August 25, 2010

Scrapping the Plan Already?

Print More

As we have learned several painful times already, budget cuts to academic departments are inevitable in this economic climate. The fact that they are not the only victims likely does not provide much comfort to the assistant professors who will lose their jobs or the students who will suffer a drop in the quality of instruction received. But it is not the severity of the cuts to the math department that is problematic. Rather, it is these cuts’ apparent contradiction of two of the main goals of the University’s Strategic Plan Initiative — recruiting and retaining bright, young faculty (to counteract the University-wide problem of pending-retirees); and identifying and bolstering excellent departments — that is most concerning.In the Strategic Plan, the University identified the necessity of maintaining a strong faculty. According to the Strategic Plan, “There is a critical need to renew the faculty ranks proactively, given anticipated retirements over the next ten to fifteen years.” The University’s strategy of recruiting young, innovative professors to replace retired professors is a wise, and likely cost-efficient, one. However, the cuts to the math department primarily affect the assistant professors — the young, innovative researchers the University professes to covet. As the budget cuts continue to trickle out of Day Hall, we hope that the focus on faculty in the Strategic Plan translates to a real-world emphasis on cultivating a world-class faculty.Additionally, the plan places a strong emphasis on identifying and bolstering world-class departments. It aims to, “increase the number of Cornell departments or graduate fields that have achieved world leadership in their areas.” The math department seems to fall into this category — it was ranked No. 13 in the United States in the most recent U.S. News and World Report rankings, and was in the top 15 in the National Research Council’s 1995 rankings. Making significant cuts to such a department suggests the University is making budget decisions based on factors other than those outlined in the Strategic Plan.The impact previous budget cuts have had on departments across Cornell cannot be denied; one must only look to the relatively barren slate of performances scheduled at the Schwartz Center for evidence. But to stand up in outrage following each budget cut announcement would be short-sighted. The current economic realities, while not as bleak as a year ago, still demand that the University tighten the pursestrings. Frankly, something, somewhere needs to be cut.It is precisely this reality that prompted the University to spend a year developing their Strategic Plan Initiative. Theoretically, adhering to this plan will reduce costs in a way that not only limits the damage to the educational experience, but puts the University in a strong fiscal and educational position going forward.Cornell spent a considerable amount of time, energy and talent developing a Strategic Plan to lead the University into the upper echelon of higher education. We wish they would follow the plan.