October 15, 2015

Garrett Continues Administrative Shake-Up; Arts and Sciences Adds Education Innovation Director

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Corrections appended 

After several months ripe with personnel fluctuations, the University has announced that it will restructure the presidential leadership team to include an executive vice president and chief financial officer, pending board of trustee approval of the position, according to a University press release.

Garrett has appointed Joanne DeStefano, the current vice president for finance and chief financial officer, to fill the new position.

The new position is intended to oversee all of Cornell’s risk-related units in efforts to maximize operational efficiencies, Garrett said in a University statement.

In her new position, DeStefano will “continue oversight of Financial Affairs, the Investment Office and the Audit Office, and will share oversight with Provost Michael Kotlikoff of Information Technologies and Budget and Planning,” in keeping with her previous duties, according to the release. She will also take on oversight of Infrastructure, Properties and Planning, Risk Management and Insurance, Emergency Management/Business Continuity, Environmental Health and Safety and the Cornell University Police Department.

“We are extremely fortunate to have Joanne’s substantial talents — including her financial acumen and deep understanding of the University — to draw upon as we look to the opportunities and challenges ahead,” Garrett said in a statement.

Almost immediately after this academic year began, Garrett announced that she would begin her tenure by restructuring the Cornell administration to be more efficient. She has already made significant changes to Day Hall’s ranks and has put pressure on administrative units to streamline expenditures and cut inefficiencies.

Urging University provosts, college deans and vice presidents to cut costs and simplify processes in an Aug. 20 memo, Garrett wrote, “I am therefore asking each of you to assess processes and procedures within your jurisdiction or throughout the University, and work to eliminate unnecessary regulation, duplicative structures or burdensome paperwork where the goals of the process can be met more efficiently.”

‘A Real Leader in Educational Excellence’

In addition, Prof. Peter Lepage, physics, former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, will become the college’s first director of education innovation. In his new position, Lepage plans to encourage professors to engage in active learning techniques and “help departments scale up from the individual efforts of professors who have initiated new models of teaching to a department-wide curriculum of engaged learning,” he said in a University release.

Lepage said that the use of i-Clicker questions, which allow professors to see an entire class’s answers to a question in real time, and expanded reliance on discussion sessions following lectures are both good examples of engaged learning.

“Peter is a real leader in educational excellence both within the college and nationally. He helped to initiate the Active Learning Initiative, and we are fortunate that he will be at the helm of the college’s ongoing efforts to expand our engaged learning strategies,” said Gretchen Ritter, arts and sciences dean, in a statement. “We have fabulous faculty in the college and we look forward to finding new ways to enhance their success as educators both inside and outside the classroom.”

Lepage emphasized that these new models will provide a different way to utilize professors’ lectures.

“Active learning models use short lectures in strategic ways, teaching according to how people learn most effectively,” he said. “Studies show that student-student discussion followed by a lecture results in the best learning. Exercising your knowledge by talking to someone is hugely beneficial in cementing knowledge.”

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly indicated that the appointment of Peter Lepage as the College of Arts and Sciences’ first director of education innovation was part of President Elizabeth Garrett’s administrative shake-up. In fact, Lepage’s appointment was made internally within the college. Additionally, the article incorrectly stated that Lepage will be “returning” to the college, when in fact he is already a tenured faculty member. 

  • Interested Party

    Consider “innovating” by eliminating the undergraduate academic practices of grading on a curve and posting median grades on official transcripts.

    These two academic practices needlessly decrease teamwork and collaboration among students, while increasing student conflicts and resentment toward instructors, especially in the most competitive majors. They result in transcripts that can make a significant cohort of Cornell undergrads less competitive relative to other top-tier colleges for graduate school and employment opportunities. The effect can be a sense of remorse and betrayal by many Cornell students, and reduced loyalty and contributions by future Cornell alumni and their families who paid part or all of the cost (often with long-term debt). Undergraduate admissions “yield” will also decline as familiarity with grading practice spreads and the best future candidates make Cornell one of their “backup” choices.

    What is the point of recruiting the top 10% of high school students, only to guarantee that half in each course at Cornell with 10+ students will be permanently placed in the bottom 50% – ON THE TRANSCRIPT! What other top-tier college puts median grades on the transcript? Is this an Ivy League standard?

    What is the point of putting the best academic talent together in a Cornell class, only to punish half of them by grading on a curve? Does Cornell not wish to see students work together toward broad academic success? It makes more sense to maintain high academic standards by grading high-achieving Cornell students against valid and reliable – and reasonable – competency and content benchmarks.

    The high stress caused by grading on a curve and posting median grades on permanent transcripts has a negative effect on overall mental health at Cornell. This is a leading cause for the rampant abuse of ADHD prescription stimulants. In addition to mental health cost and risk, this type of stress can have the perverse result of reducing academic performance, exploration and creativity among students – thus lowering overall academic quality within the university.

    With Cornell’s new leadership, it’s the perfect time to design a new grading paradigm.