September 27, 2011

Pooling Academic Resources

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The University’s decision to consolidate Economics across Cornell into a single department moves its Strategic Plan a step forward and will ultimately prove beneficial for students.

Cornell released the Strategic Plan in 2010. The plan stated the University’s intentions to become one of the top 10 research universities in the world and to establish a model for providing practical education that can help students make an impact on the world after graduation. Both are worthy goals, and to accomplish them, the University identified two major strategies. First, it would focus on strengthening academic programs that were “strategically important to the University.” Second, it would work to build greater connectivity across the diverse colleges, schools and programs at Cornell.

The consolidation of the Economics department appears to accomplish both. In 2009, the Arts and Sciences Academic Planning Task Force — one of the committees that helped form the basis of the strategic plan — reported that a school’s Economics department was one of eight departments most strongly correlated with a university’s prestige. The stronger each of those eight departments, the better the school’s reputation.

Consolidating Economics across Cornell’s colleges will almost certainly strengthen the department. Though the exact details have yet to be worked out, faculty collaboration across colleges could help reduce overlap in course material and put resources to better use. It could enable faculty to better coordinate their respective curricula and introduce new perspectives into their classes. Most importantly, however, the department will emerge as a unified one — with all of the University’s economics professors organized into a single unit. This could attract prospective students to the program and help recruit the country’s top Economics faculty to Cornell.

A consolidated economics department will also prove highly beneficial for students. Though Cornell’s division into seven colleges is one of the University’s strengths, this structure can make it difficult for students to take courses outside of their respective colleges. In an ideal world, colleges would be organized based on interests and fields of study, instead of degree programs. Students would not need to choose between majors that were marginally different from one another but offered in separate colleges.

The consolidation of the Economics department will allow students to fully pursue their interests in the field of study. Students from any college will be able to take whatever Economics class they desire, without worrying about how it will translate to credit within their colleges. They will be exposed to new perspectives on the subject from faculty who traditionally would teach in separate colleges. The entire field and all of its faculty and campus resources will be available to every Economics student.

The University has taken the right step by consolidating Economics courses –– for the department, for faculty and for students. In the future, we hope the University will continue to emphasize the aspirations in the Strategic Plan and foster greater collaboration across all colleges and departments.