April 23, 2018

LEE | Embracing What We Have: Retain Distinct Colleges

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I really complain a lot about Cornell. I talk everyday about how much more appreciative I’d be of this place if only it were 70 degrees all year long. I think about all the opportunities Ithaca would have if it were within a two or three hour drive from a major city. I relentlessly criticize Cornell’s lack of scholastic focus and corporate culture that streamlines students from info session to info session to job.

As much as I find fault with many facets of this university, I do love the place for what it is.

Cornell’s campus is really gorges and Cornellians (current and graduated) are some of the smartest and most passionate people I have met, by far. I am also proud to be a part of an institution that embodies any person, any study, any country, any religion and so on. I become fascinated by walking into Anabel Taylor Hall and seeing how religions come together under a single building. I admire the premise of shared governance embodied through how the different assemblies and communities convene to reflect upon how to improve the campus.

Like myself, I see that many others do not truly appreciate Cornell for what it has and embrace the institution for the immense values it currently brings. This problem is most apparent in the administration’s supposed lack of understanding that the beauty of Cornell lies within its seven distinct but cohesive colleges. A merge of Applied Economics and Management with the Hotel School to create the College of Business generated chaos and resentment towards University officials who were unwilling to listen to students’ and staff’s strong opposition against it. And once again, the University has disrupted the foundational trust of its constituents by proposing yet another merger.

I frankly believe that a merger between the School of Industrial and Labor Relations and College of Human Ecology, as well as the developmental sociology and communications majors of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, is ridiculous. I sat through the Student Assembly meeting last Wednesday to hear what the chairs of the Committee on Organizational Structures in the Social Sciences had to say about their report on ideas for improving the social sciences at Cornell and specifically about this notion of a merger between ILR and Human Ecology, which was rated 4 out of 5 stars. While I understand that a merger is 1 of 8 proposals and that the committee’s attempt to gather feedback at this S.A. meeting was just the first step, I saw no substantive evidence as to why such a proposal would do more benefit than harm.

ILR and Human Ecology have been built on such different principles and thus merging two dissimilar colleges would generate pandemonium. Many of the majors within Human Ecology, such as human biology, health and society or fiber science and apparel design have little connection to the social sciences. Based on the committee’s logic of bringing coherence and improvement in the social sciences, why not include the College of Arts and Sciences? Or better yet, why not just have one “Cornell College” under which all the core majors would exist? Do they see how nonsensical it is to combine distinctive colleges?

Cornell is a place of any person, any study. It is an institution in which you can focus or expand on whatever major you want, whether that is in the field of hotel administration or through a more wide-ranging economics major. Cornell’s seven distinct colleges are great as they are because of their interdisciplinary and comprehensive nature. The committee’s reasoning behind a potential merger lacks foundation without attempting to involve social science related majors from across all colleges and only focusing on contract colleges for mere administrative convenience. While I understand the major ramifications to such a change, an overhaul of the social sciences curriculum at Cornell should not be conducted without incorporating all related majors in the process.

I am thankful that the committee chairs have taken the time to present and receive feedback from community members as a part of their process. However, I can’t help but note that their presentation at the April 19 meeting was a mere echo of what was on the committee report. Unless supporting document that further outlines possible merits is shared to the Cornell community, the two pages of a 26-page committee report will not suffice for sound thinking behind a potential merger of colleges. Moreover, how does the committee expect us to understand the rationale behind a brief publicly shared summary report, if the chairs aren’t even able to define what “social sciences” are?

I am grateful that almost all Cornell constituents are just really trying to make the campus the best in can be based on their perception and understanding of the place. I hope that the committee will continue to fully involve students and faculty in the process of elucidating their rationale on the proposed merger. I also hope that the committee can embrace the unique identities of ILR and Human Ecology and work towards strengthening the expertise that ILR and Human Ecology have in their fields, respectively.