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The Sun Interviews Susan Henry On AEM

The is running an interesting interview with outgoing CALS Dean Susan Henry. In the session, the Sun tries to get at whether or not it is efficient to have the University's undergraduate business program in a school ostensibly dedicated to the earth and life sciences, but she doesn't take the bait:

Sun: Many consider CALSí investment in AEM over the past few years to be your brainchild. Was there priority placed on AEM over other departments, and if so would you have done that now considering this economic climate?

S.H.: We had the obligation to increase the faculty in AEM because of the accrediting team that came when I first assumed my position in July 2000. In order to achieve accreditation, one thing that we had to improve was the student-to-faculty ratio. In essence we did both because we restricted the students coming into the course from outside the major and also took five new faculty. We explained this to the college and had to hire the faculty as soon as possible because the accrediting team was coming back. Yes, for an interval of time we had to favor hiring in AEM to achieve accreditation. Without accreditation it would have been catastrophic for the University because the Johnson school and master of hospitality management had to be accredited. Subsequently, all three have been revisited recently for re-accreditation and at this time it seems that there is not a problem.

Sun: CALS is by far the most disparate college, encompassing a range of contrasting departments such as communications and dairy science. Why is this?

S.H.: CALS is only unusual if you look at it from the point of an Ivy League university. Cornell is distinctive because it is both an Ivy League university and land grant. Remember this was the original plan by A.D. White and Ezra Cornell. That it would encompass both aspects giving the college programís of study and outreach of the community. Thatís the basis of the University and motto.

Itís the basis of our University and one of the factors that make us such a distinguished University that we have this diversity at the University. Itís all very relevant to the foundations of the land grant mission of Cornell. Cornell is excellent both areas today.

Sun: Do you see it as a priority to make the mission of CALS more focused?

S.H.: No, there are ways in which we can concentrate our resources in a more interdisciplinary fashion. We used to have a series of smaller majors. However students want to see a perspective of a broad discipline at the undergrad level. Thus we are broadening majors and making them more inter-disciplinary in general.

I think the subtext here is that AEM has actually been a boon for the rest of the Ag School. This is just conjecture and speculation on my part, but I suspect that the increased tuition dollars that CALS has gotten from AEM (from both their own students as well as students taking AEM courses from outside the school) has helped to subsidize the rest of CALS's programs. After all, a business major is a bit cheaper to educate then a biologist with a need for costly lab space and materials.

One thing I don't understand is why the Hotel School and the Johnson School's accreditation depended upon AEM's accreditation. It's not like the Hotel School's masters program requires any AEM courses. And neither Johnson nor the Hotel School had any trouble staying accredited before AEM became accredited.

I think the development of AEM over the past decade, and the role that it now plays on campus -- as a magnet for elective credits, internal transfers, external transfers, and athletes, and as a revenue source for the Ag School -- is critical to understanding a lot of the political and structural decisions that will have to be made as the University attempts to "reimagine" itself this year.

Late Update: Andy writes to add that, "Henry's justifications are almost entirely incoherent, amounting to a defense of tradition (or at least, some facile image of Cornell's heritage based on a single motto) for its own sake. Let's hope for a bit more imagination as the reorganization process gets underway..."

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on September 11, 2009 (#)

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