Why do some of the windows in Morrill Hall no longer open?

Date: November 2018


Dear Deans,

I am writing in relation to the American Campuses Act on Climate Pledge (signed by Cornell), Cornell’s existing pledge to environmental stewardship, and the renovations taking place on Morrill Hall. I’m hoping to have you help me understand why many of us are no longer able to open our windows.

Over the summer, and now into fall, the windows and roof of Morrill Hall have been in the process of being replaced. This was great news! Unfortunately, while having our glass replaced, it seems the decision was made that these windows no longer need to be openable. All porthole windows on the fourth floor of Morrill have been fully sealed shut, while all other windows have air conditioning units jammed in them. Any offices with only porthole windows (approximately a third of offices on this floor) now lack fresh air flow. We currently have a room that many of us have been calling “the onion office” due to the unfortunate fact that someone ate a sandwich with raw onions in the room several weeks ago. Lacking any openable windows, the space still stinks. Lacking any way of getting air out of this floor, the onion miasma is spreading. My bigger concern, however, and the reason I am writing you, is the problem we now face in trying to cool this space. After renovations, the only way to regulate the temperature on this floor is to make use of air conditioning units. Prior to renovations, one would have taken the ingenious step of opening a window and harnessing the awesome power of breezes. 

In earlier pledges to building a greener campus, Cornell vowed “to promote sustainable futures through improvements to the campus environment: “Through efforts such as reducing waste, decreasing the university’s consumption of nonrenewable resources, increasing recycling and the purchasing of recycled products, promoting public transportation, increasing ties to its local community and reducing the use of environmentally harmful substances such as chlorofluorocarbons, Cornell has made and will continue to make substantial contributions towards minimizing its overall environmental impact.” I wonder if replacing carbon neutral breezes with air conditioning units does not run counter to an effort to reduce waste? 

My question for you, Dean, is this: how does Cornell understand the changes to (specifically) Morrill Hall within a larger imaginary of a greener campus?

Kind regards,

Growing Panes


Dear Growing Panes,

Thanks for your Ask a Dean question!  I’m sorry you’re experiencing poor ventilation, and onion odor.

I consulted with Cornell’s Facilities and Campus Services unit, and they had some good news for you.  The Morrill Hall architect is aware of the inoperable window issue.  Apparently some rooms in Morrill with the inoperable circular dormer windows also have operable double hung windows accessible, and these provide ventilation.  However, there are four offices with only a single inoperable circular dormer window.  It seems these are the offices you wrote about.

For those four offices, they are developing a solution to make the circular windows operable, to enable better ventilation in the rooms.  From what I understand, the problem should be solved in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, you may want to try a box of open baking soda (or two) in the “onion office” to try to get rid of the smell. 

I hope the more permanent solution the architect is identifying will address your concerns and enable a return to natural breezes flowing through your spaces.

Warm regards,


Barbara A. Knuth
Dean of the Graduate School