According to legend, a very proper New England lady, with an offspring ready for College, once fell into a conversation about education with a non-Bostonian acquaintance.
"Well," offered the friend innocently, "have you considered Cornell?"
"Oh," said the lady sharply. "We hadn't thought about any of those Western schools."
Her remark embodied more than a mere geographical misconception about the location of upstate New York. It also revealed a certain critical attitude of mind toward a University with so many departures from the New England norm.
An Ivy League school which waited until 1865 to be founded, teaches vocational subjects in addition to the tired and true liberal arts, combines both state and private support, and proclaims itself unashamedly co-educational is something decidedly out of the ordinary.
But to try to characterize a University as heterogeneous as Cornell, whether with the adjective "Western" or any other, is likely to result in a painful over-simplification.
There are, however, some tangible facts about the University which can at least help to set the scene. Cornell ranks on the IBM level of the Ivy League in enrollment, with slightly less than 10,000 students in all its various divisions, only a few behind the Harvard figure.
Great Physical Size
In sheer physical size, Cornell outdistances any other Ivy school by almost any standard of comparison. The Ithaca campus sprawls over thousands of acres, and the University also has considerable chunks of land in Geneva, N. Y., Buffalo, and New York City, where the Medical and Nursing Schools are located.
The main campus at Ithaca, perched "several hundred feet above the southern extremity of Cayuga Lake," as one official publication anatomically describes it, has long had the reputation of being one of the most scenic in the United States. On esthetic grounds alone, Cornell students show pardonable pride when they sing of their "noble alma mater, Glorious to view."
More than 150 buildings of one kind or another cover portions of this expanse. On many, the mortar between the bricks has barely had time to dry, for building seems to go on at a breathless rate at Cornell. For example the Veterinary College, a state-supported school, has recently erected almost twenty new buildings. For an Ivy League school, Cornell has remarkably little Ivy--in many places it just hasn't had time to grow yet.
The University's 10,000 students are scattered among no less than fourteen schools and colleges. The College of Arts and Sciences is the largest single division, with about 2600 students, but it does not have a majority even of the undergraduates.
The state-supported agriculture school, with about 1700 undergraduates and some 600 graduate students, is important numerically. But it hardly dominates the campus to the extent to which it has sometimes been pictured. Cornell students, with the possible but dubious exception of agriculture students themselves, do not plow their way to classes through herds of cows. Although cows in varying stages of contentment can be seen grazing in great numbers on the pasture lands, the chief student contact with Cornell's bovine enrollment goes no farther than drinking their milk, which is extracted in large quantities from the animals and processed in the Agriculture school's creamery.
The engineering school, also with about 1700 undergraduates, is the only other specialized division of the University to top 100 in enrollment. The Cornell Graduate School, which has about 1500 registered students, includes regular graduate students in the University, aside from those in the exclusively graduate schools like law and medicine.
The other undergraduate divisions, architecture, hotel administration--with a lavish Statler hotel on campus in which to practice--and the state-supported Home Economics and Labor and Industrial Relations schools, all have relatively small student bodies.