Monthly Archives: May 2017

High Tech and High Design

Roosevelt Island, the skinny, two-mile-long strip of land between Manhattan and Queens in the East River, has been home to a prison, a lunatic asylum, a smallpox hospital and a workhouse, among other institutions.

It now adds high-tech university to that list, as the Cornell Tech campus is set to be dedicated on Wednesday, marking the opening of the technology-focused graduate school, which officials hope will encourage the growth of the New York City tech sector.

The campus was born of a 2010 competition started by the Bloomberg administration, which invited top-flight universities to compete to open an applied-science graduate center. Cornell University and its partner, the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, were declared the winners and awarded $100 million along with a stretch of city-owned land on Roosevelt Island.

“High-tech companies and new, small companies that will be the next big companies, they tend to be created where the founders go to school,” the former mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said in an interview. “You see that in Silicon Valley. Here was a chance to get a bunch of people educated and create the economy of the future for New York City.”

To create that economy, Cornell Tech will offer about a dozen masters and Ph.D. programs in fields like information science and electrical and computer engineering. It has been operating out of the Google building in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan since 2012. This will be the first academic year the institution, which now has about 300 students and 30 faculty members, will have its own home.

Since Mr. Bloomberg left office, his Bloomberg Philanthropies have given an additional $100 million to the project for its main academic building, called the Emma and Georgina Bloomberg Center.

On the inside, the building looks in some ways like a contemporary office tower, with open seating plans for Ph.D. candidates and faculty. The rooms are dotted with soundproof enclosures that serve as 21st-century phone booths, a Cornell official said, in that they have no phones, but offer privacy, a place to sit down and little shelf for a laptop. A collection of small meeting rooms are dominated by large art installations, an idea that a Cornell official said was borrowed from Pixar.

“I was particularly pleased with the academic building, which I was able to name for my daughters,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “When we went over to take pictures, I was pleased that they were pleased,” he laughed. “You never know!”

The Bloomberg Center is one of three buildings completed so far, each with an environmentally conscious design. The Bloomberg Center aims to generate as much electricity as it uses, a concept called “net zero.” The House, a high-rise that will be a mix of graduate student and faculty housing, is a so-called passive house, which uses very little energy.

Listening In on Portland State Activists

The Portland State University Student Union explains itself on Twitter as “your friendly, neighborhood, radical student action team.”

One evening in June, its leaders convened at a cafeteria table in the basement of the student union to talk recruiting strategy for the new academic year. Each meeting begins the same way: They say their names and preferred gender pronouns and then respond to an oddball question. Today it was: Matte or glossy? One preferred matte, one glossy and a third favored glossy in summer, matte in winter.

The discussion then turned to tabling on campus, fliers, banner drops and their 1,000-student list-serve.

Kaitlyn Dey, organizer for PSUSU (pronounced sue-sue), pointed out that membership surged after members stopped the president’s convocation speech in 2015 and led the auditorium in a chorus of protests.

“I literally wrote down ‘Convocation Disruption 2.0,’ ” said Ms. Dey, a social work major and advocate for the houseless (because the street can be home). Michael Richardson, a graphic design major, reminded Ms. Dey they would get a new university president in August.

“There’s not any dirt on him yet,” Ms. Dey conceded, but added that PSUSU could make a list of demands like, “Here, new president, this is what we expect from you.”

This is the back end of organizing, 2017. And these days there’s usually a long list of demands.

PSUSU, founded four years ago to rage against student debt and spur empowerment, has expanded its focus. In the past year, the group led a walkout and die-in to oppose the arming of campus security. They rallied for a $15 minimum wage for campus workers, against a tuition increase, repeatedly counter-protested a pro-Trump campus group and heckled Chadwick Moore, a gay conservative speaker. They also joined the protests by Portland’s Resistance, a community group formed in 2016 to oppose Trump policies and build a Tea Party of the left.

“If you wanted to, you could protest every day in Portland — there would be an event for you,” said Gregory McKelvey, a co-founder of the Resistance and a student at Lewis & Clark Law School.

From the University of Chicago to Portland State to Dartmouth, student activists publish Disorientation Guides to educate new students on the “sneaky truths” about their campuses.Credit

Some broadening is strategic: If you want people to show up to your protest, you have to show up to theirs. But to recruit you have to use words like “‘resistance’ and ‘Trump’ — and people are like, ‘Yeah!’” said Ms. Dey, who joined Portland’s Resistance last fall.

Around the cafeteria table, PSUSU members planned their Disorientation Guide, a popular recruiting tool. The zines add bite (“The Board of Oppressors … Oops I Mean Trustees”) to the barrage of institutional information at new-student orientation. This fall Portland State’s zine will include a map of gender-neutral bathrooms, locations of the food pantry and places to get medicine and condoms. Most important, it will be framed around “What does resistance look like during Trump?” with articles on knowing your rights and what to bring to a protest.

Student activists around the country publish Disorientation Guides to educate new students on the “sneaky truths” about their campuses, in the words of one distributed at Long Island University, Brooklyn. They highlight issues of concern (“a lack of accountability and transparency in the investment system at Vanderbilt”), offer tips (“If you do drugs at Tufts, how to do them smart”) and, above all, urge new students to activism.

One PSUSU edition offered a road map for the future. It featured a 1970 photo of Portland State students marching after the shootings of Kent State protesters with these words: “YOU, the students of Portland State University, have the power to change everything — the rules of the game; how it’s played; heck, even the game itself.”

More Diversity Means More Demands

Last semester was a stormy one for the Claremont Colleges, a consortium of seven elite institutions in suburban Los Angeles.

As the 2017 school year came to a close, protesters at Pomona College staged a sit-in, symbolically unregistered themselves from sociology classes and called for rescinding a visiting scholar post that was awarded to Alice Goffman, a white sociologist who chronicled the impact of prison and policing on black youth. In an open letter to the sociology department they demanded “peer-appointed influential student positions on the hiring committee.”

By then, students were already well practiced in making their demands known.

A few weeks earlier, at Claremont McKenna, so many had protested the appearance of Heather Mac Donald, a Black Lives Matter critic, that she ended up addressing a mostly empty hall while the event was live-streamed. Several black students then wrote David W. Oxtoby, Pomona’s outgoing president, demanding an apology for the “patronizing” email he sent on academic freedom in response to the Mac Donald protest and asking what “steps the institution will take and the resources it will allocate” for “marginalized students.” They also ordered action against student journalists at the conservative Claremont Independent “for its continual perpetuation of hate speech, anti-Blackness, and intimidation toward students of marginalized backgrounds.”

The previous month, a call-out painted in looping yellow letters on a Pitzer College “free speech wall” against cultural appropriation — “White Girl, Take OFF your hoops!!!” — had escalated into widespread criticism of the wall painters.Campuses that have prided themselves on increased diversity in admissions are now wrestling with students who want more control over the institutions they attend, including a say in hiring (even of visiting professors), housing (a theme house at the University of California, Santa Cruz, must be painted in Pan-African colors) and curriculum (among nearly 50 demands presented to the University of Chicago: the creation of courses on the Islamic golden age, sequences on Caribbean and Southeast Asian civilizations, and a required diversity/inclusion course).

All this might remind old-timers of calls in the late 1960s and ’70s to institutionalize a more diverse viewpoint, leading to the establishment of black studies departments. Ralph F. Young, a historian who runs weekly “Dissent in America Teach-ins” at Temple University, predicts that “we will have the 1960s all over again.” But where that era’s activists focused on a few issues, he said, “now it is about everything — everything is under attack.”

‘Hamilton’ Hip-Hop, by Students

You can draw a direct line from the founding fathers to issues and concerns of today in these verses. In a curriculum created by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, students study how Lin-Manuel Miranda used primary source documents to write raps for his Broadway show on Alexander Hamilton. They then choose a founding-era person or event on which to base their own creation. One presentation from each participating school gets stage time before students attend a performance of the show. As the “Hamilton” national tour expands (next opening: Los Angeles on Aug. 11), so does the curriculum. The institute, which has been integrating history into classrooms for more than 20 years, expects its Hamilton Education Program to reach 250,000 public school students across the country.

We created this issue’s Pop Quiz by excerpting snippets of student presentations and dropping out the key word(s). Fill in the blanks by clicking on one of the answer options, and watch a video of each performance.