Skip to main content
  Cornell University

The University Faculty

Office of the Dean

1.4 Academic Units and Faculties

The New York State Legislature’s Charter of Cornell University establishes or continues the New York state colleges of veterinary medicine, human ecology, and agriculture and life sciences, the New York state school of industrial and labor relations, and the New York state agricultural experiment station at Geneva. The Charter constitutes the Board of Trustees of Cornell University and empowers the Trustees to embrace “in the plan of instruction and investigation” “such other branches of science and knowledge” “as the trustees may deem useful and proper,” with authority to establish academic units and faculties.

The Bylaws of Cornell University are legislated by the Cornell University Board of Trustees and put forth basic rules for the university‟s academic structure and governance. Regarding academic structure the Bylaws Article on “The University” states:

“Cornell University shall consist of such colleges, schools, centers and other separate academic units as have been or may be established by the Board of Trustees from time to time.”

Establishing New Academic Units

 The Bylaws Article on “Deans, Directors and Other Academic Officers” states:

“In those colleges, schools and other separate academic units which are organized on a departmental basis, as designated by the Board of Trustees from time to time, there shall be a chairperson or other head of each such department.”

The Board of Trustees must authorize the creation of an academic department.

Not all academic units are organized as departments. Centers and institutes are established principally to foster and administer interdisciplinary studies and research that extend across the boundaries of two or more colleges. A January 1981 report, “The Importance of Centers and Institutes at Cornell University,” was presented to the Board of Trustees by Provost W. Keith Kennedy. The report emphasized the flexibility of organizational structure offered by the establishment of (and the option to discontinue more easily) such non-departmental, cross- disciplinary academic units as centers, programs and institutes; the report further underscored the fundamental role of academic departments and the importance of limiting the faculty appointment authority of institutes and centers in order not to encroach upon or weaken academic departments. Attached to this report was the May 1972 “Report of the Committee of the Deans Council on University Centers,” which continues to serve as guidelines for establishing such units.

These reports may be found on the website of the Academic Personnel Policy Office.

Establishing a new academic department (a tenuring academic unit within a principal college or school) requires approval by the Board of Trustees, following approval by the Provost and the Dean.

The Dean receives preliminary approval from the Provost, who advises the Dean on the plans necessary for formal approval, such as academic, organizational, financial, space and human resource plans. The Dean also is responsible for overseeing compliance with University Faculty Senate procedures, fulfillment of procedures specified by the office of the Vice President for Planning and Budget regarding New York State approvals, and satisfaction of internal college requirements, such as those legislated by the College Faculty.

The University Faculty Senate Committee on Academic Programs and Policies is charged with conducting an initial screening of formal proposals for new academic programs or policies, including proposals for substantial modification or discontinuance of existing programs or policies.

The University Faculty Senate adopted the resolution of the Faculty Senate Committee on Academic Programs and Policies in November 2001, “Widespread Consultation on Academic Unit Changes to Name or Degree Designation.” Naming or re-naming an academic department, center, program, institute or other academic unit invokes these procedures. The procedures involve informing the heads of other academic units such that concerns about the name changes may be brought to the attention of the Provost, the Dean of Faculty, and the College Deans. The recommended response time to allow for unit heads to inform their faculty and elicit discussion is two months. Contact the Office of the Dean of Faculty for further information.

Following Provost‟s approval, the Dean’s office contacts the Academic Personnel Policy Office to arrange for submission of an agenda item for a meeting of the Board of Trustees, to obtain approval to formally establish and name the new academic department. With establishment, the college business officer pursues implementation in business systems.

Establishing a new intra-college program with a small budget requires Dean’s and Provost’s approval but will not require the University Faculty Senate and Trustee approvals that are necessary to establish a larger-budget or cross-college program, center or institute or a new academic department. Transaction authority levels define whether Trustee action is necessary (the 2004 annual budget threshold was considered to be $2 million).

Academic Titles and the Faculties

 The faculties are the foundation of the University‟s academic endeavor. Faculties are authorized and defined in the Trustees‟ Bylaws of the University, available at http://www.cornell.edu/trustees/docs/08- 5%20bylaws%20w-TC.pdf Academic title is an initial basis for membership in one or more of the several levels and types of faculties. Membership may be voting or non-voting.

In addition to membership, the Bylaws describe the functions and jurisdiction of the University Faculty, the college and school faculties, the Graduate Faculty, the Faculty of Medicine, and the Faculty of the Graduate School of Medical Sciences. Academic departments also are characterized by a faculty of defined membership, typically specified in departmental legislation.

The University Faculty

 The University Faculty – basically professorial – delegates its legislative role to a representative body under the “Organization and Procedures of the University Faculty” (OPUF), available in the Faculty Handbook and on the University Faculty website http://theuniversityfaculty.cornell.edu/. The OPUF constitutes a Faculty Senate to exercise most of its powers and functions.  The University Faculty itself continues to exercise certain powers.

The Trustees‟ Bylaws of Cornell University define the functions of the University Faculty, in addition to those related to students‟ degrees, as follows:

“… to consider questions of educational policy which concern more than one college, school or separate academic unit, or are general in nature; …”

OPUF further states, regarding the relationships between administration and faculty governance:

“… The central administration, and in particular, the Provost and the President, will look to the University Faculty Committee for advice and consultation on all major policy issues that are of interest to the faculty. …”

The College and School Faculties

 The college and school faculties include university professors, professors, associate professors and assistant professors; persons appointed to other academic titles may be non-voting members or (if given the right by the particular faculty) voting members of the college and school faculties. Further, there are circumstances in which non-voting members are given the right to vote, specifically from the Bylaws Article on “College and School Faculties,” as follows:

“… Clinical professors of all ranks, lecturers and senior lecturers shall participate fully in those decisions that are directly related to their roles within the college or school and within the department. The dean or director shall have the responsibility of identifying those issues that are related to their roles within the college or school, … . …”

In the 1998 “Provost‟s Policy Statement on the Transition of Faculty to Emeritus Status” http://www.ohr.cornell.edu/contacthr/academicpersonnel/Index.html Provost Randel wrote:

“I am asking each college and school to consider revising their policies to permit emeritus faculty to retain all of the college/school rights and privileges of active faculty members, including voting rights in the college/school faculty.”

The Trustees‟ Bylaws of Cornell University define the functions of the college and school faculties, in addition to those related to students‟ degrees, as follows:

“… Subject to the authority of the University Faculty in all matters affecting general educational policy, it shall be the duty of each separate college or school faculty … in general to exercise jurisdiction over … all other educational matters in the particular college or school.  …”

The Academic Department Faculties

 The Trustees‟ Bylaws of Cornell University include the following about voting in academic department faculties:

“… Clinical professors of all ranks, lecturers and senior lecturers shall participate fully in those decisions that are directly related to their roles within the college or school and within the department. The dean or director shall have the responsibility of identifying those issues that are related to their roles within the college or school, and the department chair shall have that responsibility within the department. Within the department, those appointed to clinical professorial titles shall participate fully in hiring decision of others of their rank or in lower clinical professor ranks; senior lecturers shall participate fully in hiring decisions of other senior lecturers and lecturers, and lecturers shall participate fully in the hiring decisions of other lecturers. Notwithstanding the above, in units where the number of clinical professorial faculty, lecturers and senior lecturers is comparable to the number of professorial faculty, the Provost may determine the appropriate level of participation by clinical professorial faculty, lecturers and senior lecturers in curricular decisions.  …”

Voting membership in a department faculty is not defined in Trustee legislation. Some departments have procedural rules that specify who may vote on various types of questions.

In the 1998 “Provost‟s Policy Statement on the Transition of Faculty to Emeritus Status” nttp://www.ohr.cornell.edu/contacthr/academicpersonnel/Index.html Provost Randel wrote:

“Emeritus faculty are to be welcome to attend departmental faculty meetings. Each department will set its own policies regarding voting rights and privileges, but these policies will be put in writing.”

The Graduate Faculty

 The Trustees‟ Bylaws define Graduate Faculty membership, beyond ex officio memberships, as

“… those members of the University staff of instruction and research who have been designated members of the Graduate Faculty by the dean of the Graduate School with approval of its general committee on the basis of recommendations made by fields of the Graduate School through their representatives and/or other members of the Graduate Faculty. …”

The Code of Legislation of the Graduate Faculty http://www.gradschool.cornell.edu/pubs_and_forms/pubs/codeoflegislation.pdf describes its general members as typically

“selected from the voting members of the University faculty – that is, primarily professors, associate professors, and assistant professors with the highest degree in their field and unmodified titles who are resident on the Ithaca or Geneva campuses. …”

The Code of Legislation provides avenues for nomination for general and other categories of membership for those appointed to other academic titles. Such other information as eligibility, academic purview, nomination and status upon retirement also may be found in the Code.

STATUS AS A MEMBER OF THE FACULTY OR ACADEMIC STAFF OR AS AN ACADEMIC AFFILIATE

 Status as an “academic” refers to status as a member of the University‟s academic staff or as an academic affiliate; academic status is conferred only by formal appointment to a Bylaws- authorized academic title.  Information about academic titles may be found in an earlier section of this policy.  Information about appointment constitutes a later section.

Some, but not all, “academics” also are members of one or more faculties. The term “faculty” may refer to different sets of academics because different academic titles qualify for membership in a college faculty than in the University Faculty. “Faculty” status does not necessarily signify teaching responsibilities.

Executives and administrators who hold academic status do so by virtue of their concurrent appointment to one of the academic titles; an administrative title alone does not confer academic status.  Conversely, executives and administrators do not surrender their academic status unless the academic appointment terminates. Executives and administrators who hold tenured appointments continue to be tenured in the academic department or school and may continue to exercise those rights and privileges.


Source: Cornell University Academic Titles and Appointments Policy, pages 9-13

Last Updated: July 10, 2017 at 12:43 pm