In an email to colleagues on Tuesday morning, Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff announced that he has “decided to set … aside” the ideas of both a merger between the ILR school and the human ecology college and the creation of a college of social sciences.
Both ideas were initially released in late February in a report by the Committee on Organizational Structures in the Social Sciences, a committee “charged to examine and identify organizational structures that would best position Cornell for excellence in the social sciences over 10 to 15 years.”
The report included several different options for improving the social sciences, but it was the ILR and College of Human Ecology merger, which received four out of five stars, that Kotlikoff acknowledged “generated the most discussion and concern.”
Kotlikoff’s decision follows controversy over the merger idea, with both the Student Assembly and the University Assembly passing resolutions opposing a possible merger. A survey whose results were shared at an April 11 Faculty Senate meeting showed that 88 percent of ILR faculty opposed the idea, as The Sun previously reported. The living former deans of the ILR school also wrote a letter to Kotlikoff and President Martha Pollack opposing the idea.
“Clearly, this idea is opposed by many faculty, staff, students, and alumni, who feel that any such merger risks damage to the unique focus and interdisciplinary combinations of faculty in both ILR and CHE,” Kotlikoff wrote in Tuesday’s email. “Because this idea does not have significant support and is unlikely to be pursued, I have decided to set it aside while we focus on other ideas.”
In an interview with The Sun in May, Pollack said that she thought all the ideas proposed by the committee deserved further discussion.
“I think voicing objections to the idea is perfectly fine, saying that he should take the idea off the table because I, whoever I am, don’t like it, I think that is incredibly disrespectful of faculty shared governance,” Pollack said. “I think, a faculty committee generated these ideas, all of them, they all need to be discussed.”
Following the release of the initial report, Kotlikoff said almost 30 meetings were held with faculty, staff and students to gather feedback on the proposals.
Randi Weingarten ’80, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who attended Cornell’s ILR school, called Kotlikoff’s decision “great news.”
“Great news! @cornellilr will remain the unique, self-standing school its founders intended,” Weingarten wrote on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon. “Labor studies is more relevant now than ever and the ILR community’s voice was heard loud and clear in this fight.”
Prof. Harry Katz, industrial and labor relations, one of the former ILR school deans who penned a letter to Pollack and Kotlikoff urging them to “put an end to the discussion of the merger proposal,” lauded Kotlikoff’s decision.
“He finally made the right decision regarding the poorly conceived idea of merging ILR and CHE,” Katz told The Sun in an email. “There are much better ways to improve social sciences at Cornell. It remains to be seen if those better ideas, such as matrixed departments similar to what was done in economics will be adopted.”
Kotlikoff also cited “scant enthusiasm” in his choice to table the idea of creating a college of social sciences.
“This idea provoked concerns about what would and would not be included, as well as the likely impact on existing units,” he wrote. “As with the idea of combining CHE and ILR, no faculty constituency arose that was strongly in favor of a college of social sciences, and the sense of potential damage dominated the discussions. Hence, I am setting aside this idea as well.”
Prof. Richard Bensel, government, told The Sun that Kotlikoff’s decisions on both proposed ideas “are good,” but that other changes like an increase in faculty size are necessary.
“But I also believe we should now increase the size of the faculty in order to accommodate increases in undergraduate enrollment,” he said. “So the money that will be saved by not creating new administrative overhead should be spent on hiring additional faculty in these areas.”
The Committee on Organizational Structures was initially created due to the concern that University’s social sciences is “less than the sum of our parts,” Kotlikoff previously told The Sun.
“The provost I think, quite thoughtfully, said we are stronger in the social sciences than our reputation,” Pollack previously told The Sun. “We have really great social sciences but they’re sort of spread out and diluted across the University and we’ve had a number of studies over the years, over the decades really that have made that same claim.”
Regarding the other ideas generated by the Committee on Organizational Structures, Kotlikoff said that “more focused discussions” will begin this fall, with “opportunities to raise new ideas.”
Two other ideas mentioned in the February report included the creation of a Center for Social Sciences that would “link and support research in the social sciences at Cornell,” which received five out of five stars, and the development of “a structure to organize and promote health-related scholarship,” which received three out of five stars.
Also mentioned in the report were an idea to create three divisions within the arts college — “social sciences, arts and humanities, and sciences and mathematics” — which received two stars, an idea to “restructure social science graduate fields, which also received two stars, and an idea to “consolidate specific departments within the social sciences,” which received one star. The creation of a public policy school was also discussed but not ranked.
Looking to the future, Kotlikoff wrote that a committee focused on “radical collaborations” in the social sciences will release its findings soon, and that there are plans to launch a new committee on “administrative structures” in the fall.
While noting that “the process has been painful to some,” Kotlikoff expressed optimism in his email that Cornell will be able to strengthen its social sciences.
“To date, our deliberations have raised more concerns and questions than proposed remedies, but I am hopeful that we can move toward a discussion of more focused proposals in several key areas in the fall, as well as combining these discussions with ideas for Radical Collaborations in the social sciences,” he said.
Kara Lombardi, the assistant dean for student experience and wellbeing in the ILR school, forwarded Kotlikoff’s email to current students and recent graduates of ILR on Tuesday evening, saying that she thought they would be interested in the update.
Lindsey Hadlock, a spokesperson for the University, said Kotlikoff was unavailable to respond to The Sun’s request for further comment on Tuesday afternoon.