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Why Cornell Needs a College of Public Policy

The Sun is running an excellent article today on the need for Cornell to streamline its programs in the social sciences. The suggested solution from the University's high-level task force: a broadened college of public policy encompassing departments from the Ag School, Human Ecology, and the ILR School.

Sounds familiar.

Yesterday’s public discussion about the task force’s report was well attended, mostly by professors. After discussing the report’s content and answering questions, Harris and Fuchs emphasized the historic changes Cornell is facing.

“We’re really thinking about what Cornell will be like for the young faculty we’re hiring and for generations after that,” Fuchs said. “This is our chance if we want to make changes.”

“This is the time when we’ve got the ear of the provost. This is the time when we can do things,” Harris said.

In addition to recommending the creation of the public policy school, the report includes four possible models for merging social science units and increasing collaboration between units. The models are intended to improve teaching and research in the social sciences and decrease the dispersion across the University.

It seems that both Harris and Fuchs are on board, which means the trustees are on board, which means that the colleges will have little to no say in the matter. The remaining question is whether or not the State of New York will cooperate with the plan if it involves dissolving colleges. My sense is that if Cornell can prove that it will save the state a significant amount of money, there should be no problem, aside from any alumni fallout.

But unless alums are willing to pony up the dough, they will probably have little say in the manner.

I do hope that the result is more ambitious than not. Simply creating a multi-college department, a la statistical science or biology, is unacceptable in my view. While it will help faculty research and graduate education, it will not help the undergraduate experience, which is the soul of the University. The colleges need to be re-arranged to solve the problem of students seeking to get a back-door business education through ILR or PAM.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on December 02, 2009 (#)

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