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Munier's Take

MetaEzra failed to get around to reporting on the release of the summary reports for the 'Reimagine Cornell' task forces over the weekend, but luckily the Sun's Munier Salem is on task. He gets some things right, but I think he errors on others:

In typical Cornell fashion, the compiled snippets of reports represent a patchwork of separate efforts from many divisions within the University. Unsurprisingly, the recommendations these reports make occasionally conflict with each other.

For instance, the Social Sciences Task Force speaks of consolidating departments spread among several colleges into a single School of Public Policy, while the College of Human Ecology, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Arts and Sciences, and School of Industrial and Labor Relations task forces do not offer such a recommendation. Similarly, the one of three options recommended in the online summary by the “Management Sciences” Task Force calls for consolidating Applied Economics and Management, Policy Analysis and Management and ILR into an undergraduate “School of Management and Public Policy.”

The fact that the individual colleges and schools failed to look past their own boundaries was particularly discouraging to me. I actually have had the opportunity to see the CALS report in its entirety and it was shocking to discover that none of the other management and economics programs were mentioned when discussing AEM. So the inferences on what AEM means to the Ag School are clear.

At the same time, though, I don't think the individual colleges are going to have much of a say when it comes to rethinking the conundrum of the applied social sciences at Cornell. It needs to be a University-level decision in concert with the State of New York. So while ILR and Human Ecology may think that they can go along with what they have been doing over the past decade, the welfare of the University at large will require them to work outside of their own quads.

Where I think Munier may be a little bit off the mark, however, is in his suggestion that 'Reimagining Cornell' will only serve to make Cornell more like its other Ivy peers and disinvest in its world class programs in plant sciences, labor history, or human development.

And finally, I personally felt that the reports promoted a sort of “Arts and Sciences first” mentality. The life sciences task force recommended diverting resources towards computational bio, genomics and genetics, and molecular and cell biology while cutting from departments that do not “bring distinction to the University,” which by process of elimination, sound like plant science or entomology or horticulture: also known as bio in the Ag school.

The story is a predictable one: Albany slashes funding to balance the budget. Cornell, already crippled by a shrunken endowment, contracts the contract schools to protect the liberal arts core. Along the way, we see our distinct University slowly morph into a more traditional, more streamlined Ivy League University, doing the research Ivy League universities are supposed to be doing. Big fat Cornell has decided to try the “Harvard Diet.”

I'll have more to add in the near future, but I disagree with this take. And I don't think Munier should be concerned that the Lab of Ornithology is going to be moving anywhere. Nor do I think that Cornell is thinking about turning away from the Life Course Center, the Food and Brand Lab, or the Institute on Conflict Resolution.

The question is how to make all the parts work better for the whole.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on November 09, 2009 (#)

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