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Martha Van Rensselaer Hall

February 7, 2020

Fate of Human Ecology to Be Decided “Sometime This Semester”

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The future of the College of Human Ecology was a prime topic of discussion at the Employee Assembly Meeting on Wednesday, with President Martha E. Pollack fielding concerns from attendees still uncertain of the administration’s intentions.

On Jan. 16, the Social Sciences Implementation Committee recommended to rebrand the College of Human Ecology into the College Public Policy, drawing backlash from students and faculty in human ecology.

After the committee released the report, Provost Michael Kotlikoff emailed the Cornell community, writing that the University and other college leadership would decide which recommendations to pursue.

At the meeting, Pollack said that the University would make a decision on the matter sometime soon.

“A decision will be made sometime this semester — we’re not going to let this drag on forever,” Pollack said. “Look, there is no solution that everyone is going to be happy with.”

Citing what she called the report’s “split decision,” Pollack said that the provost will receive more input from faculty and students before reaching a final decision on the college’s fate.

The debate over the future of human ecology has raged for months, and the committee’s final recommendation renewed the possibility of the potential changes.

In the final report, six members of the committee expressed support for the controversial “College of Public Policy” rebranding, while four other members proposed creating a shared school of public policy, which would draw upon existing academic resources.

A majority of committee members supported the College of Public Policy, saying it that a rebranded college would better offer “the autonomy, resources, infrastructure and visibility needed to reach Cornell’s aspirations in public policy.” According to the report, a College of Public Policy would also afford the University the opportunity to recruit the “highest caliber” deans.

After the proposals faced hefty pushback from faculty and students at a town hall in November, Pollack attempted to assuage the concerns of those who felt their academic experience would be shortchanged.

“One thing I want to stress is that every area of study will be protected,” Pollack said, emphasizing that commitments made to faculty and students will be honored and that “there is absolutely zero, zero intention, zero plan, zero, to cut any staff.”

Another discussion focused on the availability of educational resources for staff, specifically eCornell, an online learning program that was recently integrated under the Office of the Provost.

Brandon Fortenberry, the Division of Student and Campus Life representative, asked if this merger could lead to eCornell becoming a resource for staff professional development.

According to Fortenberry, increased education and career growth opportunities are in high demand among many staff on campus. However, because work schedules can overlap with most classes on campus, “class learning is hard for [staff] to be able to do,” he said.

Pollack said that this was a potential future goal for eCornell. For the first six months, however, she said that eCornell would be focusing on maintaining operations, securing consistent funds and the Verizon Executive Education Center — a center slated to open in early 2020 to serve as “the premiere event and conference space” for Cornell Tech.

“It’s kind of like a merger,” Pollack said. “We have to get through the first six months of the year.”