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Law Hall Becomes Technology Center


John Weber


As modern as Law Memorial Hall was in 1925, it had no television, no ballpoint pens, and no calculators. Movies were just beginning to talk, Calvin Coolidge was president, and commercial radio was still a novelty. A computer was defined as a person who added columns of figures.

In the three-quarters of a century since the first students began taking classes in Law Hall, many modifications of the building have been required to keep up with changes in science and technology. Finally, in the 1990s the college recognized that a complete renovation was needed and that a technology center was essential to the future of the college. “Students expect it and faculty require it for their teaching and research,” says President Les Garner. “Technology is an extremely valuable tool that expands our reach in research, information, and knowledge to the world.”

In sharp contrast to the $115,000 cost to build Law Hall in 1925, it took $6.4 million to remodel it in 2000. To acquire this much funding in a relatively short time was a daunting task for the 32-member Board of Trustees—but the board proved itself equal to the job, giving $5.7 million collectively. An estate gift from Edna Nelson Rathman ’27 was the catalyst for the Law Hall Technology Center project and financed the campus-wide fiber-optic network.

The renovation has completely transformed the building, and much of that transformation meant the installation of computers. In a building with only 45 rooms, there are now more than 220 dataports. Every classroom, office, workroom, and lounge has data connections.
Psychology, mathematics, and computer science departments are now equipped with the most current technology, including permanently mounted multimedia projectors so faculty can display computer images, videotapes, DVD and CD images, and cable televison—all operated from remote-control devices. The offices of Institutional Research and Computing Services have moved to Law Hall along with the central network servers and the telephone system.
All these electronic wonders are just furniture, however, unless the new technology infrastructure enhances the overall educational experience of Cornell students.
Professor of mathematics and Webmaster Jim Freeman says the new 24-station statistics classroom (with computer monitors that fit under glass-top desks) will “integrate computer technology with the teaching of statistics and math that is fundamental for our students. Law Hall will be as good of a place to teach that is possible.”
Psychology classrooms, labs, and research facilities are in what was until recently the attic. “Never have we had such good facilities. The computer lab will improve research methods and allow interactive studies,” says psychology professor Bill Dragon.
Computer science, which came into being in the 1980s, may see the biggest benefit, says professor of computer science Tony deLaubenfels. “The new classrooms will be taken over by our students doing research and team projects. There will be lots more students spending lots more time in our classrooms,” he says.
The technology in Law Hall represents what President Garner calls a “dramatic change in teaching and learning.”
“Technology use in teaching is allowing the faculty to do things in the classroom that were not possible even five years ago,” he says.

John Weber is director of Computing Services at Cornell.

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