The Faculty Senate passed a resolution earlier in October that would allow faculty members to pursue graduate and professional degrees with the dean’s recommendation and admission to the program.
The resolution will be voted on by the Academic Affairs Committee of the Board of Trustees at its meeting in January. If the committee approves the resolution, it will go to the full Board of Trustees for a revision of the University’s bylaws, according to Barbara Knuth, vice provost and dean of the graduate school.
The resolution was also motivated by a trend toward interdisciplinary work, particularly at the graduate school level, Knuth said.
“At the graduate level, faculty are already working across traditional disciplines. This is an opportunity to build credentials and impact in a different way by earning the formal credentials in that different discipline,” Knuth said.
Currently, University bylaws prevent faculty members from earning a degree from Cornell. Knuth said this prohibition dates back to when the University had a much smaller faculty.
“Some of the concerns could have been political in nature — that someone could lobby colleagues inappropriately to obtain a degree,” Knuth said.
Both Knuth and Dean of the Law School Stewart Schwab, who raised th issue up initially when one of his faculty members was interested in pursuing another degree at Cornell, acknowledged that this resolution would affect a small number of faculty members, since all professors already have advanced degrees.
“We don’t hire faculty who aren’t qualified to do what they do — but for some it makes sense if you’ve gone into a new area,” Schwab said. In his eight years as dean of the law school, Schwab has talked to only two faculty members who were considering getting an advanced degree, he said.
Changing the bylaws to allow faculty to obtain an advanced degree may improve retention rates, the resolution states.
Schwab said that changing the bylaws is the right move for Cornell to make.
“The current thought is this University is big enough, distinct enough, as the faculty’s grown and become more specialized and distinct. Any concern is outweighed by the positives for allowing this,” Schwab said.
Knuth said that, although only a few people will be affected by the resolution, the new policy would still benefit the community.
“For the few who may find it beneficial, it’s useful to have a policy in place to give them the benefit of allowing them to earn a Cornell degree,” Knuth said.