Elite, Not Elitist

If you were to walk into Day Hall, Cornell’s administration building, a while back and follow the left hallway  around the building, you might’ve eventually hit an old promotional poster for Cornell that said something along theIMG_3157-2 lines Elite, not Elitist.” Now, I have no idea what they did with that poster, or if it was just tossed away.

It’s a shame,  because the motto on that poster is one of the best ways to describe Cornell succinctly.

I bring this up, in all honesty, because a week or two ago, it was “Ag Day” at Cornell–where farm animals descended upon the Ag Quad to show students the kind of animals that some Cornellians (particularly in CALS) study. As I was walking to class, and saw plenty of cow manure, hay, and chickens on the beautiful quad, it made me realize that this truly was one of those “Only at Cornell” moments–because for the life of me, I can’t imagine many other universities turning their quad into a farm for a day.

So what does this phrase mean? “Elite, not elitist,” in my opinion, means that Cornell is truly a world-class place–but without much of the snobbiness that would come from having such a distinction.clocktowerx300-qvdiob

It means proudly accepting community college transfers through transfer agreements with NYS community colleges. It also means taking “risks,” if you will, by admitting passionate students that come from unique backgrounds–and helping them reach their potential through HEOP.   It means hearing a Finance professor sing alongside a choir of TA’s, seeing an entomology professor lick a bee’s bottom in front of you, and having another professor recognize you from his car on the sidewalk and give you a ride to class (yes, I’ve experienced all of these).

Most recently, it means feeling comfortable reaching out to a professor I had over 2 years ago before finishing a final paper this semester, as I know he’s an expert on the topic I wrote about and I wanted to hear his thoughts.

I guess I would argue that Cornell’s grounded nature–one thing that people tend to “rip”elite Cornell on (e.g. Harvard throwing chicken on the ice at hockey games, a slight at Cornell’s ag school)–is one of the core things that distinguishes it, along with its diversity and land-grant mission. Not once at Cornell has anyone seriously asked me my SAT scores. Regardless of your pedigree, you still gotta pass a swim test–that even President Skorton took. “Elite, not elitist” means finding out amazing things about people, what they’ve done, or who they’re related to, only after a while…because they’d never bring it up to you first.

If any Cornell marketers are reading this: bring back the “Elite, not elitist” motto, and sell the posters in the Cornell store!

7 thoughts on “Elite, Not Elitist

  1. layne lieberman

    Thanks for this article. I graduated in 83 and my son graduated 2 years ago. I miss Ithaca and the diverse opportunities at Cornell! I maintain Cornell friendships and always feel connected to that place far above Cayuga’s waters!

  2. Thilde Peterson

    Well, I’m one of the 15 students to be the first transfers into the College of Human Ecology, Spring 1971. We were treated with kindness, the demands were great, the support we received was terrific. We worked our buns off! In May, 1973, we graduated. Cornell is special, infused with the mission and vision of Erza Cornell. There’s no time for eliteist attitudes when you have to milk cows, observe nursery school children in the labs, have coffee with Dr. Sagan to discuss the cosmos, or sleep at Lynah to get hockey tickets! Let’s resurrect the poster and spread the word. Be the Big Red Beacon…you could change someone’s life!

  3. Elizabeth (Hoare) Cowles

    As a third generation Cornellian, well-steeped in its rich history, I agree whole-heartedly. Our daugher (yep, met my husband in Dickson) graduated in December benefitted from the many opportunities.

    Where can we buy the poster?

    BTW: I coordinated Ag Day 1982. We held it in the Memorial Room in the Straight. And yes, there were cows!

  4. Susan Maldon Stregack

    Thank you for this well-written article. I’m a member of the Great Class of 1966, and I have always felt as you do about Cornell. I’m still involved with Cornell and with my Class and have never missed a Reunion. I miss Ithaca (not in the winter), but my husband and I have taken care of that in recent years by coming back to “the mother ship” most summers for a week or so. There’s nothing like watching the sun set over Cayuga lake!

  5. Katie

    I love the idea of bringing back “Elite, not elitist!” I’m a 2008 grad from CALS and a Rochester native. I live back in Rochester now and miss Ithaca, but luckily get to visit often! I have realized as an Upstate New Yorker the important role that Cornell has in our NSY economy, especially because of the work in the dairy, agricultural & vinicultural industries. I think the “Elite, not elitist” concept also distinguishes Cornell nicely from other top-notch universities that may speak about the value of all types of diversity on campus but haven’t actually “walked-the-walk” when it comes to truly inclusive attitudes.

  6. E.J.

    A way in which Cornell is really non-elitist is that to get a Cornell degree one must EARN it. That means that honorary degrees are never conferred.

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