Frequently Asked Questions

Provost’s Review of the Social Sciences at Cornell
Updated: January 2020


These Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), prepared by the co-chairs of the Social Sciences Implementation Committee, address questions that have been raised by faculty, students, staff, and alumni in the College of Human Ecology.

Why is the social sciences review focused primarily on the College of Human Ecology?

The implementation committee was charged with examining two options for building a preeminent public policy entity at Cornell:

Because the College of Human Ecology houses many of Cornell’s core faculty with expertise in policy, the new university-wide entity will need to involve these faculty and either of the two new proposed re-organizations will have implications for the college. If the college becomes focused on public policy, the objective would be to maximize and add to the unique and well-respected strengths of the college, to preserve its land-grant mission, and to strengthen its educational programming at all levels. If the cross-college school option advances, Human Ecology leadership would need to further consider how to oversee its three remaining academic units and the shared Division of Nutritional Sciences.

Any change would be implemented in a way that honors the rich history of the college, while also moving in new ways that facilitate Cornell’s ability to address pressing real-world problems both locally and globally through interdisciplinary approaches.

How would the College of Human Ecology’s unique, hands-on, interdisciplinary focus be preserved in the scenarios for a public policy-focused college or cross-college school?

The study of public policy is, by nature, interdisciplinary, problem-oriented, and, ideally, hands-on. As such, this unique component would be retained in any new policy structure. Thus, if CHE is focused into a college of public policy, it would retain its strong interdisciplinary history and traditions. A shared school with Arts and Sciences would also be inherently interdisciplinary. Under any scenario, the college would remain an interdisciplinary hub for a diverse array of majors, and with the continued overall objective of addressing real-world problems on a local and global scale with translational and basic research, scholarship, and outreach.

The vision of public policy that the committee has generated (and that has been widely circulated; see link here is clearly and strongly interdisciplinary, with a global and local focus, and with well-defined outreach and translational objectives.

How might such changes impact departments and curricula that do not align directly with public policy?

The implementation committee has carefully considered these implications, with decision-making ultimately resting with CHE leadership and faculty, the President, Provost, and key stakeholders. With the committee recommending the college model, discussions between faculty, leadership, and administration will ensue about how faculty and units might fit within the broad, inclusive, and interdisciplinary umbrella of policy. The committee seeks to ensure that all faculty in the college are positioned to continue to thrive and pursue their scholarship, research, pedagogy, and intellectual missions.

What might happen to current undergraduate majors outside PAM that are not as policy-oriented?

The committee recognizes the quality of the majors currently offered by the college and is committed to maintaining the educational plans of all current and admitted students. In the longer run, a change of this magnitude (in either the school or college option) could result in exciting new majors or updates to existing majors.

How might faculty and staff who work in the College of Human Ecology be affected?

The process is committed to maintaining and enhancing the intellectual environment for all faculty. As with any organizational change, it is possible that some staff responsibilities may shift under a new policy college. However, no job losses are part of these possible organizational changes.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of transitioning the College of Human Ecology into a college focused on public policy?

The committee’s final report weighs the advantages and disadvantages of both possible approaches for a policy college or school.

Why does this appear to be focused on CHE and CAS when other colleges have faculty working in policy and related areas?

The committee engaged many different stakeholders and units, and there are many faculty in Law, City and Regional Planning, and the ILR School (as well as in other units) with policy expertise who may wish to affiliate with a new policy entity. Because this new entity is envisioned to be cross-campus, one of the main tasks after an option is chosen will be to establish relationships with relevant units and faculty over a period of years.

How do social scientists elsewhere on campus fit into the super-department plans? For example, there are psychologists on campus who are not part of the HD or PSYCH departments or sociologists or economists in similar positions—would they be part of the new super-department and will they be part of the planning for any new entity?

The super-department units under consideration currently were selected for two reasons. First, the relevant units hold the highest number of faculty within each disciplinary space. Second, in each case, these units have tended to coordinate better around faculty hiring, graduate student training and recruitment, undergraduate curricula, and scholarship. For these reasons, the conversations have focused on these units, but there are by no means barriers for other faculty across campus to consider joining these super-departments. These conversations would have to be prompted by those faculty in consultation with the leadership of the relevant units.

Human Ecology is part of the land-grant mission of Cornell. Will it maintain its status as a contract college?

Regardless of which option is selected, the college will retain its contract college status, with its scholarship, teaching, and outreach anchored to Cornell’s land-grant mission.

How can the Human Ecology community provide feedback on the final report?

Each of the committees established under the Provost’s Review of the Social Sciences at Cornell have met regularly with faculty and university and college leadership over the past several years. Faculty, staff, students, and alumni were invited to share input through a variety of channels, such as department meetings, college and school advisory councils, Faculty Senate, and the University Assemblies.

In fall 2019, the Social Sciences Implementation Committee co-chairs hosted nearly 20 listening sessions with faculty, staff, students, alumni and other stakeholders across campus.

The provost’s office continues to accept feedback from the Cornell community by writing to ssreview@cornell.edu.

What is the timeline for the implementation committee’s work?