March 16, 2016

Cornell Faculty Senate Candidates Vie for Dean Position

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The Faculty Senate will consider possible replacements for Dean of the Faculty Prof. Joseph Burns Ph.D. ’66, astronomy, mechanical and aerospace engineering — who is currently on medical leave — at its Wednesday meeting.

The faculty dean is the University faculty’s chief administrative officer and liaison to the president, trustees and Cornell community, according to the University Faculty website.

There are currently five candidates for the position, according to Acting Dean Prof. Michael Fontaine, classics. All candidates stressed the need for shared governance, especially when determining the details of the new College of Business.

Prof. Paul Soloway, nutritional sciences, said the administration’s method of creating the college indicates a lack of trust in the faculty.

“As a faculty member, it seems that the provost, president and trustees lack confidence that we can provide effective, appropriate and prompt input,” Soloway said. “We should prove them wrong; and if we can’t, then Cornell has bigger problems than anyone realizes.”

Prof. Risa Lieberwitz, industrial and labor relations, emphasized the increasing prevalence of top-down decision making at both Cornell and colleges across the country. She said she hopes to re-establish the Faculty Senate’s influence in University policy.

“I would work with the Faculty Senate and college governance bodies to revive the role of faculty governance at all levels,” Liberwitz said. “This, in turn, will encourage active faculty participation in governance, which will improve the quality of deliberations and decisions on matters of educational policy.”

Prof. Nerissa Russell, anthropology, said that increased communication between the administration and faculty is a priority.

“The Dean of Faculty serves as liaison between the faculty and the administration,” Russell said. “These groups work best together when they maintain open communication and cooperation; my goal will be to foster productive partnership while advocating for the faculty role in governance.”

Prof. Charles Van Loan, computer science, explained that developing this communication necessitates more dialogue between the administration and faculty.

“‘Thinking out loud’ in front of the faculty needs to be routine, productive and intellectually driven,” Van Loan said. “To create a climate for this to happen, the trustees, the administration and the senate must each dial back their strict constructionist views of who can do what under the University Bylaws.”

Van Loan compared his vision of increased dialogue to the flipped classroom method of teaching, where “the ratio of dialogue to Powerpoint [should be] five to one and not the other way around,” he said.

Prof. Elaine Wethington, human development, also emphasized the need for an increase in partnerships.

“Cornell is very much in need of transparent and productive partnerships between its faculty and administrators, both within and across colleges,” Wethington said.