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  Cornell University

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Office of the Dean

February 13 Senate

Wednesday, February 13, 3:30-5:00pm
Schwartz Auditorium, Rockefeller Hall

Leave comments below in  case you did not get a chance to speak or  if you think a particular topic needs further discussion.


Call-to-Order and Consent Items [5 mins]

Sam Nelson (Speaker)

Announcements [10 min]

Charles Van Loan (Dean of Faculty)
Computational  Biology at Cornell
Provost Overview and Request for Comments

Middle States Accreditation [10 mins]

Marin Clarkberg (Institutional Research and Planning)
Michael Fontaine (Professor of Classics and Associate VPUE)
Cornell’s Accreditation Website

December Sense-of-Senate  (SOS) Follow-Up [10 mins]

Chris Schaffer (Associate Dean of Faculty )
Int’l Collaborations and President’s Response

SOS Voting on Aspects of  RTE Representation  [55 mins ]

Charles Van Loan (Dean of Faculty)
Representation Numbers By College
Tally Sheet

Last Updated: February 14, 2019 at 5:39 am


  1. From Evan Cooch, Department of Natural Resources, and for a time, a member of the Graduate Field in Computational Biology at its inception when David Shalloway convened the first scoping discussions.

    I have some comments that reflect my views, and those of several colleagues on campus who are actively involved in the use of computational approaches to biological problems. What differentiates us from this proposal, and why we’re interested in providing some preliminary comments at this stage, is that we are all generally engaged in ‘computational biology’ in the broad sense, but not with any focus on ‘computational genomics’.

    This is more than a semantic distinction. My colleagues and I found the prospectus as presented to the Senate for consideration to be quite flawed, in two key respects. First, it is overly focused, explicitly and I would submit implicitly, on ‘genomics’, to the detriment of a clear articulation of the growing interconnections of ‘computing’ and ‘biology’ at several levels on this campus, and how a new major would support or integrate with those initiatives. At no point that we could find in the document was there any mention or discussion of how this proposal integrates with relevant new initiatives in various colleges (for example, the A&S Data Science Governance Committee, somewhat surprising given that Andy Clark is on the committee), or with large and prominent efforts on computational sustainability, digital agriculture, remote sensing analysis. There are a large number computebased biology research efforts at Cornell that use tools and ideas from complexity theory, algorithmics, machine learning, robotics. And yet, none of these are mentioned in the document – perhaps because they have no direct connection to genomics or biomedical applications in general. What is troubling to us, given this, is that the document can be read as a claim to primacy for ‘Computational Biology’ in the role that a new major would play in computational biology at Cornell, writ large, and not simply with respect to genomics. However, there is no evidence that we can find in the document that the proposed major is at all equipped, or has even considered, the full breadth of computational biology. Sorry, but computational biology is not genomics, and a focus on the latter can’t do full justice to the former.

    Second, the proposal reflects a ‘split’ of Biological Statistics and Computational Biology (BCSB) into two entities: ‘Computational Biology’, and ‘Statistics & Data Science’. Much as the Senate and administration deliberates carefully on the
    consequences of possible mergers of administrative and academic units, like recent ILR and Human Ecology discussions, it is as important to consider the consequences of splitting a major into smaller units.
    To that end, here are a few (of many) simple questions we think would be important consider in evaluation of this proposal. Each of these can and should be evaluated objectively, and quantitatively, since they have a lot of bearing on which of the two ‘remnants’ of BCSB (computational biology, or statistics & data science) is in fact a real ‘growth area’, and as such, represents an area to invest heavily in – and quickly – to avoid falling behind more forward-looking peer institutions:

    – are our undergraduates and prospective undergraduates clamoring for Cornell to increase offerings in ‘computational biology’, as articulated in this document, or in ‘data science?’

    – how many students each year enter into the Computational Biology track in the Biology major, relative to (say) the number who enroll in the Networks course, or the number who enter into the “Data Science” track and the “Networks, Crowds, and Markets” track in Information Science?

    – over the last 5-10 years, how does job demand and growth in Data Science compare to job demand and growth in Computational Biology?
    – finally, what courses, generally, are proposed and what majors these would support? How would the new major plan to coordinate with the departments supporting these various majors so as not to overlap greatly with existing skills sets and curriculums.

    – finally, what courses, generally, are proposed and what majors these would support? How would the new major plan to coordinate with the departments supporting these various majors so as not to overlap greatly with existing skills sets and curriculums.

    Given our concerns, we respectfully move that the Senate request further, more detailed discussion of the proposal in March, perhaps leading to a sense-of-the-senate vote. In the interim, more detailed comments and concerns will be distributed, and important data could be collated and presented.

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