Myrick wants the Cornell endowment to fund city operating costs


Ithaca, NY is a geographically blessed place. It’s almost magical — a place where you can literally swim in dozens of different waterfalls, hike breathtaking gorges, sail the Finger Lakes, and take in some of the most beautiful landscape of rolling hills in America. During the summer months there is a lushness to the intense greenery of the place that is nothing short of soothing.

It is also an economically blessed place, home to Cornell University and Ithaca College.

The city is the paradox of Upstate New York: the most highly educated small city in America; a rock bottom unemployment rate; hoards of brilliant young people; world renowned scientists and researchers; and a bastion of liberal politics. If any city could afford the fiscal burdens of socialism, it would be this ten square mile enclave surrounded by reality.

That’s why Mayor Svante Myrick’s recent call on Cornell University to utilize its endowment to fund the city’s operating expenses falls so flat. And it has other upstate communities wondering why Cornell — a potentially catalytic engine of economic revival — has been treated so inhospitably by Ithaca, which benefits more from the institution’s dynamism than any other community.

But the city’s history of leftist politics leaves it with a posture naturally inclined to be hostile, a bit militant, and perhaps even spiteful of symbols of institutional power and wealth. The Cornell Endowment, valued at more than $6 billion, is an easy and natural target. But that endowment pales in comparison to other institutions with whom Cornell contends (Harvard’s is the largest university endowment, valued at more than $36 billion).

Rather than relying on endowment resources for ongoing operating expenses that will last into perpetuity, Myrick should press the university to make economic development commitments that plant new growth opportunities in the city and the broader region.

Cornell’s College of Agriculture and The Cornell Cooperative Extension are credited with spawning the a vibrant world class wine industry in the Finger Lakes, Niagara, and Chautauqua wine regions over the last several decades. 

The university could commit to helping spawn and incubate tech and bio-tech start ups, keeping and cultivating them in the Finger Lakes region; and could do more to attract alumni in investment banking, venture capital, and private equity to the region.

In the same way that Stanford University drove the development of Silicon Valley’s tech industry, Cornell can transform the Finger Lakes into a bustling hotbed of innovation in engineering, technology, optics, agriculture, and life sciences.

It will require a much different posture than the one that Mayor Myrick has decided to take. And with Cornell Tech’s new campus on Roosevelt Island in New York City, Myrick’s hostile posture towards the university could push priceless opportunities out of the region for good.

That would be tragically shortsighted.

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