February 23, 2011

The Right Approach

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AFTER MONTHS OF SPECULATION AND CONJECTURE over the fate of the Department of Education, the University announced that the program’s minor and teacher certification program would continue to be offered.

While it is unfortunate and discouraging that the University broke with several of its values in opting to discontinue the Department of Education major, including its land grant mission and commitment to agricultural education, it is commendable that they were able to ultimately reach a compromise on the issue.

Several recent unilateral administrative decisions — ranging from the Africana Center’s merge into the College of Arts and Sciences to last week’s Greek language program cut — have raised questions about the University’s transparency and capacity to consult the student body and faculty on major issues.

Here, though, it appears that the University took the appropriate approach. After Day Hall decided to cut the department, they remained open to student and faculty feedback. They focused on outreach, holding several meetings with those affected by the potential cuts, and came to a reasonable solution that could benefit both parties. The important point is not that the University met with students and faculty –– something which they did in the Africana Center’s case as well –– but that they moved on the feedback with tangible and public action.

Maintaining an education program, at least in some form, is critical for the University. Cornell’s education program helps train the teachers of tomorrow and remains crucial to the University’s land-grant mission. This mission, and the unique areas of study that emerge from it, distinguishes Cornell from its peers.

To this extent, moving forward, continuing to offer the minor in education and the teacher certification program cannot become an empty pledge made to appease an understandably angry student body and faculty. The minor and the certification program must be provided the necessary resources and infrastructure to ensure their success for years to come. While it is encouraging that the University has committed to hiring two additional faculty members for education classes, their oversight of the minor cannot stop there. Over the next few years, the University must commit to ensuring that the minor plays a salient role in the campus’ academic community. If more support is needed for the minor or the teacher certification program, the University cannot hesitate in finding the means to offer it.

But ensuring that the minor and teacher certification program maintain adequate support and infrastructure is not enough. Though majors and whole departments are more visible and easily accessible, all too often that is not the case with minors. Much of the time, students find it difficult to identify minors within larger schools and discern how to complete them. The University must focus on publicity and outreach as much as anything else. Cornell still needs to be a place that attracts students interested in education, as well as an institution that communicates with students already enrolled in the minor about the various opportunities and career paths their studies may provide them.

Given the education department’s decline in size over the past few years, the fact that the major and department were discontinued was not surprising to many faculty and administrators. It is how the University presents the cuts and reacts to them after they are made, however, that makes all the difference.