November 6, 2003

University to Create Social Sciences Academy

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The University is setting up a Social Sciences Academy modeled in part after the Society for the Humanities.

The initiative for the Academy is part of three initiatives to strengthen the social sciences at Cornell, outlined in a July 1, 2002 memo from President Hunter R. Rawlings III and Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin to the Social Sciences Advisory Council, academic deans and the chairs of social science departments.

The other initiatives include increasing the number of faculty lines in the government and economics departments and providing funds for aggressive recruiting of faculty. Each initiative will have a budget of roughly $500,000, according to Vice Provost Walter Cohen.

One of the central goals of the Academy is “[to] facilitate interdisciplinary work as well as cross-department cooperation and integration of research within the same discipline [by drawing] on the dispersed social science faculty and research initiatives at Cornell,” according to the working proposal of the Social Sciences Advisory Council.

The Academy is intended as “more narrowly focused on improving the social sciences at Cornell” than the Society for Humanities, and less as a way to develop scholars outside of the University, Cohen said.

Like the Society for the Humanities, the Academy will have a director, but it will also have the position of seminar chair. The director will solicit proposals for the Academy’s common research program, leaving the Academy’s research and discussion seminar under the direction of the seminar chair, usually an expert in the year’s theme.

No permanent home has yet been found for the Academy. “We’re not going to say anything about that until we have it settled,” Cohen said, “but we will succeed.”

For students, the Academy aims to expose the latest trends in research, and to encourage faculty to develop new courses. The idea, Cohen said, is that “a useful [research] theme will generate courses that weren’t previously taught, courses likely to have an interdisciplinary and intercollegiate feel to them.”

Seminar participants at the Academy need not be social scientists, though the method of selecting the Academy’s fellows has yet to be sorted out.

The Academy’s seminars will be much like the University’s Social Science Seminar program that is already in place: a weekly affair in which faculty from across departments and colleges discuss topics related to a central point of inquiry. The current seminar, on law norms and society, lightens a seminar participant’s teaching load by one course. Under the Academy proposal, Cohen anticipates faculty in the seminar will have two fewer courses.

Although Cohen anticipates the Academy will have an array of public events, the specifics will depend on the Academy’s site and director.

Archived article by Dan Galindo