Letter to the Faculty

Dear Cornell Faculty,

Recognizing the critical and growing importance of the social sciences, Cornell faculty and leadership have for several years been engaged in a collaborative effort to explore potential avenues for bolstering the visibility and impact of social sciences programs at Cornell: strengthening their reputation, facilitating increased collaboration across disciplines and colleges, and supporting future opportunities for research and growth.

Earlier this week, we received the summary that marked the completion of this multi-year, faculty-led effort. We want to thank co-chairs Melissa Ferguson and Christopher Wildeman for their summary of faculty feedback (PDF), and all of the faculty who volunteered their time through committees to produce the Ideas Report (PDF), the Organizational Structures Report (PDF), and the Administrative Structures Report (PDF). Collectively, these documents constitute an enormous effort on the part of the faculty to develop a vision for excellence in the social sciences at Cornell over the next 10 to 15 years, and we are committed to moving forward to implement this vision.

After reviewing the ideas advanced in the three reports, as well as the focused faculty feedback outlined in the summary document, we are pleased to announce today that we are moving forward with one of the ideas that received near-unanimous support: the creation of the Cornell Center for Social Sciences. The goal of the Center, which will be under the supervision of Vice Provost for Research Emmanuel Giannelis, will be to enhance the visibility and impact of the social sciences at Cornell by facilitating programmatic collaborations in key areas that build on Cornell’s strengths while also providing the necessary infrastructure for these collaborations. By seeding research and scholarship in these areas, the Center will build strong bridges between the social sciences and other disciplines, enhance collaboration across departments and colleges, facilitate a focus on important societal challenges, and help to position Cornell for greater extramural funding in the social sciences. We will make significant investments to strengthen the Center, which will retain the popular Institute for Social Sciences programs such as the faculty fellows program and the small grants program. It will not assume oversight of existing topical social science centers within colleges, but it will oversee important social sciences core data resources, such as the Cornell Institute for Social and Economic Research, the Survey Research Institute, and the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research. We anticipate that grants to support training and infrastructure in the social sciences will be organized through the Center. More information about the Center (e.g., structure, governance, increased funding) will be made available later in the semester.

A new, coordinated research center is an important first step toward our ambitious longer-term goals for the social sciences at Cornell, which include two additional aspirations outlined in the faculty reports: 1) solidifying Cornell’s reputation for excellence in public policy through the creation of an integrating university entity; and 2) developing avenues for connecting disciplinary excellence across colleges through the creation of additional super-departments, similar to the existing Cornell Department of Economics.

To determine how best to realize these two specific aspirations, we are asking a broadly representative group of faculty to take the next step toward implementing these options, a process that will include meaningful opportunities for engagement by faculty, students, staff, and alumni. Among the questions to be addressed are:

  1. What type of entity would best enable us to elevate the prominence of our scholarship and curricular offerings in the public policy domain, and to recruit and retain the world’s best faculty?
  2. Given that so many current and emerging research questions involve a policy dimension, what type of entity would best facilitate the involvement of public policy faculty in research projects across colleges and campuses?
  3. For the major social sciences disciplines of economics, psychology, and sociology, what are the specific advantages that could accrue from the creation, or expansion, of super-departments, and under what conditions? What are the disadvantages, and how could they be mitigated? What strategic investments should be made to advance these efforts?
  4. In seeking to achieve these two aspirations, how can we do so while best maintaining important academic connections, maintaining successful academic programs, respecting the intellectual contributions of all our faculty, and minimizing unnecessary disruption?

The faculty committee that will address these questions will be co-chaired by Professors Ferguson and Wildeman and Deputy Provost John Siliciano. It will be formed over the coming weeks with a charge of producing a set of recommendations in this calendar year.

We look forward to discussing both the new Center and the next stage of this work with the Faculty Senate at their next meeting on April 17, and to engaging the entire Cornell community in this process.

Thank you again for your time and efforts, and particularly the faculty who have actively engaged with this process, devoting significant time to helping to identify paths forward. We are excited about launching the Cornell Center for Social Sciences and implementing the above ideas advanced through this important work.


Martha E. Pollack

Michael I. Kotlikoff