Provost Michael Kotlikoff’s decision to move on from the proposed merger between the School of Industrial and Labor Relations and the College of Human Ecology is the right one, and we are glad to see this exercise in academic Frankensteining put to rest. We hope that without the most unpopular proposal casting a shadow over campus, Cornell can constructively debate the other elements of the Committee on Organizational Structures in the Social Sciences report.
The merger idea encountered fierce pushback from faculty and students alike, particularly in the ILR school, and drew comparisons to 2016’s much-maligned creation of the College of Business. Eighty-eight percent of ILR faculty expressed opposition to the proposal in a survey presented to the Faculty Senate, 163 current ILR and Human Ecology students wrote a letter to The Sun objecting to the idea and all four living former deans of the ILR school similarly argued against the change in an open letter to Kotlikoff and President Martha Pollack published in The Sun.
Throughout this process, the co-chairs of the committee and other members of the administration reiterated that the proposals laid out in the report were just that — proposals — and that the merger was not even the highest-rated idea. But the administration should be troubled by the response to the merger, and not just because the blowback was so intense.
Rather, the administration would be wise to understand why students, faculty and alumni were not assuaged by the assertion that the proposal was merely a conversation starter. Over the past several months, it was not uncommon to hear Cornellians discuss the merger as if it were a foregone conclusion. Even among the most motivated opponents, the students who coordinated a campus-wide protest campaign, many believed their efforts would likely be in vain.
What does that say about the relationship between students and administrators, between faculty and administrators?
Rather than serving as a testament to the collaborative process, the debate over the merger underscored the lack of trust between the various parties. It is a good thing that the merger is no more. But the University has to start asking itself hard questions about so few people had faith in the process to begin with.