Editor’s Note: This is an opinion piece written by Cornell alumna Caroline Byrne.

As always, we are eager to reprint alternative or dissenting viewpoints. To do so, contact me anytime at msmith@ithacavoice.com.

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ITHACA, NY – Should the largely tax exempt Cornell University pay more to the City of Ithaca/ Ithaca City School District/affordable housing/etc, or does it contribute so much to the area that it does not need to pay more?

Weighing both sides of this story is like weighing 99 scientists who are worried about climate change with one “skeptic” bought and paid for by the Koch brothers.

There is only one pro-Cornell argument and it goes something like this: “If Ithaca did not have a wealthy abusive husband it would be homeless on the side of the street.” This may be true but there is no reason Ithaca shouldn’t be fighting for more protection from its abusive husband.


Cornell cries poverty all the time. They certainly cannot afford to give 1/4 of one percent of their annual budget to the City of Ithaca. To prove how poor it is, Cornell is in the midst of “budget cuts” which hurt low wage workers the most but also function as a way to manipulate and control workers generally.

In the next school year, tuition will be going up at four times the rate of inflation; financial aid for international students will be going down. They can’t help it, they need the money.

Don’t get me wrong, Cornell may be genuinely worried about money, I am not sure. Cornell pays some administrators and faculty too much which must hurt its bottom line; Zev Rosenwaks, at the Weill Cornell Medical College, is the highest paid professor in the country with a salary over $5 million.

Cornell keeps expanding and has campuses all over the world including the new Tech Campus in New York City. That must get expensive. Through its endowment, Cornell financially supports both the infamous private prison industry and the fossil fuel industry.

Those stocks have gone down quite a bit over the past year which must be really painful. Then there are the board members who are heavily involved in the fossil fuel industry and have donated huge amounts of money to Cornell. Maybe those board members have lost money and won’t be able to donate as much this year?

Oh, and I wonder if those same board members are part of the reason why divesting from an industry that is loosing the endowment money is difficult in the first place. What a mess. Yet strangely I am not feeling much sympathy.

Although I am involved in working on a petition to raise Cornell’s PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) to the city, many Ithaca residents have informed me that this alone will not work.

However, there is hope. Consider that historically Cornell has responded to force. The 1969 Willard Straight takeover on parents weekend by black students, some of whom bore guns, lead to policy changes which included having student, faculty, and community representatives on the Board of Trustees by 1971.

In 1995, mayor Ben Nichols essentially held the University hostage again by not signing off on Cornell’s construction projects. Eventually, in order to move forward, the University had no choice but to start contributing some money to the city for needed services and infrastructure.

Universities are able to build wealth because they are subsidized by federal, state, and local governments. Moreover, they only receive massive donations from wealthy alumni because these alums are able to write the donations off of their taxes.

Cornell is one of the richest universities in the world; it gets away with what it can, and it does not have a case.

Caroline Byrne ‘98

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.