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May 2015 Class Letter

Dear classmates –

Winter is over, even in the Northeast, although it hung on in Ithaca when several classmates and I were there for Charter Day Weekend. In this letter:

Charter Day Weekend (CDW): The Festival of Ideas and Imagination

Late April in Ithaca (L to R): Wayne Merkelson ’73, Jane Cashman, Paul Cashman’73, Nancy Roistacher ’72, Eliot Greenwald ’73.

Late April in Ithaca (L to R): Wayne Merkelson ’73, Jane Cashman, Paul Cashman’73, Nancy Roistacher ’72, Eliot Greenwald ’73.

Eliot Greenwald, Wayne Merkelson, Ed Schecter, Joni Spielholz, Susan Murphy, and I were among the 1500 alumni who returned to campus at the end of April for the four-day celebration. Go here to see videos of the live-streamed events, and absolutely do not miss the 18-minute video “Glorious to View” that premiered at the Charter Day ceremony.

Some of the high points for me were:

  • Watching President Skorton and Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 do a (fairly polished) dance routine to “We Are Family” on the Barton Hall stage (see my bootleg video on the class Facebook page)
  • Learning, in a seminar on “Success and Luck” by Prof. Robert Frank, that research shows we derive more happiness in both the short and long term by investing in experiences rather than things
  • Seeing a disabled robot figure out how to overcome its disability and keep moving toward its goal
  • Understanding a little of the network science behind the concept of six degrees of separation
  • Having a chance to thank Prof. Don Randel in public for inspiring me, through his course, with a love of opera that has enriched my life
  • And always, meeting and talking with students: Information Science and Computer Science students who came to hear a talk I gave; a pair of third-year Veterinary students who overheard a question I asked a seminar speaker about feline obesity and wanted to know my interest in the subject; and an ILR freshman I met last October who was working as a volunteer at Charter Day Weekend events.

Renewing the faculty: a personal perspective

As you may know, Cornell is in the midst of a major changeover: in the next decade, half (!) the current professors will retire and be replaced by the academic rock stars of today and tomorrow. Experiences I had at CDW and shortly afterwards made me think about this in the context of Cornell and time – an appropriate subject for a birthday party.

Don Randel: Professor of Music, Dean of the Arts College, Cornell University Provost, President of U of Chicago and the Mellon Foundation, with a former student at Charter Day Weekend

Don Randel: Professor of Music, Dean of the Arts College, Cornell University Provost, President of U of Chicago and the Mellon Foundation, with a former student at Charter Day Weekend

I last saw Prof. Don Randel, whose opera course had such an impact on me, in the spring of 1970. The week following CDW, at another Cornell event, I introduced Prof. Neal Zaslaw, whom I hadn’t seen since taking his courses in Baroque music and Mozart in 1970-71. Back then, they were junior faculty, newly arrived at Cornell. I didn’t think a lot at the time about the qualifications of my professors relative to others in their field, or nor had I any real knowledge of their achievements to that point in their careers. Mostly what I cared about was their ability to impart knowledge to me.

Now, 45 years later, Don Randel has had an academic career that culminated in his being the president of the University of Chicago and then of the Mellon Foundation. Prof. Zaslaw has had enough achievements for two careers, and is unquestionably the foremost Mozart scholar in the world. The potential for them to become what they eventually became was in them when I had the privilege of taking courses from them. I’m sure that was true of most of my professors, and yours, too. Seeing my former professors toward the end of their successful careers makes me see the new faculty in “double vision”: as they are today, and also as what they can and will become over their lifetimes.

Class of 1973 Scholarship

Lucas Colbert-Carreiro '15

Lucas Colbert-Carreiro (ILR ’15), our current class scholarship recipient

Lucas Colbert-Carreiro ‘15, our Class of 1973 scholarship recipient, writes that his post-graduation plans “are actually still evolving. I am still in the process of interviewing at a variety of companies, including Politico, various advertising agencies in New York City and a few others.” He promises to “keep the class of 1973 in the loop on what I end up going into though! “ We wish Lucas well wherever he goes.

You can support students like Lucas with a contribution to the Class of 1973 scholarship fund. If you haven’t paid your class dues yet, you can include a contribution to the scholarship fund when you do. Susan Murphy ’73, PhD ’94, whom we are honoring on her retirement by dedicating all scholarship fund donations in her name, was recently honored by CUGALA with its first-ever Steven W. Siegel ’68 Award at their gala in New York City.

Classes of 1972-73 summer reunion in nature

Nancy Roistacher, President of the Class of 1972, has been working with the Cornell Plantations staff to line up a fantastic “reunion in nature” in Ithaca the weekend of Friday, July 17 through Sunday, July 19. Details will be coming out shortly, but here is a preview (subject to change). The event will formally begin on Friday afternoon. Between then and noon on Sunday, events will include a guided nature walk, a garden tour coordinated with a cooking class and a farm-to-table dinner, a cell-phone photography class (a big hit last year), a class on chocolate, an Arboretum tour and wine-tasting, a picnic dinner and Shakespeare in the Arboretum (appropriately, the play is A Midsummer Night’s Dream), and a bagel brunch on Sunday.

View from the west side of the F. R. Newman Arboretum

View from the west side of the F. R. Newman Arboretum

For people who come early, Thursday afternoon and Friday morning activities may include a tour of the McLean Bog (a natural wild life area with endangered plants and several distinct habitats in Dryden), an evening at the Hangar Theater, and a tour of some Cornell special collections.


To find out the final details and register, go here.


Last year’s event was very special for the two dozen or so people who attended. This is a good chance to experience Cornell and Ithaca without the crowds of Reunion, and with better weather than Ithaca’s other seasons (fall, winter, and construction, as Hunter Rawlings used to say).


Out-of-the-ordinary volunteering for Cornell

Some of our classmates are volunteering for Cornell ways that meld their personal passions and life experiences with Cornell’s pioneering work in areas that distinguish it as a world-class university. From time to time I’ll highlight some of their activities.

Wayne Merkelson ’73, JD ’75 has served the class for many years on the nominations committee and by helping to achieve Tower Club records in Reunion years. I asked him to describe his volunteer work for the Cornell Plantations and the McGovern Family Center for Venture Development in the Life Sciences.  You can read Wayne’s description here.

Cornell’s social media SWAT team squelches a smear

On March 24, a video appeared on the Internet in which Cornell’s assistant dean for student services, speaking to a “student,” apparently welcomed the idea of a campus organization to provide support to ISIS and Hamas, including having their “fighters” train students on campus. Playing into the narrative of an elite university’s political correctness, the video went viral and was catnip to media outlets across the country (the New York Post broke the story the day after a very successful Giving Day) and led to a predictable storm of outrage. I have a Google alert for all things Cornell, so I saw the video when it came out.

I confess that my immediate reaction was outrage mixed with disbelief: I found it hard to believe that an administrator at any American college or university would calmly and nonchalantly agree to such a proposition. But the video seemed so real! President Skorton quickly and angrily denied that the video showed anything approximating the truth, but the storm continued to rage.

The video was the work of an organization that specializes in these types of stings. (The same sting was worked on another college shortly afterwards.) A member of the organization secretly films the unsuspecting victim while leading him or her on with questions that, in retrospect, make the victim look complicit in questionable, if not illegal, activities. It is impossible to determine what is actually said in the conversation, and in what sequence, since the organization never turns over its unedited videos for independent inspection.

Screenshot of CSMA group alert when the smear was starting to circulate

Screenshot of CSMA group alert when the smear was starting to circulate

Cornell has a small Facebook group called “Cornell Social Media Ambassadors” composed of both staff and alumni volunteers. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the group.) These so-called CSMAs are among the most active posters to Cornell and other social media. Most of the time, what’s posted in that group is interesting material for the members to share via their Cornell and personal Facebook pages or other social media outlets. In this particular case, the CSMAs leaped into action by monitoring comments on Cornell’s social media sites, providing posts about the background and highly dubious (not to say unethical) practices of the organization behind the video, convincing people in their social media networks who posted the video or a link to it to delete the post, etc. It was through the CSMA group posts that I became convinced that the video was a scam.

I know that all of you are sophisticated enough to know that just because something appears on the Internet, that doesn’t make it true. But just as sometimes we click without thinking on that seemingly innocent email attachment or link sent by a friend, even though we know better than to do it, it’s easy to be taken in, if only briefly, by slick scams such as this one.

In conclusion

Enjoy your summer, and feel free to get in touch with me ( concerning class or Cornell matters any time. I hope to see you at a Cornell event soon!

Best regards –




Paul M. Cashman

President, Cornell Class of 1973