College money


[Written by Ellen Edgerton.]

Do you remember the money near the end of the Ivy Wars (as we called them here)? I think that was the worst of a very low point in our history. It was ironic that Orangebacks were the first college-printed currency in New York, considering how people in Ithaca were printing their own money decades earlier. If you were caught with Cornell money -- or God forbid, outside money -- you would be in big trouble. I suppose "trouble" depended on your station. If you were a townie or staff you'd be fined (and of course, the outside money would be "confiscated as evidence" - how convenient!); but if you were a student or faculty or administrator, you'd be publicly denounced in the University Senate -- and at the very worst points, a couple students were expelled as examples. Calling it "Cornell money" was even a bit of a thoughtcrime. Now Syracuse money was good old "orangebacks," but Cornell's was derisively called "Scarlet Scrip" or "Cornell Scrip" or "Carnies."

Of course, it was ALL company scrip. You couldn't use it anywhere else but on Campus (but who ever left Campus in those days?) and you couldn't buy computers or non-GMO food from any other places but Bookstore outlets that would only take scrip. Although parking permits -- those had to be paid in cash or whatever else was valuable off-Campus. Of course, they don't call them parking permits any more -- wisely, the Trustees finally figured out that was too demeaning and obsolete. Now they are called taxes, a serviceable old word. Better to call them taxes than what our movement wanted to call them.

It took townies 27 years to make the journey from organizing the first (sadly ineffective) protests for parking permit waivers, to fomenting the Free Tuition Movement. I always thought it was a bad name for the movement - it wasn't "free tuition" we wanted, it was the right to join the student-class. It was a complete paradigm shift, utterly threatening to the status quo, that our parking permit money could be called something else ("tuition") and that we would receive fair credit for our life experience. What was the difference between a fee and tuition? Nothing. What was the difference between life experience and a degree program? Nothing. To just... admit the truth, waive the credits. Or rather, change their whole meaning. Audacious. Can you imagine?

It was too radical in the end, and in the end they shut it down. In the end, the threats to the old order were just too powerful. Don't be mistaken -- the student-class weren't against us. That is a big misconception - but then again, faculty write the history books, don't they? The students were maybe not for us, but not against us either. But even the Trustees figured out that it wouldn't do to have townies figuring out ways to break through the university-networks and talking to each other. Too much was at stake. Finally, the olive branches were secretly extended, the satellite state-schools were horse-traded between the Big Four, and plans were devised for the gleaming joint centers that would be built on top of the most troublesome neighborhoods in Ithaca and Syracuse.

You remember it as Peace in Our Time... the exalted marriage of Red and Orange... "the inevitable upward progress of human intellectual growth, a triumph of soulfulness and knowledge, a new era of academic excellence." You don't want to go back to the bad old days when there were too many townies who weren't even staff-class. But I'm just telling you what the price was for that, who paid it, and what that was really all about.


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This page contains a single entry by Simon St.Laurent published on December 4, 2007 7:30 AM.

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