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Attempting to have a greater presence in public policy, Cornell is looking at either the creation of a cross-college policy school or turning the College of Human Ecology into the College of Public Policy, according to the Social Sciences Implementation Committee.

September 25, 2019

No More HumEc? Students Slam Proposal to Reinvent as School of Public Policy

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The College of Human Ecology — or the College of Public Policy? Administrators are currently mulling ways to inject more public policy into the college, with two proposals on the floor: one for a total rebranding, and one for a joint-venture school in collaboration with the College of Arts and Sciences.

The Charge for Policy Implementation Committee, led by co-chair Prof. Melissa Ferguson, psychology and senior associate dean of social sciences, has been tasked with the goal of establishing a “world-class” entity for public policy at Cornell.

The two name-change options are the latest in a long-term effort to improve social science studies. Last year, another committee suggested combining the human ecology college and the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, which Provost Kotlikoff ultimately ruled against after considerable public backlash.

An update from the Charge for Policy Implementation Committee in April said that the President and Provost were tasking the Implementation Committee to “develop detailed recommendations on two key efforts” to create a renowned public policy entity.

Either the College of Human Ecology would become the “College of Public Policy,” or Cornell would look to create a school of public policy “shared” between the human ecology college and the College of Arts and Sciences — “with most [policy analysis and management] faculty plus other policy faculty.”

The suggested changes have already been met with resistance.

“Human Ecology is a unique concept and framework for a school,” Emily Miller grad, who is studying policy analysis and management, told The Sun. “When I tell people I am from Human Ecology, I sometimes get weird looks, but it is always fun to explain more in depth how Human Ecology started and how the school operates today.”

“I would be sad to hear that the college rebranded to match other institutions when the college was an historical trailblazer,” she continued.

Amanda Madenberg ’20 said that she applied to Cornell because of its “unique, hands-on, interdisciplinary and wonderfully niche” College of Human Ecology, and that she doesn’t think the curriculum she loves fits a School of Public Policy.

“And I think that other students feel similarly,” the human development major said.

The Charge for Policy Implementation Committee stated on the Office of the Provost’s website, “Given that our charge is to give these structural options equal consideration, we did not make assumptions about the future role of individual College of Human Ecology departments in this vision.”

“If they think we can transfer into the College of Public Policy, without considering the majors in the college that do not focus on policy, it makes me question how they think about my major,” said Abby Lerner ’21, a design and environmental analysis major.

The College of Human Ecology is currently composed of nine majors: design and environmental analysis, fashion design and management, fiber science and design, global and public health sciences, human biology, health, and society, human development, nutritional sciences, policy analysis and management, and health care policy.

The committee report states that it has “not yet sought to map this vision against the current, or possible future, organizational structure of the university,” a statement that some students, including PAM major Hayley Timmons ’20 took issue with.

“I think that’s doing a huge disservice to members of the HumEc community that read the report today and are now fearful of the uncertain future of their jobs, majors, and college placement,” Timmons told The Sun. “There needs to be at least a basic statement of what the plan would be for these other majors, or the proposal shouldn’t move forward.”

The college’s website states that its current mission is to allow students to use their unique majors to focus on the “interaction of humans with their biological, economic, social, and physical environments.”

“What unites the College of Human Ecology is that all majors are human-centric,” Vivian Shiu ’21, a DEA major, said. “Public policy just seems like it relates to law, which has nothing to do with DEA, FSAD or health majors.”

The committee said that a new school of public policy would likely include new programs of study — for example, an undergraduate major for “data science and public policy,” according to the website.

“The suggestion of a data science and public policy major sounds great, but why can’t we just make that a minor in [the information science major]?” asked Timmons. “The teaching infrastructure already exists at Cornell, just in another college.”

Subcommittees have been formed for economics, psychology and sociology with professors in the relevant departments to determine how to collaborate across departments.

Wynne Chen ’20, nutritional sciences major, told The Sun, “People who just casually browse the website might disregard Human Ecology immediately because they might not be interested in public policy and don’t know that there are other majors in the college.”

Shiu also voiced concern over how the changes would be implemented. “This whole topic has not been publicized enough and most people don’t even know about it,” Shiu said.

The Charge for Policy Implementation Committee stated online: “The committee’s final recommendations on both the optimal policy structure and on enhanced social sciences departments will be reported to the President and Provost by the end of the semester, who, in consultation with CHE leadership and other stakeholders, will then decide what recommendations will ultimately be implemented through the formal change processes.”