Facebook. More than the imposition of the fee, the lack of transparency is what seems to be bothering the protesters. It was reported that the Student Assembly was not consulted about the new fee but only informed about it recently. In the video, students demanded greater inclusion of the student body in the university’s decision making process.

While the protesters’ concerns are justified, they appeared immature in the video of the session with President Skorton. Protesters asked irrelevant questions about the university’s finances, didn’t wait for Skorton’s response, yelled and interrupted, laughed at his responses, made inappropriate gestures and behaved in a manner utterly unfit for Cornell students. Skorton’s patience with them astonished me.

Given the cleanliness of our campus buildings, the beautifully maintained campus lawns, the brilliant professors who are grossly underpaid, the great libraries which house over 8 million physical volumes,the dorms which look like star hotels and the amount of financial aid Cornell offers, it is not hard to imagine that Cornell’s budget must be tight. In asking for detailed accounts of the university’s finances, the protesters insinuate that funds are being mismanaged at Cornell, which is the most absurd idea I’ve heard. The demand that the university function like a co-operative organisation and take student opinion into account for all financial decisions comes from a highly entitled place. What have we done for the university, that we demand this privilege? In our four years here, everything we do is in self-interest, although we often give it the facade of service to the university or the Ithaca community.

Some may argue that the tuition we pay gives us the right to question its use. But higher education is a service and our tuition is only a fee for this service. We are not benefactors donating the money to Cornell and the university probably need not be accountable to us. At a hospital, we don’t ask the doctor to give us an account of where exactly our medical fees went!

The myopic, self-centered view that the protesters exhibit in the video is silly when one considers the large picture of a great, timeless university. The administration has a prestigious, 150 year old university to run (Yes, we’re turning 150! :D). We are all here primarily because of the excellence of the university and if more funds are needed to maintain or improve that state of the university, then we have no right to question or undermine that need.

Even so, the university makes decent effort to be transparent in most relevant decisions. Student voices are given ample space in matters where it is fit. It’s important that we use this privilege sensibly instead of exploiting it and testing the patience of the administrators. In any case, regardless of circumstances, President Skorton and the administration deserve our respect and respectful conduct.

Why Don’t These Eggs Rot?

I was the last person to leave my house at Cornell for winter break this year. So I had the responsibility of officially checking out and collecting the keys from other residents, turning down the heating system and making sure nothing obviously hazardous is being left out. Of all these potentially hazardous things, rotten food was my main concern. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the first person to return after break had eaten something from the fridge without realizing how old it was.

I scanned our spacious, double doored refrigerator for items with approaching expiration dates. The egg cartons said that they were good for another month, the milk and yoghurt for about two more weeks; oranges we’d bought a week ago looked as pristine as ever and packets of cream cheese didn’t seem to expire at all.The cans of tomatoes in the pantry claimed it would remain edible and safe for two years. I didn’t recall getting a visa to the land of never rotting food.

Perhaps the strangest part was that no product actually mentioned an expiration date. Most of them had the ambiguous “sell by date”. Is it synonymous with “use by date”? Is the producer assuming that the consumer will use the product the day they buy it? Or that once the product has been sold, the producer is no longer responsible for its quality?

When I had to buy milk at home, my mother always instructed me to check that the manufacturing date was the current date. I had been scolded more than once for failing to do so. On rare occasions when the store had not received fresh products, my mother would unwillingly buy a-day old milk. Although we kept our milk refrigerated, it had to be used within 2 or 3 days. The same goes for yoghurt.

In the deluge of health, food and diet related articles in U.S. publications, it is revealed that agriculture and dairy products in America aren’t magical. A high level of processing combined with preservatives and packaging is what allows food to have implausibly extended shelf lives. I’m not sure how this affects the nutrients in my food or my health, but just the thought of vegetables frozen for months or years is discomforting to me. At least I’m glad to be a vegetarian here because vacuum packed meat of animals butchered an indefinite time ago is wildly disconcerting.

Coping with Uncertainity

It’s hard to believe that this semester is almost over. Finals start in four days and in two weeks, I will be back home for winter break. Yet, with the number of assignments and projects that were due this week, it didn’t feel anything like the last week of classes. In fact, it is probably the most stressful period of the semester.

As I look at the CS course management system which lists all the homeworks, exams, assignments and your scores and mean and median scores in the class for each one, most rows now have data. I look at all my scores so far and compare it to the mean/median and try to estimate the grade I can expect. Since final grades are worth atleast 20% in all my classes, my estimates could be quite removed from the actual results.

Meanwhile, I am still looking for summer internships and I’m at various stages with different companies. In the cases where you’ve just applied and are hoping to get an interview, and when you’re done with your interviews and are waiting to hear back, the key word is “waiting”. There is nothing to do but wait.I check my email an unhealthy number of times each day as I’m waiting to hear back. I also do that at the end of the semester – when I check Student Center five times a day for grades.

When I’m uncertain about these results, am I expected to simply forget about it and go on with my life? As an average human, I find that extremely hard to do. I can’t hope for the best either because the higher my hopes, the worse my potential fall. I can’t completely abandon hope either because until I know for sure, atleast a small part of me will want the best outcome. So in these last couple weeks, as the finish line approaches, all I hope for is the maturity to accept whatever will happen at the end – be it favorable or not.