What Makes an Ivy League University Ivy-Leaguely Prestigious: My Experiences and Reflections at Cornell University

Written by  Friday, 11 September 2015 13:41


     This paper is not a formal academic one. It is a paper which is based upon my first-hand experiences and reflections which I have gained since I arrived at Cornell University on September 2, 2014. By “first-hand,” I mean “authentic and genuine:” I attribute these experiences to the people, the buildings, the facilities, and the natural and cultural environments while feeling and observing them on campus in both tangible and intangible perspectives. This is my very first time ever visiting Cornell University, one of the eight Ivy League Universities in the northeastern part of the US, founded by Mr. Ezra Cornell and Mr. Andrew Dickson White in 1865. I feel truly fortunate and honored to have been invited by Dr. David B. Lipsky, The Anne Evans Estabrook Professor of Dispute Resolution and Director of the Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution (SICR), ILR School, who serves as my Faculty Sponsor as well as my advisor, to conduct my research on the project of “A Study of the Pentad-Gestalt Rhetoric as an Intercultural Strategy for Conflict Resolution” on the eve of Cornell’s sesquicentennial. This paper is thus focused on what I have observed since my arrival in September until December 18, 2014, especially on what makes an ivy-league university like Cornell ivy-leaguely prestigious in its academics, rather than on a complete and formal finding of my research project, which is scheduled for June 30, 2015, the end of my research tenure here at Cornell University.


     I arrived in Ithaca, New York and reported to Cornell University on September 2, 2014. The September weather reminded me of Taiwan’s late summer.  The autumn in Ithaca was dressed in the stunning display of the colorful leaves and flowers, which was somewhat different from that of Taipei,  and the winter, still on-going now, is drastically different from anything that I have experienced in the past—the white and whirling snow dancing and covering almost everything both on campus and in Ithaca. I had only ever seen such scenes on the Christmas cards sent by relatives, friends, colleagues, and students living in such a cold area.


     Watching and feeling the snow has led me to two different interpretations. One interpretation is found in the English poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” written by American poet Robert Frost; the other can be found in the Chinese poem “The River-Snow” (江雪 - Jiang-Xue) composed by the Chinese poet Liu Zhong-yuan (柳宗元). Both poets depicted the status of “being alone” as contextualized by the snow as a projected outlet of the personae in these two poems—one persona has “promises” to keep, while the other persona has the “sole determination to fish the snow in the freezing river” (獨釣寒江雪).


     Another interpretation is more grounded in a physical reality—snow is simply freezing, could be slippery, and cause possible dangers of falling down. I think that both of these two interpretations of snow exist. What matters here is that snow is obviously closer to the “physical” one; however, the snow depicted and aestheticized by the poets makes it closer to the “emotional” one. We should not elevate one interpretation of snow over the other because both have enriched the lives of human beings.


     From the snow setting to the classrooms, I audited three courses offered in the fall semester: “Negotiation” instructed by Professor David B. Lipsky, “Mediation” instructed by Professor Rocco M. Scanza, and “Arbitration” instructed by Professor Martin Scheinman from the SICR and ILR Schools. All three courses are closely related to my proposed research project sponsored by the Senior Fulbright Research Grant. I am deeply thankful to all of the professors for their pedagogically excellent strategies and tactics combining theories with practices, which are truly helpful to me in terms of giving various topic/issue-centered lectures, leading simulation exercises/activities, facilitating class discussions, and guiding targeted students on assigned or self-selected themes.


     The only time that I ever miss a session is when I attend conferences, such as the 2014 Fulbright Visiting Scholar Enrichment Seminar on “Climate Change and the Plight of the Oceans” held in St. Petersburg, Florida from November 5 to 9, 2014, or when I am invited to give guest lectures at workshops. One time, the Department of Communication and the Graduate Studies in Interpreting and Translation (GSIT) Program of the University of Maryland invited me to lead a workshop on several topics, such as Introduction to Interpreting, Intercultural/Cross-Cultural Communication/ Negotiation, Fundamentals of Translation, and a Practicum on Event Simulation/Negotiation.


     I did not want to be absent from these three classes not only because they will certainly contribute significantly to my research project but also because I teach “Negotiation Skills” and “International/Global Negotiations” at National Taipei University and will thus gain much by attending these courses.. Each of the classes met my expectations. I would now like to give descriptions and reflections of my auditing experiences.


     What I have learned the most from Professor Lipsky’s Negotiation class is that he has a very clear, step-by-step approach to the theories and practices of negotiations as stated in a carefully-designed, topic/issue-centered syllabus with various negotiation simulations and activities for the students to engage in. Required readings, handouts, and case assignments on negotiations are both typical classics and trendy enough for students to apply them to the targeted issues. I personally liked the cases of “The Thirteen Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis” and “The Bridge on the River Kwai” the most. The former demonstrates how negotiation can effectively resolve a horrible conflict which might lead to World War III, while the latter demonstrates how cross-cultural negotiations can or cannot settle disputes that fail to establish commonalities in beliefs, values, attitudes, and behaviors. For either case, it would be always critical to put the emphasis on the thorough studies of negotiations and cross-cultural negotiations as well.


     My experiences and reflections are that the world would have been much better off and would have avoided any unnecessary wars or forms of any violence if human beings had the effective negotiation and cross-cultural negotiation strategies and tactics at hand. These strategies and tactics must be learned, and the negotiators must be educated and trained. For example, Westerners negotiate “the contract” while Easterners negotiate “the relationship.” The West tends to be competitive (zero-sum game) while the East tends to be cooperative (non-zero-sum game). But, why so? In this sense, I appreciate deeply Professor Lipsky’s offering me an opportunity to give a guest lecture on “Cross-Cultural Negotiation: A Pragmatic Approach” on October 27, 2014 as well as to make a course proposal on “The Cross-Cultural Conflict Management” to be offered this coming spring semester, if approved by both ILR School here and CIES in Washington, D.C. My major motivation of performing the above-mentioned tasks is because I wish that I could also contribute my specializations in Negotiations to the faculty and students of Cornell University.


     Professor Scanza’s “Mediation” class has benefited me a great deal as well in that I have never offered a single course on Mediation while teaching Negotiation/International Negotiation classes in Taiwan. Mediation is only a “chapter” in my negotiation textbooks. Cross-culturally viewed, mediation in practice is not professionally treated in my culture, let alone a vocational engagement that is accepted, trusted, and even paid. Being a mediator in Taiwan is an “honorable” job with naturally-attributed dignity and power of conflict resolutions.


     However, after watching all of Professor Scanza’s lectures, class activities, and intercollegiate mediation events, e.g., Ohio State vs. Cornell and Yale vs. Cornell, judged by well-experienced, and professional mediators, such Mr. Richard D. Fincher, I have totally changed my viewpoints on mediations and mediators. Actually, what I have learned the most from this class is that “Third-Party Interventions” mediation is absolutely needed for conflict resolutions in a democratic society which should be based on justice, objectivity, neutrality, and fairness. These are values which go beyond national borders and overcome the cross-cultural barriers, and I should stress them more in my future courses after I return to Taiwan.


     Although a rather intensive course—lasting four consecutive evenings, 3 hours per evening, for a total of 12 hours--Professor Scheinman’s “Arbitration” class also made me think of Arbitration as another powerful third-party intervention strategy, especially in the practice of labor arbitration. To my best knowledge, Taiwan is not mature or sophisticated enough to employ this mechanism in either standards of contract interpretation or past practices.


     My experiences and reflections on this course are mainly situated on what and how I could possibly complement and reinforce the labor arbitration through appropriate educational training at both the higher-educational level and the city/county/central governmental level in Taiwan. Taiwanese laborers are still considered relatively weaker when compared to the management. Unions are to be strengthened as well. Furthermore, the division line between mediation and arbitration remains vague and must be legally clarified. I would like to form a “trinity,” which means the combination of university faculties, the industries, and the relevant governmental agencies, as an organizing curriculum committee to design a more comprehensive curriculum on Arbitration for every party involved.


     In addition to attending the three courses mentioned above, interviewing some faculty members on campus, whose specializations are of particular assistance in my proposed research project, has granted me positive and productive outcomes for my research project. For example, I talked with Professor Stephanie A. H. Divo, Director of the Intensive Mandarin Program at Cornell (IMPAC) on Chinese Rhetoric; with Professor Nick Admussen on Chinese/English Translation of Rhetoric in different Chinese literary genres; with Professor Wayles Brown from Dept. of Linguistics, who suggested that adding sociolinguistics to my Pentad (lexicology, phonology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics) would be helpful to my proposed study here in scope and style, and I totally accepted his suggestion; with Mr. Richard D. Fincher on how to apply mediation to conflict resolution; and with Professor Roger Gilbert, Chair of the English Department, on English Rhetoric, particularly on its application to the English literary texts, especially those of poetry—to satisfy our common interest and taste (I used to be an English literature major). As a matter of fact, the experiences and reflections I have gained from the interviews are not only academically constructive but also congenially pleasant. It is an atmosphere which evolves from a modesty that has always been a priceless and intangible asset for a scholar to be endowed when advancing academic understanding.


     There are certainly more “assets” than simply the asset of being endowed with modesty as found in the faculty members whom I learned from and interviewed in the past semester. Based on my personal genuine feelings and observations for over three months, I have identified the following fundamental elements that have served as the cornerstones of Cornell University. They make an ivy-league university like Cornell ivy-leaguely prestigious in its academics—the focus of my paper.


1. Professors at Cornell are passionate about teaching, publishing, researching, and serving the community.

2. The academic heritage has been handed down as both a mission-centered and an ambitious and positive mental stimulus. This heritage has always kept Cornell’s scholarly quality at a highest level.

3. Students are proud of being Cornellians. They take learning seriously by being fully prepared, by participating actively in discussions, and by challenging the authorities with reasoned and sound argumentations. It appears to me that almost all of the students I have seen are full of self-confidence, another priceless and major source of learning.

4. Many simply brilliant pillar alumni, like Hu Shih who graduated from Cornell in 1914 and went on to become the leader of China’s new culture movement (1919), the Chinese ambassador to the United States (1938-1942), the chancellor of Peking University (1946-1948), and the president of the Academia Sinica (1957-1962), have set examples to emulate in reaching their most high-achieving goals. Besides, the power of alumni in their financial donations to build up the solid funding of their alma mater has been enormous in launching and supporting rare, but academically significant research projects.

5.Cornell University Library's collections encompass a rich and varied universe of printed volumes, digital resources, maps, media, and archival materials. The Library holds 8 million volumes and nearly one million ebooks.The libraries have served as the center of intellectual life. To me, the books themselves, with their own histories as shown on their years of publication, are bathed in another heritage witnessing the historical growth of the school. Once the users walk into the library, they become part of the history in both glory and luster.

6. The university has a global mindset including a humanitarian concern with, for example, what happened in Pakistan recently: a Taliban attack in Peshawar, Pakistan, Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. Taliban gunmen stormed a military-run school in the northwestern Pakistani city, killing at least 141 innocent lives. As a response, this tragedy was immediately followed by a campus-wide prayer for the peace of the souls, a noble deed only leading to an even greater realm of the ivy-leaguely prestigious Cornell.

7. Cornell has the tolerance of and respect for different religious beliefs on campus as accommodated at the Anabel Taylor Hall, which is dedicated as an Interfaith Center. The essence of any religion in the world should be based on equality, which allows no prejudice against anyone. Cornell realizes this spirit of equality fully.

8. Lastly, Cornell has been well-known for sticking faithfully to what Mr. Ezra Cornell said when he founded this institution in 1865: “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” This motto has been prominently realized ever since then.


     So long as the eight above-mentioned fundamentals exist, Cornell will remain ivy-leaguely prestigious because they last as long as the ivy lasts. As a final note, I would like to express my deep gratitude again to the Senior Fulbright Research Grant which has sponsored me generously to conduct my research at Cornell. I have fully comprehended the true meaning of “Aim high, soaring; Aim low, boring!” Out of my own modesty and admiration, I will continue envisioning and realizing the productive and contributive days in the coming spring semester.


     Upon hearing the chimes wafted from McGraw Tower, I would predict sincerely Cornell’s second brilliant sesquicentennial in the future!

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