November 4, 2019

GUEST ROOM | Cornell Needs a Real Public Policy School

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Cornell’s lack of a comprehensive public policy school is one of its major Achilles heels. Harvard and Princeton both have world-renowned programs named for influential presidents; Cornell has a messy organization of similar but ununified programs. While this university ranks 17th on US News & World Report’s list of best national universities, it comes in at 35th in respect to public affairs. This puts Cornell behind four Ivies, four schools in the Empire State and 10 land-grant universities. While I have found the MPA program at Cornell to be incredibly rewarding and deserving of a much higher rank, the lack of cohesion amongst its public policy education programs appears to be a detriment to its national stature. In Cornell’s decentralized, fragmented environment, the education of future policy leaders feels to be an afterthought by the University as a whole.

Under the current system, undergraduate and doctoral students have their courses housed in the Department of Policy Analysis & Management along with the Sloan Program in Health Administration. The Master of Public Administration, meanwhile, is housed under the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs; CIPA sits outside of any department but still within the College of Human Ecology. The Cornell in Washington program, which allows students to intern in the nation’s capital and learn about policy and government, is offered through Engaged Cornell with no mention of it anywhere on the PAM website. To compound all of this, members of the New York Delegation to the United States Congress appear to have no active relationship with policy and civics education at their state’s land-grant university.

As an undergrad, I attended Ohio State’s John Glenn College of Public Affairs, ranked 14th in the nation by US News and World Report and 10th globally by ShanghaiRanking. The College was formed in 2006 by a merger of the School of Public Policy & Management and the John Glenn Institute of Public Service & Policy and received full college status in 2015. This unique institution offers two undergraduate degrees, four masters degrees and a doctoral program based in the capital of the seventh most populous state. The Washington Academic Internship, OSU’s version of CIW, is also housed under the Glenn College. Both sitting US Senators from Ohio, Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, sit on the Board of Distinguished Visitors and have strong ties to the College; Brown holds an MPA from the Glenn’s predecessor while Portman is a former professor. Many of the 16 congressional representatives are also linked to the Glenn College. And, perhaps most notably, the former senator, astronaut and namesake himself was an on-campus fixture and guiding force for the College until his death in December 2016.

The case above highlights the expectations I, and many others, have for public affairs education at a large school like Cornell. While it’s unrealistic to expect every university to have a beloved American hero on-hand to advocate for increased civics and policy scholarship, having a working relationship with the Congressional delegation is not. The same goes for housing all related-degree programs under the same department or having a dedicated college specifically to the complex, interdisciplinary study of public policy.

Cornell is the only university in the United States that houses its public policy and affairs programs in a College of Human Ecology because, fundamentally, they are different disciplines; rebranding HumEc as well as the College of Public Policy won’t help either of these academic areas. Perhaps a Dyson-like arrangement would fit better, with a collaboration between PAM, CIPA and the government department; perhaps that’s just a greater problem. What is increasingly apparent, however, is that Cornell cannot properly educate policy leaders of the 21st century without addressing this issue.

Beth Fry is a Master of Public Administration candidate in the College of Human Ecology. Guest Room runs periodically this semester. Comments may be sent to opinion@cornellsun.com.