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A proposed change to the College of Human Ecology has sparked sharp pushback from stakeholders.

January 23, 2020

Students and Faculty Push Back Against Human Ecology Name Change

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A contentious Faculty Senate meeting on Wednesday showed the depth of faculty disapproval for the proposed rebranding of the College of Human Ecology as the College of Public Policy. 

On Jan. 16, the final recommendations of the Social Sciences Implementation Committee were made public. For non-policy departments, such as Design and Environmental Analysis, Fiber Science and Apparel Design, and Nutritional Sciences, their future in the college is unclear, concerning many students and faculty.

Faculty members were largely critical of the committee’s proposal to rebrand the College of Human Ecology, and many applauded criticisms of the proposal.

Prof. Yasser Gowayed, chair of the Fiber Science and Apparel Design department, raised questions about the effect that limiting the scope of the committee process had on its outcomes.

“By limiting their scope, they forced themselves to an inevitable answer,” Gowayed said.

The committee’s report acknowledged potential challenges. In its report, the committee noted that supporting non-policy faculty unhappy with the College of Public Policy was “beyond our committee’s charge.” The committee also wrote that they “implore the administration to take seriously the disruption that CPP would cause and to make sure that all faculty are able to continue their research, teaching, and outreach.”

Only 238 of the 1136 undergraduates and 29 of the 104 faculty for College of Human Ecology are in the Policy Analysis and Management Department, according to a slide presented at the meeting.

Prof. Mardelle Shepley, Design and Environmental Analysis, worried about disruption of interdisciplinary work that the renaming of the college may have. Prof. David Lee, applied economics and management, supported the creation of a policy school, rather than rebranding as the College of Human Ecology, in part because he thinks a school could better facilitate collaboration across the university. 

“If we really want to reinvent public policy, shouldn’t the focus be on the university as a whole instead of focusing on one department or college?” Lee asked.

Multiple faculty had questions about the impact that the proposed changes would have on financial support for the College of Human Ecology from New York state, as well as the impact it might have on alumni donations.

Prof. Emeritus Anne Lemley, former chair of the Textiles and Apparel department, said that the name change could result in “wiping out a major alumni base” for continued giving to the college. Lemley added that despite her long history of giving to the College of Human Ecology, she would not give to a College of Public Policy.

In the final report, the committee voted nearly unanimously to pass “super departments” in economics, sociology and psychology — which would be comprised of faculty across schools like the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Human Ecology and the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. But some faculty in the report were less sure about the idea, questioning how faculty in superdepartments would be hired, governed and compensated.

Some students have previously told The Sun that they disagree with the proposed changes, and these sentiments seem to persist, although they are not universal.

Rachel Bradley ’21, who is getting a nutrition minor from Human Ecology, had some concerns, writing in an email to The Sun, “I don’t how nutrition science is going to fit in there.” 

“The name ‘Human Ecology’ better represents the diversity of the school than College of Public Policy does,” said Abhirami Ramakrishnan ’20, an arts and sciences student who conducts research in the College of Human Ecology.

Not all students think that the impact on the future careers of Human Ecology graduates will suffer because of the name change.

“When they changed the name of my major from environmental and sustainability sciences to environment and sustainability, a lot of people were upset because their major no longer had ‘science’ in it,” wrote Lindsey Forg ’22. “But just like no graduate program will deny me because my major doesn’t include the name science, I highly doubt anyone’s career prospects will be affected by changing or not changing the name of human ecology.”

Provost Michael Kotlikoff, who was present at the Faculty Senate meeting, declined to comment on specific concerns about the impact on non-policy departments.

“I’m listening carefully, and I have heard those concerns,” Kotlikoff told The Sun. “I am in listening mode.”