Final Report of the Social Science Implementation Committee

The Implementation Committee associated with the Provost’s Review of the Social Sciences has released its Final Report.

Committee Synopsis:

This is an exciting time for the social sciences, as the President and Provost seem engaged with the social sciences and poised to invest. The majority of our committee thought that a College of Public Policy and super-departments of Economics, Psychology, and Sociology would best position the social sciences for achieving excellence in policy and the social sciences. At the same time, a substantial minority of committee members favored a shared school of public policy. Regardless of their recommendations around policy, there were significant concerns about the well-being of non-policy units in CHE, and the committee especially stressed the need for the President and Provost to carefully consider these issues as they deliberate.

Sections of interest include:

The Executive Summary
The Introduction
Recommendation on Public Policy Structure
Recommendation on Super-Departments

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Background

Prior reports from the Provost website:

The work of the Committee can be tracked through its March , April , and September postings. After the Senate update on November 13 the Committee released its Interim Report. The report begins with an introduction and an overview of the two options We reordered the rest of the report to make it easier for the busy reader to compare the pros and cons of the two options with respect to these issues:

Governance
Resources
Undergraduate Training
Masters Training
Doctoral Training
Extension and Outreach
Implications for the College of Human Ecology
Implications for the College of Arts and Sciences
Implications for the University and Conclusions

The Super-Department recommendation in the Final Report feeds off of three subcommittee reports:

Appendix C: Economics
Appendix D: Psychology
Appendix E: Sociology

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8 thoughts on “Final Report of the Social Science Implementation Committee

  1. The January session of the Faculty Senate was almost entirely (and appropriately given the intensity and thoughtfulness of the expressed opinions) devoted to the proposed “College of Public Policy.” We need to have another session explicitly devoted to the “super-departments” proposals because these may, if given the opportunity for expression, appear to have many of the same problems. They certainly raise some of the same questions (e.g. how will the process for the hiring of new faculty be structured? Will the new super-department bureaucracies be able to veto or impose hiring on existing departments? How will the creation of new administrative positions (and expenses) affect new faculty hires (given that faculty numbers are not keeping pace with the expansion of undergraduate enrolments and that many departments are already comparatively small)?)…These are all topics that need full and open discussion.

  2. As a member of the faculty of the College of Human Ecology, I urge the Faculty Senate to reject the recommendation of the Social Sciences Implementation Committee. There are two essential reasons to reject this committee’s recommendation that the administration should repurpose the College of Human Ecology (CHE) to a college of public policy. These are that creating this new entity (1) will not achieve the Committee’s stated objective to elevate public policy at Cornell and (2) is already causing collateral damage to the non-policy departments in CHE. This damage will escalate with time and is deeply troubling to faculty, staff, and students in CHE. This outcome could be avoided by a rapid decision by the administration to choose a different approach to achieving the committee’s goals.

    Repurposing CHE to a college with a new mission that is not supported by at least 70% of the faculty and perhaps 90% of its students will not achieve the Committee’s objectives for several reasons. First, it will be rapidly apparent to the outside world that the actual “policy” part of the new entity is tiny, namely a subset of the Policy Analysis and Management (PAM) faculty. No one will be impressed with this. Second, by locating the new policy entity within a college, the current barriers to collaboration and the development of joint degree programs for faculty members from PAM and Government will remain. This point also applies to the faculty of other departments who could affiliate with a public policy entity created with a more open administrative structure than a college has. Third, as a result of these first two issues, a repurposed CHE will be unable to attract top-notch faculty and a top-notch dean, which are required for the success of such a college. Fourth, this lack of support for a repurposed college means that it would not meet Deputy Provost Silicano’s criterion for success, namely that any new policy entity should provide a sense of belonging for those who are part of it. This proposal for a repurposed college clearly would not meet this criterion. And, finally, given that Cornell is in the “silent” phase of a capital campaign, the negative publicity that Cornell will receive from national media about this proposal will be most unwelcome, regardless of whether it comes from the Faculty Senate, letters to the editor, student protests or angry alumni.

    Similarly, repurposing CHE to a college that is not supported by the vast majority of its faculty and an even higher proportion of its students will create unacceptably high levels of damage for several reasons. First, students come to CHE for its focus on the whole human being from a variety of perspectives. Prospective students will not be as interested in a college of public policy because it doesn’t meet their needs. This is even true of some proportion of PAM students. Second, the students who would have come to CHE will not likely matriculate elsewhere at Cornell as there is no other college with this focus. Third, these two points have major implications for CHE’s two departments with the largest student groups, namely Nutritional Sciences and Human Development. They will find it difficult to attract the same high quality of undergraduate students interested in human well-being that they currently have. Cornell can ill-afford to swap high-quality students for a less-competitive group. Fourth, although the faculty of CHE respect the desire of their colleagues in PAM to aspire to greatness, this is not a reason to accept the unsupportive environment that will be created for CHE’s non-PAM departments once a new dean is hired with a mandate to support public policy. And, finally, CHE has loyal alumni who have been generous donors. Repurposing their college to one with a mission that they do not support will reduce the University’s ability to raise funds until this proposed change is withdrawn.

    For these and other reasons, I encourage the University Faculty Committee and the Faculty Senate to send the Provost and the President an unequivocal message that the proposal by the Social Sciences Implementation Committee should be rejected. A new approach should be developed to support public policy at Cornell, one with a greater chance of initial and long-term success as well as fewer problematic aspects. There are many ways to do this that were not part of the mandate of the Implementation Committee that now deserve more careful consideration.

  3. I have followed the work of the Social Sciences committee closely, participating in several of the workshops that were part of the information gathering. I want the social sciences at Cornell to be as well respected as the life and agricultural sciences are now–top in the world. The concept of emphasizing policy fits well with Cornell’s mission to engage with society.

    However, a policy college cannot be created under a process that explicitly failed to consider the consequences of the policy recommendation on others. A college created that way would lack credibility. Indeed it would be an announcement that Cornell’s policy faculty are incompetent at developing policy.

    The next step in this process needs to be one that considers what is best for the whole university–which this report by design did not do. The final implementation–unlike this recommendation–should not immediately sabotage the great potential of a stenghthened academic focus on policy at Cornell.

  4. Faculty were assured that no decisions had been made and were encouraged to participate in the review process. They went into the conversations in good faith, actively participating in all aspects of the process, providing input and feedback, and believing that their participation would make a difference. In the end, much of their feedback is neglected in the final report.

    Department and individual faculty feedback submitted to the implementation committee should be shared with the Senate and the general public for transparency and to provide an objective presentation of faculty views.

  5. Let me begin by thanking the committee for putting so much work and thought into these proposals. That makes me more than a little reluctant to offer a thought or two. My feeling is that the current proposal to create a College of Public Policy is not viable because it would not, in fact, result in a top-flight program and would, in practice, preempt the initiation of a viable alternative (because Cornell would not revisit this issue for a decade or more in the future). Here is what, very modestly, I would recommend instead:

    1) The creation of a new College of Public Policy should be delayed until a very sizable gift, on the order of $200 million or so, was made to Cornell to underpin its start.

    2) That gift would then be followed by a search for a new dean from outside the University to put together the College. That search would be more successful once the gift is in place, enabling, for example, the hiring of faculty from outside the University.

    3) Inside the University, all faculty would be given the choice of either remaining with the program to which they already belong or joining the new College. The new dean of the College of Public Policy, along with an advisory “council” of some sort, would review applications for transfer. That arrangement would make new affiliations the result of voluntary choice (assuming the application was accepted) as opposed to coercive incorporation.

    4) Decisions, if any, with respect to existing programs would be put off until the new College of Public Policy has been created.

  6. I oppose the irresponsible recommendation to “re-envision” the College of Human Ecology to focus on public policy for the following reasons:

    • It will unnecessarily destroy a successful college for no significant or certain gain
    • It will unnecessarily disrupt (if not destroy) four departments, some of which are leaders in their disciplines
    • It comes from a committee on which the department that benefits is over-represented (3 representatives) and all the departments that may be harmed together have one representative
    • It is irresponsible to make a recommendation that the committee knows will produce significant harms, to ignore those harms in its recommendation, and then pass on to “the administration” the role of dealing with those harms.

    The committee charge was flawed.

    It is not reasonable to consider only the benefits for one unit and disregard the substantial negative impacts to many others. Useful change can’t happen this way. Four members of the committee recognized this and supported a more reasonable proposal for a cross-college school.

    Will there be a significant gain by a new focus for CHE?

    No case is made that the proposed college will be better than the current college, except for the narrow interests of one department. Moreover, there is negligible analysis of the prospects for the success of the proposed college. The proposal to repurpose an entire college and several successful departments and programs to serve the interests of a small group of faculty strikes me as an exceptionally bad idea. No case is made for why a successful college and successful programs in CHE should be replaced with a public policy program that has not been successful. The report seeks to minimize the harm from their proposal by describing this as “re-envisioning” and characterizing the opposition as the “…vision did not resonate….” The recommendation to re-envision has significant potential to destroy a successful college and most of its departments. The re-envisioned college with features that advantage the public policy faculty clearly disadvantage a larger number of non-policy faculty. There is no explanation or justification as to why policy faculty should be treated better than the other faculty in CHE.

    What will happen to the current CHE departments?

    The PAM faculty clearly want to dominate a college devoted to their interests. This poses grave risks for the majority of CHE departments and the majority of faculty members and students who do not identify with a public policy focus. The best faculty and students for these non-policy programs would not choose to get involved in this mess of “…significant tension and uncertainty.” None of the current faculty and students can be hopeful about the future of their programs or communicate a positive outlook. It is easy to predict an immediate negative impact from the existence of this recommendation on recruiting faculty, undergraduate students and graduate students.

    The report notes “…this path would encounter significant resistance and would also have to overcome serious obstacles to simultaneously refocus the college on public policy and support the units that do not focus on policy.” However, they provide few details on what these obstacles are likely to be (mostly in the interim report), even though many were detailed in the several meetings with CHE faculty. Challenges identified for CHE and its non-policy faculty are usually followed by “is beyond the capability of this committee…” so no solutions are proposed. There is absolutely no certainty the administration can, or even wants to fix the problems this recommendation will create. Why recommend this solution when other less problematic solutions are available?

    Was the implementation committee impartial?

    With three members from the department that stands to benefit, the answer has to be no. It is easy to see this process as rigged to produce the outcome it did.

    Support the shared school/department solution.

    I support the opinions of four members of the committee that a shared school option is the best approach. It would have the least negative impact on other departments and colleges. Cornell has a number of very successful examples of such multi-college departments, including the Division of Nutritional Sciences and departments from the former Division of Biological Sciences, including my department. Many of these have existed for over half a century. They validate that excellence can be achieved with such entities. The difficulty of managing cross-college departments is over-rated in the implementation report. Whatever happens to public policy, there will continue to be quite a few departments at Cornell that are successfully and beneficially shared by multiple colleges.

  7. Among the few statements on impacts of the recommendations for undergraduate education is this: ‘ Having a larger number of faculty means dispersed teaching and service efforts. For example, having a larger number of faculty means that large service courses (large lectures) can rotate, allowing faculty the ability to teach smaller, specialized seminars in the faculty member’s area of expertise.’ on page 7 of the final report. Can the committee elaborate on this? Is this statement contingent on having more overall faculty or eliminating some introductory courses as ‘redundant’. Is the statement in line with the current university budget model? This issue seems very relevant in light of ongoing efforts to improve student experience and learning in gateway courses (https://registrar.cornell.edu/classes-enrollment/gateway-courses). Overall, undergraduate education seems to be of no concern to the committee or subcommittees.

  8. The Implementation Committee should be commended for its extensive effort and detailed report on how to strengthen policy studies at Cornell. At the same time, the report is characterized by a number of limitations, at least three of which are fundamental:
    1. The importance of a Policy School to the entire University and its faculty is acknowledged at the outset, yet there is little substantive discussion of how specifically this would be realized. The report is CHE-centric. There is vast policy expertise throughout the University faculty; any proposal for a new structure for policy studies should begin by taking maximum advantage of what we already have in order to ultimately be successful.
    2. There is scarcely any mention of the importance of global policy issues and how the choice of a structure for a policy unit would best focus attention on international policy problems. The report has an almost exclusively domestic focus. Nor does it acknowledge Cornell’s great expertise in many of the key 21st century global policy issues: economic development, global governance, climate change, etc. How would the College option, in particular, be able to capture these strengths?
    3. What will happen to the other departments, faculty, staff and students in CHE, particularly under the College option? PAM faculty comprise only 25% of the current Human Ecology faculty. There are 700 CHE majors across a variety of fields. The report refers to these challenges but doesn’t give much attention to solutions.
    There are many other less fundamental but still important questions that arise in the report that are not addressed in sufficient detail — detail that is needed to arrive at an informed recommendation regarding a structure for policy studies at Cornell.

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