October 28, 2002

Arts College Enters Period Of Transition

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Next year will be a major period of transition for the College of Arts and Sciences, with the search for a new dean well underway and several significant personnel changes forthcoming. Additionally, plans are developing for a new physical sciences building, a new teaching assistant (TA) allocation policy and the implementation next year of revised language and distribution requirements.


Philip E. Lewis, the Harold A. Tanner dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, is serving his last year in the position after Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin asked him to resign over the summer. Martin’s dean search committee will submit a list of finalists to President Hunter R. Rawlings III early next semester.

The new dean’s term will begin on July 1, 2003.

“We don’t know yet whether we’ll have an internal or external dean,” said Jonathan Culler, senior associate dean, over the possibility of the new dean being selected from within the college itself.


Unrelated to Lewis’s resignation, several other members of the college’s administration are leaving either temporarily or permanently. Lynne S. Abel, associate dean for undergraduate admissions and education and director of the Academic Advising Center, is retiring after next semester and will return to the Department of Classics in spring 2004. She has worked at Cornell for 29 years and said that her retirement has been “long in the making.”

“I love my job,” Abel said. “I’m one of the lucky people of the world.”

Abel helped create “an advising system that’s absolutely complete from beginning to end which works extremely well,” she said. “I’m very proud of it and am happy to pass it on to somebody else.”

“Her job is a very demanding one,” Culler added.

Culler is also spending next year on sabbatical in Italy. Additionally, Paul Houston, senior associate dean, is taking a semester leave next year.

According to Lewis, the new dean will most likely appoint replacements beginning early next semester.

“What’s a little bit unnerving is the fact that not only will we be getting a new dean but a new director of the Academic Advising [Center],” Assistant Dean Ken Gabard said. “It’s a big turnover.”

Culler agreed, saying, “It will be a [time] of transition.”

Gabard added, “It could be that absolutely nothing will change [next year] or there could be some drastic changes” to the college’s policies. He speculated that if changes were to occur with the new appointments, they would not happen immediately.

Another major project in development in the arts college is a new physical sciences building for the chemistry, physics and applied and engineering physics departments. It is currently in the planning stage as part of the Life Sciences Initiative. According to Culler, the proposed building will offer new offices, as well as new lab, office, teaching and common spaces. It is being planned as an extension to Clark Hall, which Culler described as becoming “cramped quarters” for the departments housed there.

He added that it is “not obvious” where to place the new building, or even whether it will exist as a separate building or as an addition to existing facilities.

The new building will also better “enable [the departments] to compete for top faculty,” Culler said.

Another priority currently under discussion in the College of Arts and Sciences is the allocation of TAs. According to Lewis, many departments do not currently have enough TAs, but moving them from one department to another “isn’t as easy as you might think,” he said.

The only program in the arts college with a stable TA status is the John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines, whose courses are designed by the TAs themselves, Lewis said.

For all other departments, allocation remains a problem for several reasons, according to Lewis. First, each department makes four- or five-year commitments with graduate students, making transfers difficult. TA allocations immediately affect course assignments, section schedules and lab designs as well.

One TA costs the college $25,000-30,000 per year plus various overhead costs, Lewis said, “so it’s a nontrivial proposition.” Finally, enrollment in the arts college has increased partly due to interest from students in other colleges. Moreover, student interest in different departments fluctuate.

“We haven’t worked out exactly how we’re going to work [the allocations] out,” Culler said, adding that TA allocations are imprecise by nature. “You can’t judge only by class or section size” how many TAs are needed, he said.

Culler added that the vote against unionization last week will most likely not affect the college’s allocation plans.

Another change in the arts college will be made to the language and distribution requirements. The changes will take effect next fall for incoming freshmen.

“We’re full speed ahead on that,” Lewis said.

The new distribution requirements will change the four required course categories into seven new ones: physical and biological sciences; math and quantitative reasoning; literature and the arts; historical analysis; cultural analysis; knowledge, cognition and moral reasoning; and social behavioral analysis.

The language change will require all students, regardless of whether they attain proficiency by passing a Cornell Advanced Standing Examination (CASE), to take at least one semester of language at the appropriate level.

Lewis is currently focusing on college fundraising, especially for the Andrew Dickson White House renovation. In addition, he is working to reorganize the College Advisory Council (CAC) but is remaining “guarded” in his approach since the resignation request, he said.

Lewis also said he anticipated changes next semester due to forthcoming recommendations from the Workforce Planning Team.

“We’re assuming we will have to do our fair share” in addition to the other colleges, he said, speculating that the arts college may undergo department centralization or grouping to conserve funds.

Lewis will leave some of his fundraising and CAC duties for the new dean, including making new appointments and the Capital Campaign fundraising effort.

Archived article by Andy Guess