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FAQ's About the Name Cornell Botanic Gardens


Why are you changing the name? Why recommend a new name?

  • While other places on campus have easily identifiable descriptors — a library and museum have definite, universal connotations — the name “Cornell Plantations” has no such grounding for potential visitors. The name provides no indication as to what people can expect to find when the visit the grounds and thus requires constant explanation, potentially confusing both potential visitors and collaborators. There is no other botanic garden in the United States with such a confusing name. 
  • By definition, the word “plantation” refers to an agricultural enterprise where masses of plants, typically the same variety (monoculture), are grown for harvest, production, or research. Cornell Botanic Gardens by comparison celebrates a diverse collection of flowers, herbs and trees.
  • For many people, the word “plantation” also has a negative association, evoking periods of history, regimes and places associated with slavery and racial oppression in America and around the world.

Why now?

  • A simpler, more appropriate name will clearly identify the organization as a public garden.
  • A branding study conducted earlier this year by an external consultant found clear and significant support for a new name among people who have been actively involved with the organization, including Cornell faculty and students, donors, Advisory Council, staff, and volunteers.
  • Past surveys have concluded that the name “Cornell Plantations” has little or no meaning for Cornell students, faculty, staff, and alumni, or for the Ithaca community.
  • Changing the name now will reaffirm the organization’s and Cornell University’s commitment to openness, diversity, and inclusion. Furthermore, a new name is expected to open new avenues and sources of significant funding and support.

Are you changing the name to be politically correct?

  • No. The primary reason for changing the name to is to more clearly identify the organization as a public garden and reflect its mission, vision, and programs.
  • “Cornell Botanic Gardens” instantly evokes what anyone can expect to find here.

Process & Input

What motivated the idea for a new name?

  • For many years, the University has received queries, complaints, and demands regarding the use and appropriateness of the name “Cornell Plantations” (CP).
  • When Dr. Christopher Dunn was hired in 2014 as the new executive director of CP, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) Dean Kathryn Boor asked him to initiate a strategic planning process and determine if the name “Cornell Plantations” reflects and supports the mission, vision, values and brand of the organization, CALS, and Cornell University.

What is the process and who has been involved?

  • With the approval of Dean Boor and then-Cornell President Elizabeth Garrett, in 2015 CP hired an external communications research consultant, Beacon Associates, to examine its “brand”—how it is perceived by people who are most familiar with it, and to determine whether the current name fits its mission, vision and programs.
  • In late fall 2015, Beacon Associates held a series of focus group discussions with Cornell faculty, staff and students, CP staff and volunteers, CP Advisory Council members and CP donors.
  • In early 2016, Beacon Associates conducted an online survey of over 2,700 CP donors and e-newsletter subscribers.
  • More than 70% of the survey respondents supported a new name for the organization.  When asked to select a name that best represents the organization from 11 options provided in the survey, 55% of respondents chose “Cornell Botanic Gardens” or a derivation thereof.

Who else had input?

In addition to those who participated in the study conducted by Beacon Associates, between late 2014 and October 2016, Dr. Dunn and CP staff will have discussed the Plantations' brand with:

  • CP Advisory Council
  • CP Donors
  • CALS and University Diversity Councils
  • CALS Faculty Senate
  • CALS Department Chairs
  • Black Students United
  • Cornell University Employee and Student Assemblies
  • Cornell University Faculty Senate
  • President and his Leadership Team
  • Various committees of the Board of Trustees

Final Decision

Who made the final decision?

  • The Cornell University Board of Trustees approved the name Cornell Botanic Gardens by unanimous consent on October 28, 2016.

Perception and Support

Do students and faculty support a new name?

  • Yes, based on opinions expressed in the 2015-16 focus groups and survey conducted by external consultant a vast majority are supportive.
  • The Cornell University Faculty Senate, Student Assembly, Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, Employee Assembly, and the CALS Faculty Senate each passed a resolution supporting the name change and urging the Board of Trustees to approve it.

Do donors support the name change?

  • Yes, based on opinions expressed in the 2015-16 focus groups and survey conducted by external consultant, and discussions with the CP Advisory Council and individual donors, we are confident that most of our donors will support the name change.
  • We hope that both current and new donors will support the organization based on its mission, vision, living collections, programs, and contributions to the University and the community, rather than its name alone. 

Historical Considerations & Context

Where did the name “Cornell Plantations” come from?

  • It was originally proposed in 1939 by Liberty Hyde Bailey, emeritus dean of the College of Agriculture, to replace the existing name, “Cornell Arboretum.”  Bailey envisioned that it would be “a new type of botanical garden,” including agricultural enterprises of crop production and improvements, animal husbandry and livestock management, as well as collections of wild, economic, and ornamental plants. 
  • The University Trustees Arboretum Committee did not initially support the name change, but in accepting Bailey’s plans for expansion, in 1944 the Board of Trustees approved the change of “Cornell Arboretum” to “Cornell Plantations.”

Why not name it after Liberty Hyde Bailey?

  • There are already three facilities at Cornell named in his honor:  Bailey Conservatory Greenhouse, Bailey Hortorium, and Bailey Hall
  • We are planning a major endowment campaign in conjunction with our 75th anniversary (2019) and need to be able to offer the opportunity to rename the organization in honor of a major donor.

Why “Cornell Botanic Gardens” rather than “Cornell Arboretum”?

  • “Botanic gardens” is inclusive of current display gardens, arboretum, and natural areas.
  • “Arboretum” is a type of botanic garden commonly associated with only tree collections; thus, more narrow in scope.

How will you honor the history of “Cornell Plantations,” especially for those concerned about a name change?

  • All information about Cornell Botanic Gardens will include its history dating back to the founding of Cornell University, including the vision of President A. D. White; early gardens and collections established by botany professors; development of the “Cornell University Arboretum”; L. H. Bailey’s vision and renaming of “Cornell Plantations”; and the development of our gardens, arboretum and natural areas since 1944.

Could you have a historic marker or sign that acknowledges the original names?

  • Yes, we hope to do this and will be seeking funding to support it.


How will a new name benefit the organization?

  • It will clearly identify the organization as a public garden.
  • People will have a better understanding of what they can expect to find here.
  • Cornell Botanic Gardens” is in keeping with type of name that is standard in the botanic garden profession and at other colleges and universities that have public gardens.
  • “Botanic Gardens” refers to horticultural collections and the experience of being in nature, as opposed to the agricultural connotations and association with slavery evoked by “Plantations.”
  • The new name more clearly reflects the organization’s mission, vision, collections, and programs—past, present, and future.
  • It is also more supportive of the mission, vision, and core values of Cornell University and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.


Will admission still be free?

  • Yes

What is the cost of a new name?

  • We estimate the cost of changing signs, maps, publications, websites, etc. to be approximately $150,000.

Who will pay for the name change?

  • Cornell University, CALS and Cornell Botanic Gardens are sharing the costs of changing the name.

Other Changes?

Are you changing your mission?

  • The core mission and purpose of Cornell Botanic Gardens remains the same—cultivation of botanical gardens, conservation of natural areas, and environmental education.
  • As part of our strategic planning process, we have been engaging our staff and Advisory Council, as well as other stakeholders in carefully considering the relevance of our existing programs and future direction of the organization.
  • We have updated our mission and vision statements to make explicit reference to the three core pillars of cultivation, conservation, and education, and to include a new emphasis on the cultural connections between people, plants and nature.

    Mission: Inspiring people – through cultivation, conservation, and education – to understand, appreciate, and nurture plants and the cultures they sustain.

    Vision:  A world in which the interdependence of biological and cultural diversity is respected, sustained, and celebrated.


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