LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Cornell Should Pay its Fair Share

To the editor:

Cornell University has the immense privilege of being exempt from property taxes. It enjoys this privilege due to New York State law’s treatment of nonprofit organizations, the underlying purpose of which is to help sustain institutions that will serve the public interest. The tax exemption is a public subsidy to Cornell to support its mission to provide education for the common good. The public mission of education reflects the democratic value of education, which should benefit society as a whole and should not serve as a private commodity benefiting only the individual student or faculty member.

This tax exemption — this public subsidy — heightens Cornell’s moral obligation and social duty to act as a responsible member of the communities in which it is embedded. The communities of Ithaca and Tompkins County benefit from Cornell’s presence. However, that is only a part of the story. Cornell’s presence also imposes heavy financial and social costs on these communities through Cornell’s use of public services, its enjoyment of the benefits of this region and its negative impact of raising the cost of living in Ithaca and surrounding communities. To maintain its legitimacy as an educational institution for the common good and to fulfill its moral and social obligations to contribute to the well-being of these communities, Cornell should pay its fair share to defray these heavy costs and contribute positively to the communities in which it lives. To maintain its standing as a national leader in sustainability and social progress, Cornell must show leadership in its own community by making payments commensurate with its rapid growth.