March 2, 2010

‘Reimagining’ Efforts Move Ahead

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The Sun sat down with Provost Kent Fuchs yesterday to discuss the latest developments in the ‘Reimagining Cornell’ process.

Sun: It is easy to get confused by the Reimagining initiative. First off, where are we currently in the process?

Kent Fuchs: It is confusing, primarily because we’re doing so much. There are three parts to it. One is the work around the 20 academic task force reports from last [semester]. The second is the work that we’re [doing] to reduce our administrative expenses, working with the consultants. And then the third part is the work in planning the future, the University’s future plan. So the planning document is underway. The work with the administrative consultants will be finished at the end of this semester, and we’ll have our target savings and budgets for the next year. And then the 20 academic task force reports, each has its own life now. Some have moved forward; some have stopped.

Sun: Can you talk a little bit more about what you’re currently working on in regards to the 20 academic task force reports?

K.F.: Many of the ideas in the 20 academic task force reports that will take more than a few months to implement will be captured by [the future strategic plan] if they span multiple colleges. But some of the things, we know that we’re just going to do them. The one we’re focusing on the most right now is the budget model. That’s the one we’re working hardest on right now. It proposed a change in the way we budget resources to colleges and vice presidents throughout the whole University. It has the ideas to pool all undergraduate tuition and organize the University under one budget model. That will take another year before we’re finished. We have agreement in the fundamental principles, and now we’re going to develop example implementations to see whether the budgets go up or down across the University.

For the Management Sciences Task Force report, we’re working with the deans of CALS, Johnson School and then later the deans of Hotel and Engineering because they all have management and business in each one of their schools.

The social science is the more challenging [field] because it’s broader. We’re asking the College of Human Ecology and School of Industrial Labor Relations to think about public policy, economics and social sciences and how we can be stronger in those areas.

The social science is the more challenging [field] because it’s broader. We’re asking the College of Human Ecology and School of Industrial Labor Relations to think about public policy, economics and social sciences and how we can be stronger in those areas.

Sun: Correct me if I am wrong, but I think that the College of Human Ecology Policy Analysis and Management program will be changing its name to “Public Policy” next year.

K.F.: That is correct. I forget the specifics of it, but that is right. In regards to the libraries, University Librarian Anne Kenney is working with libraries of individual colleges to see if there is a way to collaborate with libraries of colleges. She’s working with deans of ILR, Hotel and Johnson School — because they’re so close — about the possibility of sharing a library and staff more effectively and then creating more space. It may be possible to put the books in one location and use the rest of the space for studying. She is also talking to the Engineering Dean and AAP about their Fine Arts Library, as well as to the staff at the Vet Library to see if they should reallocate their space for student study space.

Sun: What is the criteria for deciding which libraries will remain and which will become study space?

K.F.: Very much discipline-based. How frequently do students of the college use that collection of books? We know we have to preserve the collection, but if we move it to another location, would they suffer?

With electronic access, use of collections has changed. Could the vet collection be put in Mann Library? Should librarians with certain expertise stay there or should they move? It’s not just a budget decision but a decision on what’s the best use of the facility and the people that support it. Those [decisions] will be made by the summer.

Sun: You mentioned giving colleges the ability to make their own deicisons. In their task force reports, many colleges mention increased enrollment, but there has been an enrollment cutoff of 3,150 students in the freshman class. How is this feasible?

K.F.: We have decided to cap enrollment for the entering class, but we haven’t yet decided what we’re going to do with transfer students. Every year we’ll reconsider if we’ll grow the size of the freshman class, but we are currently looking at whether we should cap transfer enrollments.

Sun: Do rankings play a role in that decision?

K.F.: Rankings could play a role. [The decisions] could grow class size, and we don’t want to degrade the quality of education. Also, we have an increasing number of students who study abroad, so there is an increasing capacity in the later years. We’re discussing this this very week.

Sun: Some of the task force reports mentioned a decrease in the number of higher level courses because of fewer faculty members. Is this going to be a trend?

K.F.: We’re hoping not to shrink the faculty any more than we already have. My higher priority is to keep the faculty size at its current level, and even to regrow it. You’re right, if we have to balance the budget by reducing faculty, then that does mean fewer courses, particularly electives. Our hope is that we can avoid that. We don’t yet know if we can do that, but we hope to not have to shrink the faculty any more. That’s why we’re trying to attain $90 million of administrative savings.

Sun: Many of the task force reports discuss possible mergers among colleges. Have there been further developments on the feasibility of these plans?

K.F.: For some, yes, and for some, no. For example, the College of Engineering was proposing a possibility of a combined science. It’s unlikely we’re going to do that. We are, however, discussing whether AEM should become a school and whether there should be a school of environment, both [of which were] proposed by CALS.

Sun: It seems odd that AEM is in CALS.

K.F.: The AEM major is a highly ranked major for undergraduate business, but we also have management programs in the Hotel School, the Johnson School and some business in ILR; Engineering has a masters in management, so we’re trying to decide how we can be best organized around management.

Sun: Are you planning to create a school of public policy, and if so, will it be built out of one of our current schools?

K.F.: That’s going to be a big decision and we don’t know yet.

Sun: Is the College of Arts and Sciences — especially the government or economics departments — playing a role in the school of public policy?

K.F.: It will. We’re not yet ready to bring in all of the colleges because I’ve asked a couple of deans to think about it. The Arts College, because of its breadth, has some type of impact, whether it’s social sciences or economics.

Sun: How will such major changes in the University structure impact the budget model?

K.F.: That’s why I’m such a big supporter of changing the budget model. If we pool undergraduate tuition, we can make it easier to pull down barriers between colleges, at least from a student’s perspective. For colleges, we have to ensure that we don’t create negative incentives that will make them compete with each other.

Sun: Will the internal transfer fees be set up by credit?

K.F.: Great question. We haven’t gotten there yet. That’s why it is so important for us to begin now at the implementation of the model. We begin to discover challenges.

Sun: How is the decrease in state funding playing a role in Reimagining Cornell?

K.F.: We expect as much as a $2 million reduction in state funding. We’re hoping the the state will restore some of that reduction when they pass their final budget. We’ve already included that in our budget conclusions. [The budget cuts] will have a negative impact, and that’s why it’s so important to get these administrative savings.

Sun: The Arts College ranked its departments. What is your role in this ranking, and are other schools using the same methods?

K.F.: I ask all the colleges to determine what are their higher priorities for growth and resources. For some colleges, that means prioritizing departments. I am forcing them to prioritize, but I’m not doing it for them.

Sun: Do you know the criteria for prioritizing departments?

K.F.: The broadest one is a vague one, but it’s two things. Academic excellence — the highest quality of scholarship and teaching of faculty. Second is what areas in both courses and research will be most important for the future. Those should be our higher priorities.

Sun: A major part of Reimagining Cornell is improving or maintaing Cornell’s reputation in the world. What other universities and colleges do you consider Cornell’s peer institutions?

K.F.: The planning document we are currently creating states that we want to be considered one of the top 10 research universities in the world. That means that any discipline should be in the top ten, regardless of what other schools make up the other nine.

Sun: So what is the timeline that we can expect for these decisions?

K.F.: Twelve months from now we have to have in place our new budget model. My expectation is that by the summer we will have a good perspective on the libraries. Life sciences, social sciences and management sciences are going to take probably a year of work before we come to any decisions. We’ve already decided to cap student enrollment of freshman class to 3,150, but we will decide whether or not to cap transfer enrollment in the next few weeks. We’re letting the masters and Ph.D. students grow. The colleges, especially CALS, each have their own timeline.

Original Author: Sam Cross