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Cornell Law: Lady Gaga or Gone Gaga?

March 11, 2010

The blogosphere is amused and Cornell University alumni sites are angry over a bizarre addition to the Web site of the university's law school.

The top of the page features a rotating series of photos and text about distinguished alumni -- a New York State Supreme Court justice, a vice president of CARE USA, a top government official in Thailand, and so forth. But one rotation features a fictional character, Andy Bernard of the comedy show "The Office." He is shown with a Cornell banner and the slogan "I went to Cornell.... Ever heard of it?"

Web sites that don't normally focus on legal education, such as TMZ, have noted the oddity.

Legal blogs such as Above the Law have taken to analyzing the television show, noting that while the Andy Bernard character does claim a Cornell degree, it's an undergraduate one, not a J.D.

The alumni blog MetaEzra is sufficiently outraged that it ran an item under the headline: "Somebody at the Law School Needs to be Fired."

When Inside Higher Ed reached Richard Geiger, the law school's associate dean for communications and enrollment, he explained the unusual marketing tactic. The law school has this year experienced an increase in applications of more than 50 percent, which led The Wall Street Journal to compare the school to Lady Gaga -- "white hot," but without a fully explained reason for being so.

Geiger said Wednesday night that he has been quoted accurately as saying that he can't explain the magnitude of the increase, but that a handful of applicants responded to the question about why they were applying to Cornell by citing the Andy Bernard character.

"So we decided -- let's have a little fun with this," Geiger said, and the character started to appear in the rotation on the law school's site. He went up last week, but it was only this week that the blogosphere took note. Reaction has been mixed. "About half the people love it and half the people say 'What is this about?' "

But internally, Geiger said that people hope they are sending a positive message -- not about the character, but about the need for perspective. "Here's a law school that's not taking itself too seriously," he said.

The various features on the law school's home page are rotated around quite a bit, so don't expect it to stay there much longer. "He's about ready to go down," said Geiger.

 

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