TRUSTEE VIEWPOINT | Pandemic Reveals Cornell’s Long Path to Better Career Advising

Many institution’s structural shortcomings are typically hidden from public view and usually garner little attention. That is, until a crisis hits.

A crisis, especially one as consequential as COVID-19, forces an immediate assessment of institutional preparedness. Cornell’s students, staff, faculty and senior leadership, for example, demonstrated the resilience of our people and the University by successfully undertaking a campus reopening during a global pandemic.

But during the recent virtual career fair mishap, the pandemic revealed an important insight: There’s much work to be done with Cornell’s career advising.

Last month, technical difficulties forced Cornell Career Services (CCS) to postpone Career Fair Days, an annual Barton Hall mingling of students and employers, which relocated to an online platform due to the pandemic. Students were repeatedly logged out of the website and kicked out of employer queues – only then to be randomly signed in as a different person, sometimes as a student, and at other times, an employer. The experience likely did not leave a positive impression of Cornell on employers.

Earlier this year, I emphasized the need for a new approach to career advising — one that pools dispersed, college-based resources for the University’s common good as a whole. What students witnessed during the virtual fair were symptoms of the convolution of Cornell’s career advising system, which rendered it unable to quickly adapt to the COVID-era’s new demands. Of course, CCS did not build the career fair software — an external vendor did. But perhaps better testing and evaluation of the platform and its suitability would have revealed the significant insufficiencies prior to deployment.

Notably, not all universities experienced a painful transition to a virtual career fair. For example, the University of Notre Dame, a peer institution known for its practical approach to career advising, successfully executed its annual fair on Handshake, a web service also used by Cornell, for other career advising functions. Stanford, Brown and the University of Pennsylvania also held successful virtual career fairs on the platform. CCS’ choice, Brazen, was newly introduced to Cornell this year, after the onset of the pandemic.

It is not by chance that the telltales of a structurally untenable career services enterprise have largely flown under the radar before the pandemic. Frankly, even without effective career counseling, Cornell students can leverage the university brand, education and, for some, their family background as means of landing positions at top companies. In terms of employment outcomes, Cornell, with its career offices operating at the current limited capacity, will still substantially outperform most of the nation’s universities at their full capacity.

Indeed, the accurate measure of career advising success is not how we prepare our best-resourced students but the most disadvantaged. Red herrings on postgraduate outcome reports, like the select list of highest-paying, brand-name employers that hire Cornellians gravely overstate the University’s returns on investment in career services. Instead, we must inspect how Cornell prepares students from less-privileged and non-U.S. backgrounds, who may not be able to rely on friends and relatives for employment

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Viewpoint: As Wildfires Burn, Assigning Blame Is Complicated

With wildfires still raging through parts of California, one question has continued to spark debate: Is climate change to blame?

President Trump, for his part, has taken the stance that he doesn’t “think science knows,” despite extensive evidence linking climate change to the hot and dry conditions that paved the way for the fires. When challenged on this stance in the first presidential debate, he pointed solely to forest mismanagement as the fires’ culprit.

While misinformed, Trump’s errors are instructive: They highlight a recurring problem with the way we talk about the connection between climate science and environmental disaster.

First, Trump’s take reflects the false choice — that either climate change or poor governance is to blame for this disaster — that has caused tension in much recent discussion of extreme weather. Not only are these two factors not mutually exclusive, but they almost always share responsibility for these tragedies’ scales. Second, this false choice underscores a key distinction: There is a difference between the scientific act of modeling climate change’s influence on individual weather events, known as attribution, and the moral and political act of ascribing blame and responsibility. Conflating attribution and blame can distract from important questions about the responsible stewardship of natural resources — questions that are becoming increasingly urgent as climate change takes its toll.


While for decades there has been scientific consensus that the climate is changing, only in the past few years has it become possible for scientists to link that change to particular weather events. Even as it advances, however, attribution science, also called probabilistic extreme event attribution, has uncertainties built into it. Broadly speaking, it’s done by comparing two computer models — one that reflects the world as it is, and another that reflects the world as it would have been without global warming — to determine whether the probability of a weather event was affected by climate change and, if so, by how much.

But the results come with caveats. For instance, attribution science doesn’t determine whether climate change made an event possible, but rather if it made the event more likely. The method is also difficult to apply in locales that have little historical data on weather patterns. And certain kinds of events — hurricanes and droughts, for instance — are harder to model than others. Hard evidence of climate change’s influence on Hurricane Sandy, which battered the northeastern U.S. in 2012, didn’t come until years after the fact.

But for wildfires like the ones currently burning in the West, the links with climate change are relatively easy to model and affirm. Although attribution scientists have yet to publish a formal empirical analysis of this year’s wildfire season, the connections between climate change and wildfires are well-established.

The problem is that the simple scientific question — Did climate change increase the likelihood of the fires in California? — is, in practice, bound up with a much bigger political question: Should our governments be reining in our greenhouse

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