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Cornell Hotel School's history is explored in new book

Despite Ezra Cornell's decree that he would "found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study," instruction in hotel management at Cornell University almost didn't happen. In the early 1900s, Cornell President Jacob Gould Schurman rejected the idea that Cornell should provide hotel management training as "absolutely out of the question." But the perseverance of hotel owners and key Cornell faculty turned the tide and, in 1922, Cornell became the first school in the world to offer a bachelor's degree in hotel management.

The controversial start to the study of hotel management at Cornell and the growth of the major into a separate school are given careful review in the newly published Hospitality Leadership: The Cornell Hotel School. Written by Brad Edmonson, editor of American Demographics, and edited by John Marcham, former editor of Cornell Alumni News, this attractive 224-page book is a celebration of the history of one of the preeminent schools of its kind in the world today.

The book was published by the Cornell Society of Hotelmen for the Hotel School's 75th anniversary celebration, which gets under way next year.

Hospitality Leadership tells of the struggle a group of hotel owners encountered when they suggested the idea of training hotel managers to Cornell administrators. For nearly a decade, hotel owners led by John Howie of Buffalo pleaded with Cornell to develop such a program. Between 1900 and 1920, the hotel and restaurant industries had seen enormous growth and owners wanted managers who could give their establishments professional polish.

Cornell administrators, however, believed that such an education was purely vocational and had no part at a university. Besides, the university was not interested in funding the development of the new program.

After more haggling and further rebukes by Cornell, the American Hotel Association (AHA) agreed to fund and participate in the development of a hotel education program at the university within the College of Home Economics. Cornell began accepting applications from students for its new program in the spring of 1922.

Noteworthy in the Hotel School's history is the role of hotel industry giant E.M. Statler. Statler, who would later become the biggest benefactor of the program, first snubbed numerous attempts by Cornell to get him to support the program. His trepidation about the program led him to refuse to place Cornell students in summer jobs at his Hotel Pennsylvania, and when the AHA made its first payment to Cornell supporting the program, he threatened to leave the organization.

Not until 1927, when Statler attended the Hotel Ezra Cornell weekend on campus, where students feted industry executives at a "hotel for a day," did he change his mind and offer his support to Cornell. The book links part of Statler's change of heart to an asparagus dish he tasted at a Cornell dinner hosted by hotel students. The hollandaise sauce originally planned for the asparagus soured, pressuring students into creating their own topping. The new experimental sauce so impressed the hotel impresario that he barged into the kitchen demanding to know the recipe. Coincidentally, the student who threw together the ingredients was the son of one of Statler's employees at his Hotel Pennsylvania.

The book traces the growth of the hotel program through Prohibition, the Depression and the war years, which saw the number of hotel students and graduates decline, as most men entered World War II. On the flip side, more women enrolled in the program, causing the annual "waiters' run" to be renamed the "waitresses' run." The event required students to race across campus carrying a bowl of water on a tray.

The war's end marked the beginning of the program's golden age. In 1949, E.M. Statler's widow, Alice, help lay the cornerstone for the hotel program's separate home, Statler Hall, and within it a practice hotel, Statler Inn. A year later the Department of Hotel Administration became a separate school within the College of Home Economics, and in 1954 trustees gave it the status of a separate college.

While the curriculum offered by the Hotel School has changed dramatically over time, one course remains the same. The program's first dean, H.B. Meek, developed a Friday afternoon lecture series and coffee hour that enabled hotel students to meet top hotel operators. The series was then called "Hotel Administration 155," because it met at 1:55 p.m. The course was renamed for subsequent deans "Brownies with Beck," "Cookies with Clark," and is today "Donuts with Dittman."

The book contains interviews with the former deans, Robert A. Beck '42 and Jack Clark, Ph.D. '61, and with current Dean David Dittman. There also are numerous faculty and alumni anecdotes, remembrances and career stories. The book is rich in photographs, with many from the Hotel School's early days.

The book was underwritten by the Hotel School's alumni organization, the Cornell Society of Hotelman, whose membership roster reads like a hospitality industry honor roll. Sixty-four alumni and friends of the school representing such businesses as Banfi Vintners, Coopers & Lybrand, Hilton Hotels Corp., Medallion Hotels, Radisson Hospitality Worldwide, Seagrams & Sons and Wyndham Hotels and Resorts contributed more than $100,000 to the project.

Proceeds from the sale of the book will pay for scholarships and additional press runs.

A hard-bound cloth cover book sells for $35, plus $6 for domestic shipping and $12 for international shipping. The book can be ordered through the Cornell University Resource Center at (607) 255-7660.

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