August 31, 2009

Provost’s Office Reallocates Duties of Axed Positions

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The Office of the Provost is the launch pad for all cuts, merging and scale backs associated with “Reimagining Cornell.” However, no facet of the University has been untouched by the financial crisis, and the office is scrambling just as much as academic departments to slim down its bloated administrative body.
“The economic necessity is to have 10 or 15 percent permanent cuts … in the next five years,” said Prof. Bob Richardson, physics. Richardson recently stepped down as senior science adviser to the president and provost. Richardson said that he had extended his term three years ago, and that he knew his position as science adviser was temporary. The position’s duties have since been incorporated into the vice provost for research’s job, occupied by Prof. Robert Burhman, physics, and was one of four provost positions cut this past summer.
Prof. Elizabeth Mannix, management, is another academic whose time in the Office of the Provost ended this summer. As vice provost for equity and inclusion, Mannix oversaw diversity affairs for faculty, a function she said was supposed to be usurped by the newly created position of chief diversity officer. The idea of a chief diversity officer “unified the mission of diversity around the campus,” and would take the diversity functions of Kent Hubbell, dean of students, and Lynette Chappell-Williams, director of the Office of Workforce Diversity, Equity and Life Quality under its umbrella. However, the Office of the Provost has yet to find someone for the job.
Also cut this summer from the Office of the Provost were the positions of vice provost for life sciences, held by Prof. Steve Kresovich, now vice president for research and graduate education at the University of South Carolina, and the associate provost for outreach, held by Prof. Stephen Hamilton, who has returned to his position of professor of human development and associate director of Cornell’s Family Life Development Center. But according to Provost Kent Fuchs, there is still hacking to be done to the Office’s budget.
  “I hope I will be able to make the Provost’s Office smaller again in the coming year,” Fuchs said. “First there is reducing the number of support staff and administrative assistants. The big decision is how I can cut 10 percent of my budget, which I did already and how I can save more money in the coming year, because that’s more money that I don’t have to cut out of the colleges.”
According to Fuchs, the key to budget cuts in the Office of the Provost lies in “increasing the work of the current people and distributing the responsibilities.” Additionally, Fuchs emphasizes that budget cuts do not mean cuts in innovation and new initiatives.
“I don’t think you need to have a designated person for every new initiative,” Fuchs said.
The cuts in the Office of the Provost come shortly after a time of relative immense growth under former Provost Biddy Martin, now chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Fuchs said he didn’t want to backtrack too much on Biddy’s work, much of which focused on crucial diversity and international efforts. However, some remediation of needless expansion is necessary.
“I think the initiatives were wonderful, but we didn’t look at how those could be done with what we already had, and what we should eliminate,” Fuchs said.  “We didn’t look at how the rest of the University would support that, or what should be stopped.”
Fuchs, though realistic about the changing landscape of Cornell administration, remains optimistic.
“It happens naturally, we create new programs and initiatives and we don’t think about how we should downsize it all,” Fuchs said. “I’m not good at strategically downsizing, I’d rather grow, and now we are forced to think about how we are organized, create some new programs out of existing programs, and then we will grow and become more focused.”