Following the “overarching aspiration” to make Cornell “widely recognized as a top-ten research university in the world,” Day Hall administrators are in the early stages of setting in motion the 2010-2015 Strategic Plan that was finalized last May.
Spurred by the financial crisis, the Reimagining Cornell initiative began with a long period of planning last year, during which the administration held several open forums to solicit input from the Cornell community. With that process over and the Strategic Plan plan finalized, Provost Kent Fuchs emphasized the need to move into the implementation phase.
Fuchs said elevating the international stature of Cornell was essential because “perception impacts reality.”
He forewarned, “If we’re not perceived to be in the top-ten, then the quality of students will decline, the quality of faculty will decline, and the resources [going] to the institution will decline.”
Fuchs said he wants Cornell to be recognized as a top-ten institution by “any kind of recognition,” from public perception to rankings systems such as U.S. News and World Report and the National Research Council.
When asked whether restructuring the University to meet these rankings’ metrics could be detrimental to Cornell, Fuchs said that ascending in the rankings “will actually enhance what is most of value.”
Fuchs added that he did not believe that the University would need to tailor any plans to accomodate the metrics, saying that most of the prerogatives of the University and the rankings groups are “actually aligned.”
“The competition [for rankings] is becoming increasingly world-wide, the number of competitors is increasing, and if we do not work to enhance our reputation I believe it will actually decline,” Fuchs said.
Senior Associate Provost for Finance and Academic Personnel Elmira Mangum clarified that the aspiration to become a “top-ten research university” is not simply about research, but “has to do with the classification of Cornell in higher education” as a “research university.”
Much of the 53-page Strategic Plan is filled with broad, over-arching goals such as identifying the plan’s “four strategic themes” — focus, adaptability, coordination and efficiency.
It contains recommendations such as: “Develop and implement policies to retain highly valued faculty;” “give priority to retention of highly qualified staff in valued positions,” and “increase the size and quality of faculty in strategically important academic areas.”
Many of the plan’s actions may also seem evident or abstract, such as those that call for the University to “carefully consider the impact of staff and faculty in their core academic activities” or “recognize and celebrate in new ways pedagogical innovation and strong teachers who are responsive to students and rigorous in their approach to teaching.”
Fuchs defended the merit of setting broad goals. He said the individual general objectives in the plan “force the leaders and [Vice Provost] Ron [Seeber] and me to say, ‘how are we going to achieve that?’”
Although these objectives are “broad, generic [and] seem obvious,” Fuchs said they would force the administration to “figure out, number one, what we’re going to do and, number two, how to measure we’re going to do it.”
“This document puts us in a direction and forces us to be accountable [to its objectives],” Fuchs said.
At any time a faculty member could say, “‘What are you doing on page 24 and objective 5C,’ and we have to be able to answer that,” Fuchs said.
Seeber has been put in charge of implementing the plan, according to Fuchs. Seeber stressed that the plan was for 2010-2015 and that the University is thus “not doing everything this year.”
Fuchs agreed with this, adding, “There’s no piece of that plan yet which we can say yet we have finished or is complete.”