September 9, 2003

Budget Constraints Force Change for Commitment

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With the onset of structural changes in management this year, students of the Cornell Commitment programs will face significant adjustments. Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin announced in late July that a review of the programs’ budget and structure would lead to necessary alterations alleviating the currently difficult fiscal period.

The Cornell Commitment program is comprised of three undergraduate recognition programs: Cornell Tradition, the Meinig Family Cornell National Scholars and the Cornell Presidential Research Scholars. Although each group acts individually, their funding and organization is overseen by Commitment.

Cornell Tradition offers 600 fellowships each year based on work experience, service, academic achievement, and demonstrated leadership. Students can receive up to $4,000 a year in loan replacement upon completion of service requirements and obtaining a minimum GPA.

Presidential Research Scholars are offered the opportunity to work with a faculty mentor on individualized research projects. The program requires fewer activities than Cornell Tradition.

The Meinig Family Cornell National Scholars are a group of students who upon applying to Cornell were nominated by their respective colleges to participate in the program. Less than two percent of the student body is nominated for this honor. Opportunities in the program include stipends and sponsorship for student internships.

Benefits from student involvement in these programs include various internships and research projects.

Martin stressed that no financial support or scholarship provisions will be reduced for students involved. The financial review mainly examined how to cut costs within the administrative side of the programs. Based on the review’s results, significant changes in staff have been made and efforts will be launched to raise money for parts of the program that are not currently endowed.

The changes went into effect on Aug. 1, when the Cornell Commitment programs began officially reporting to Susan Murphy ’73, vice president for student and academic services. Murphy’s division will program activities that relate to students and alumni.

“Internship opportunities will continue to be an important component of all three Commitment programs, and funding will also continue to be available for key aspects of each individual initiative,” Martin wrote in a recent letter to students affected by the changes.

Among the goals of the newly configured staff are increasing relations with campus offices such as the Public Service Center and the Office of the Dean of Students, as well as enhancing relationships with faculty who are currently involved with the research students.

“When we had conversations about workforce planning for the programs, we looked at the roles involved and tried to align them with the right people,” Murphy said. “Much of what the staff does involves the students when they are here during the year, so we decided that it was better to bring them closer to a department that works with student activities.”

To ensure that faculty connections remain strong with the programs’ students, Murphy will work closely this year with Isaac Kramnick, vice provost for undergraduate education. The strengthening of faculty ties will be particularly important for the Presidential Research Scholars.

“[Kramnick] brings a faculty perspective and an overarching perspective on what we do for education,” Murphy said. “He and I will continue to work on pairing students with faculty and strengthening those connections.”

Recruitment and financial aid functions will remain under the management unit led by Doris Davis, associate provost for admissions and enrollment.

“My unit has launched a new initiative to provide increased visibility for the Commitment programs during our admissions recruitment activities, and we are in the process of sending a special Commitment mailing to prospective students,” Davis said. “By more closely aligning the recruitment and financial aid functions with the respective departments in my unit, and aligning the student programming activities with the departments in Vice President Murphy’s unit, we have strengthened the core mission of the Commitment programs.”

Despite the new administration, the Cornell Commitment programs’ objectives and goals for helping students remain unchanged.

“We look to continue the tradition that has already been established and to maintain a strong identity for each program within Cornell Commitment. These changes have been made to benefit the students and allow the program to run more efficiently,” Murphy said.

Although it is still too early in the year to gauge the effects of such alterations, Martin is confident in their ability to improve the programs.

“I am convinced that these changes will allow us to address current budget constraints while maintaining the integrity of the Commitment programs and their benefits to students,” she said.

Archived article by Jennifer Thompson