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The Cornell University Swim Test
Its History and Importance
| February 12, 2010
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[[font|size=4]] The Swim Test Under Attack [[end-font]] One of Cornell University’s most time honored traditions and important instructional programs is under attack. In an era where budget cuts have become the norm for the University on the East Hill, one of iconic things that every single entering Cornell university freshman undergoes is the swim test. And, if a bunch of students have their way, the Swim test may become the next victim of the University’s penny pinching. The Cornell University Student Assembly, the governing body that speaks on behalf of the undergraduate student population, has proposed no less than two resolutions in the past year that would end the swim test. The first attack on the swim test came back in November when the Student Assembly proposed taking swim test funds to cover the budget shortfall in the struggling Dutch and Swedish Programs. This proposal was quietly canned. More recently, the Student Assembly proposed a resolution that would make the swim test optional for all incoming students. The assembly cited that the swim test is an outdated relic from the early 20th century, it does not exclude individuals with disabilities and phobias of water, and that the odds of perishing in a drowning accident are incredibly low. This proposal is currently pending in the assembly. [[font|size=4]] The History of the Swim Test [[end-font]] According to Corey Earle, Cornell Class of 2007, the Swim Test’s origins are relatively obscure. "I'm not sure anyone knows the real story of why it was founded and the history of it," said Earle "but if you look at the history, women were the first be required to pass the swim test." According to Earle, the outbreak of World War II led for Cornell to make the test compulsory for men as well. Contrary to popular belief, the swim test did not actually originate because of a wealthy alumnus’s child drowning in an accident. "Some believe the rumor is connected to other at other schools there are kind of similar instances," said Earle. Regardless of its origins, Earle believes it is one of the most valuable traditions enduring at Cornell. "At a recent, alumni conference, it was amazing how many alumni found the swim test to be a shared bonding experience," Earle said. [[font|size=4]] An Important Insurance Policy [[end-font]] The Student Assembly’s resolution points out that drowning in a water transportation accident is approximately 1 in 10,940. The Assembly notes that it is more likely death will result from assault, intentional self-harm, and motor vehicle accidents. While their argument may look sound, consider these facts: the Student Assembly has been basing their campaign against the swim test on a cost of approximately $10,000 per year. For a freshmen class of 3,500, this means that it costs about $2.86 per student to ensure they are able to swim. It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to receive a cornell education. Cornell should do everything within some reason to ensure that its students are protected and their education is not going to waste. That’s why there is a strong psychological counseling support network to prevent students from inflicting self-harm, and an active blue-light phone system and police force that works hard to ensure students won’t suffer from assault or a reckless driving accident. These programs cost thousands, if not millions of dollars, to maintain. When you look at the odds of what that these programs are looking to combat, the swim test is well funded. Given the risks of drowning, $2.86 per student is a fair deal to ensure that students don’t lose their educational investment due to drowning. Consider the $2.86 the university puts towards each student to be an insurance policy. With the cost of education being what it is, it is an insurance policy that you should definitely have.
Share Your Thoughts
Dustin Moskowitz '91 from New Jersey | March 13, 2010, 9:33am
I have to agree with Barry. I was a good enough swimmer to pass the test, but what if I hadn't? Would I have been a better student because then I would have had to take swimming instead of some other gym class? If it's a matter of safety, CPR is way more effective. If it's a matter of tradition, then let a campus group continue doing it for the fun of it and maybe throw in some charity, and not for the completion of an outdated requirement. All freshmen men had to wear beanies once too!

Barry Bendel '64 from Virginia | March 4, 2010, 12:48pm
It is an anachronism, IMHO - if you want to do something truly useful, make everyone take a CPR class. That would have more of a payoff.
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