May 3, 2011

Professors in Department of Education Relocated

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Effective July 1, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences will relocate five of the ten professors in the Department of Education, which will be phased out over the next two years, to new departmental homes.

Of the five professors who will remain in the department next year, two are retiring, two are considering their options and one is in active negotiations with another department, according to Senior Associate Dean of CALS Max Pfeffer.

The five professors who are being transferred will be placed in the Department of Anthropology, the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, the Department of Horticulture, the Department of Development Sociology and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, according to Pfeffer.

“We’re an education institution and so we’re all dedicated to providing quality education [instruction],” Pfeffer said, adding that the relocations “will enhance our efforts in many departments to have disciplinary expertise in education” and “hopefully play a role in reinforcing educational roles of everyone on campus.”

However, many students said the quality of education instruction at Cornell would suffer because of the relocations.

“While it is also great to see that faculty will remain on campus, as my professors for education classes were some of the best I have had at Cornell, I am less sure about how many of their courses will continue to be offered, or the degree to which they may need to be altered to suit the new department’s requirements,” said Rachel Bukberg ’11, an education minor, in an email. “Dispersion of faculty also may detract from the cohesiveness that once provided students with a more complete understanding of the history, pedagogical techniques and current structure of the nation’s education system.”

Emma Schain ’11, who has taken many education classes and will join Teach for America after graduating, agreed.

“I think anytime you disperse the representatives of a discipline, you tamper with the potential to actually have a conversation. Nothing can replace bringing people together and having people interact with one another in a department,” she said.

Irene Li ’12, who has taken many classes in education, said she was “highly skeptical” of how the University would preserve the study of education, particularly doubting whether the departments would continue to hire faculty in education fields once the recently-transferred professors retire.

“There hasn’t been a lot of discussion whether faculty lines specializing in education will be created or moved,” she said.

John Armstrong grad, a student in the department, echoed these sentiments.

“Now, you’re an education professor and you have to talk like you’re a horticulture professor,” Armstong said. “How likely do you think it is that these departments are going to hire someone else who does work in pedagogy in education? How likely is it that AEM will get someone that does teacher education?”

Still, Pfeffer said much had been done to preserve education instruction, highlighting the University’s commitment to maintain the education minor and the teacher certification program next year.

“We’ve made steps to solidify that program so students that came expecting to get the courses they need to be able to go on and get teaching degrees can keep doing that,” Pfeffer said. “We’ve asked the professors to stay together to maintain that program regardless of where they’re placed in the University.”

Several professors within the department did not return multiple requests for comment, and others referred all questions to Pfeffer.

Pfeffer said the process of finding new departmental homes for professors is going “surprisingly smoothly.”

“We originally said we would close [the department] within two years,” Pfeffer said. “By the end of the next academic year we would expect it to close … it could be even sooner than that.”

Pfeffer said one of the most difficult parts of the transition is having the education professors decide which department to join. Pfeffer noted that it is a “big and very difficult change” for the department’s faculty.

“[The faculty] are all over the place in the University and that has been determined by a process where we met with the professors and asked them where they would like to be,” Pfeffer said.

He added that education faculty engage in a process with departments before joining. “They have had interviews with various faculty members, so everyone feels comfortable,” he said.

Some students, however, characterized the relocation process for education faculty differently.

“The faculty have been put in a very vulnerable position. They’ve been promised they won’t lose a job, but they haven’t been helped finding a job; they’ve been finding departments on their own [in a] very abbreviated process that leaves education out to dry,” Jesse Delia grad, who works with the education department, said. “I am disappointed there hasn’t been more care and more support to faculty who are community members of Cornell who have been very gracious in a difficult situation and are trying to make sense of a decision they had no control over.”

Armstrong agreed.

“The faculty don’t have choice. They weren’t fired, but they weren’t given positions, either,” Armstrong said. “[Education professors] have to go around and sell themselves as often something they’re not. [If the administration is] framing it that everything’s hunkydory, it’s not. It’s a liquidation sale that’s going on in the education department.”

Original Author: Alyson Warhit