Corinne Kenwood / Sun Staff Photographer

Prof. Ellner discusses the Leadership in Honesty and Reliable Knowledge Resolution in the Statler Ballroom on Wednesday.

April 20, 2017

Faculty Senate Passes Reliable Knowledge Resolution, Expresses Concern for Proposed Academic Calendar

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The Faculty Senate passed a resolution regarding practices of navigating false and unreliable information and discussed new proposals for the academic calendar on Wednesday.

The Senate also heard remarks by newly inaugurated President Martha Pollack on her third day in office.

The resolution — presented by Prof. Stephen Ellner, ecology and evolutionary biology — called upon the administration and faculty to expand educational activities that help “explain established academic practices for discriminating between fact and opinion, validating facts, establishing what is reliable knowledge.”

A presidential task force will be commissioned to develop concrete plans for the resolution’s implementation, Ellner said. The force will collaborate with several other campus organizations that have already developed similar objectives.

Following the vote, Dean of Faculty Charles Van Loan presented the report of the Academic Calendar Committee, which was formed in December.

The Committee’s report includes two proposals, one assuming graduation date is fixed and the other assuming its date is moved. Both are designed to address grievances and concerns regarding the purpose, placement and length of breaks, orientation and exam periods, Van Loan said.

He added that comparing Cornell’s academic calendar with those of other peer institutions revealed many other ways that it was highly unusual.

“Our current calendar is a very radical calendar,” he said. “For example, if you look at how much other universities devote to new student orientation, we are at the very bottom.”

Van Loan also emphasized that Cornell was the only institution, besides Harvard, with fewer than 8 academic days after Thanksgiving break, out of a pool of various other Ivy League schools and other peer schools such as Duke, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Chicago, Stanford, Michigan and Berkeley.

The comparative study also revealed that Cornell’s study and exam periods are longer relative to peer schools. Winter breaks are 1.5 weeks above the median and summer breaks are 2.5 below the median, Van Loan said.

Following the presentation, some faculty expressed doubt that February break, which had originally been implemented five years ago after a series of suicides among students, really helps relieve stress.

“The main issue isn’t graduation but whether we should have a February break,” said Prof. Larry Blume, information science.

In response, Van Loan emphasized the overwhelming support for February break students expressed in the surveys conducted by the committee.

Per the committee’s recommendation, the Faculty Senate and each of the Assemblies would vote on a ranking ballot. Then, each assembly would communicate its preferences to the Provost, who will determine the final academic calendar from 2018 forward.

After several faculty expressed concern for the shortened winter breaks — which Prof. Yuval Grossman, physics, called “crucial” — the Senate tabled a motion to vote on whether to keep the current commencement days for the next meeting in May before voting in the default ranking ballot recommended by the committee.

To conclude the meeting, Pollack delivered a brief remark to the Senate.

“I am excited to interact with and learn from the faculty. The faculty are the main people are the main people I have to learn from,” she said. “The university is only as good as its faculty.”

Pollack said she would continue giving faculty more time to teach and do research through the bureaucracy reduction effort, which had started under President Elizabeth Garrett.

She said she would continue support for scholarly research and expand efforts to increase overall trust in the central administration.

Pollack also stressed the importance of Cornell’s commitment to its core academics, outreach with the City of Ithaca, and diversity, access and inclusion.