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Rawlings to Chair Spitzer's Commission on Higher Ed

Eliot Spitzer wants New York State's higher education system to be among the best in the country, and he wants Cornell's president emeritus Hunter Rawlings to lead the way. Hunter has been tapped by Spitzer to serve as chairman of the state's new higher education commission.

Reports the New York Times:

The governor said he hoped that in five years the state would have four or five campuses that “define excellence in particular areas.”

SUNY is the largest public university in the United States, with more than 400,000 students on 64 campuses, including research centers, comprehensive colleges and community colleges. None are included in the U.S. News and World Report’s widely quoted list of top 50 universities, which does have six California public universities.

Mr. Spitzer indicated that he thought the state university “has so many masters” that it might need a leaner administrative structure. “SUNY has a board of regents, it has a chancellor, it has its own trustees, it has the Legislature, it has the governor, obviously. There is a disparate governing structure that to a certain extent has not permitted one articulable strategy and one unifying theory about what it can or should do.”

Several other states and state universities have announced that they also hope to improve their national standings.

“It’s very hard to move up,” said David W. Breneman, dean of the school of education at the University of Virginia. “All of these other universities aren’t standing still. And they’ve got the people, the infrastructure, the grants.”

The chairman of the 30-member commission is Hunter R. Rawlings III, a former president of Cornell University. He said in an interview that while the state university would be a primary focus of the commission, the governor wanted to assess private universities as well. He said the governor was also talking about issues like governance, tuition policy and research excellence.

It will be interesting to see what role Cornell plays in the commission's recommendations. Our alma mater is a private institution, but it is also the land-grant university for the State of the New York, and it contracts with the state to provide education, research, and outreach in disciplines the state deems vital to its well-being.

It's important to keep in mind that Cornell's relationship with the State of New York has not changed significantly over the last fifty years. As a result, the collection of departments and programs scattered across the contract colleges is becoming increasingly disorganized, confusing, and anachronistic.

I hope to write more about this in the future, but the Rawlings commission may provide Cornell and the State of New York with the impetus for streamlining and strengthening Cornell's educational offerings.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on May 30, 2007 (#)

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