September 8, 2009

Skorton and Fuchs Introduce Reimagining C.U. to Community

Print More

President David Skorton made his public case for the University’s strategic plan to streamline University operations Friday as faculty, students and staff packed into Biotech G10. Showing up on time did not guarantee audience members a seat, as many were willing to stand for the duration of the public forum at which Skorton and Provost Kent Fuchs discussed the “Reimagining Cornell” initiative and its implications for the future of the University.
Skorton stressed the importance of faculty, staff and students remaining involved throughout the Reimagining process. He expressed the administration’s devotion to transparency by pledging to continually provide the Cornell community with constant updates on the initiative’s progress. “We will put it out there for everyone to see it,” Skorton said.
This forum was the first in a series of five discussing Reimagining Cornell with the University community.
Skorton compared Cornell to a busi[img_assist|nid=37888|title=Imagine all the people|desc=President David Skorton holds an open forum last Friday on the topic of “Reimaging Cornell” in the Biotech building. The room was filled to capacity with faculty, staff, students and other members of the community.|link=node|align=left|width=336|height=240]
ness, often equating it with General Motors.
“At GM there was a disconnect between what people want and what they were providing; they didn’t handle their back-room functions correctly, and there was a loss of confidence in their ability to innovate,” Skorton said.
While Cornell’s demand is higher than ever among college-bound high school students — Cornell received over 34,000 applications last year — like GM, Cornell’s administrative support can function more efficiently to better promote future innovations, he said.
Fuchs said, “We need to ask questions like, ‘Is Cornell more complex than it needs to be?’ and ‘Can we be more efficient among schools?’”
The Powerpoint presentation led by Fuchs explained that the information-gathering step of Reimagining Cornell includes three parts. First, faculty task forces in respective academic programs will investigate “how should we restructure our academics … how can we allocate resources.” The second part looks at the University’s non-academic costs, for which Cornell has hired the global consulting firm Bain & Company. The third part of the program will focus on the five-year future of Cornell and will be led by the strategic planning advising committee.
Since much of the audience’s jobs could be at stake, Skorton tried to lighten the mood through his humor.
When an audience member asked a question to Skorton and Fuchs, Skorton commented on their different responses by saying, “That’s the difference between an engineer and a cardiologist. [The engineer] wants to get right in there and see what works and doesn’t work. I’m more sensitive and want to take some time before I go right into it.”
Besides winning the crowd over with laughs, Skorton also provided faculty and staff with uplifting news.
When an audience member asked a question concerning reductions in employee benefits, Skorton’s comments assuaged the anxieties of many audience members.
“We’re going to give raises,” Skorton said. “The question will be how much. And benefits are not on the chopping block. I am not interested in taking a meat cleaver to benefits. We need to make sure we can recruit and retain people. … The question is what have we done so far to protect you, to protect your prospects and to protect the University. That’s what I’m here to talk about today.”
While Fuchs described the goal of a “better University with fewer resources,” as an “almost an impossible task,” Skorton provided an optimistic outlook to the audience.
“I’m hugely confident but it is an unsettling process,” Skorton told the audience. “And if you want more forums, we will have more forums.”
While transparency is a major concern for the University, Skorton said that the administration is going to have to “depend on The Daily Sun and other media outlets to ask us questions that the campus wants to ask.”
The due date for task forces’ final reports is October and the phase two report during the spring semester, Skorton plans to “draft a budget no later than December.”
When an audience member asked if Cornell’s motto, “Any Person … Any Study” will be jeopardized by this strategic planning?” Fuchs explained that, even now, we don’t offer “any study.” More importantly, Fuchs emphasized that we should focus our resources in the areas in which the University is best.
“I don’t think we can be the best in everything,” Fuchs said.
Among the few students in the audience, President of Kyoto Now! Fil Eden ’10, was impressed by Skorton’s performance.
“He was in a room full of people whose jobs are on the line and his general tone worked well,” Eden said. “It is a complex situation and he handled it well, with the appropriate amount of detail. He didn’t avoid questions or do that typical politician thing. … Overall, I think they’re doing the best job they can.”