October 10, 2012

Cornell Advances Plans for Public Policy School

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In an effort to bolster the social sciences, Cornell may create a School of Public Policy that could evolve into a new undergraduate degree — or even the University’s eighth college, said Provost Kent Fuchs, who told The Sun that he is throwing his support behind the school.

The school, as currently envisioned, would be placed in the College of Human Ecology and overseen by Prof. Alan Mathios, policy analysis and management, dean of the human ecology college. If the University approves plans for the school, faculty from several departments — including policy analysis and management, government and applied economics and management — would adopt a second appointment and teach courses in public policy, according to Fuchs. Undergraduate students who express interest in studying public policy would be able to take classes and potentially pursue a minor in the school while continuing to receive a degree from the college they are enrolled in, Fuchs said. Additionally, pending University approval, graduate students interested in the field could have the option of pursuing a masters degree concentrating on social, health or educational policy. “I think this is very viable,” Fuchs said. “There are a lot of students, faculty and alumni who are keenly interested in having a public policy school.”A potential indication of rising student demand for a policy school is the number of applicants to the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs’ masters degree, which has shot up over recent years from less than 150 applications in 2004 to approximately 500 applications in 2011, according to a University report drafted by a committee of professors to examine the prospect of a public policy school. Additionally, Fuchs said that, although Cornell has no formalized department of public policy, several professors scattered across multiple departments already study the topic. By giving a name to the professors, courses and research that will collectively make up the School of Public Policy, Fuchs said that the University will be able to increase the “visibility” of the field both within and outside of Cornell. That heightened visibility, he said, could potentially boost donors’ interest in supporting the field. “Creating a school says that we’re now going to highlight public policy as one of our strategic priorities as we move forward,” Fuchs said. “It would become a greater priority for fundraising … [whereas currently], because the public policy faculty are distributed, we don’t have resources we are working to get.” He pointed to the University’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management as an example of what public policy could become at Cornell: an area of study that is transformed from a department into a school. The Dyson School was created in 2010 through a $25 million donation from the Dyson family — a gift that subsequently paved the way for additional donations that funded the renovation of Warren Hall and endowed the directorship of the school. In addition to reaping the benefits of philanthropic support, the school of public policy, if created, could encourage faculty who work in different departments to collaborate in advancing the field at Cornell, Fuchs said. “It gives the leader of that organization … the authority and responsibility to draw all the faculty who are members of the school to work together to create a new curriculum,” he said. “They’ll all work together to decide which faculty they want to hire.” The collaboration that could spring from a public policy school would “create synergies” between several groups in the college, including the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs, the Department of Policy Analysis and Management and “other concentrated areas of policy-related research that exist in and across several colleges,” said Mathios, the human ecology college dean. It would also strengthen not only public policy research but also teaching and outreach in the field at Cornell, Mathios added. In order to ensure that the school does not “significantly disrupt” existing social sciences programs at Cornell by tearing faculty away from their home departments, however, the public policy committee’s report proposed several mitigations. Between 65 and 75 full-time faculty should be brought to the school through a combination of existing professors and new hires, the report said. Additionally, to incentivize teaching in the school, the University should give each professor who devotes at least 25 percent of his or her time to the school the status of a full faculty member at the school, according to the report. New hires would also be expected to work not only in the public policy school but also contribute to the broader social, life and physical sciences at Cornell, according to the report. If the school includes an existing department, such as policy analysis and management, or even expands into a college of its own, the University must appoint a faculty committee to spend two years “developing teaching programs, holding events and forming groups of interested faculty likely to affiliate” before the move occurs, the report said. Although the exact details of the school have yet to be ironed out, administrators hope that the beneficiaries of the school will not just include professors and students at Cornell. Mathios said that the public policy school, if established, would also honor the College of Human Ecology’s land-grant mission: a charge to teach, conduct research and organize extension programs for the benefit of the state of New York. “A school of public policy would be entirely consistent with the land-grant mission,” Mathios said. Working with the college’s Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research — an institute that, according to its website, aims to translate information gained from research into policy settings — the school would “have the opportunity to translate research generated within a school of public policy into meaningful impact through influencing regulatory and legislative outcomes,” Mathios said.

Original Author: Akane Otani