February 9, 2020

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Don’t Nix the College of Human Ecology, Create a Shared School of Public Policy

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To the Editor:


Dear President Martha Pollack and Provost Michael Kotlikoff,

As the Board of the Human Ecology Alumni Association, representing over 18,000 College of Human Ecology Alumni, we write to share our perspectives on the recommendations by the Social Sciences Implementation Committee (SSIC) and its narrow majority that endorsed re-envisioning the College of Human Ecology into a College of Public Policy (CPP). The Board is comprised of 40 members spanning five decades of graduating classes and all majors and areas of study.

To start, we understand and agree with the University’s need to enhance the visibility of its public policy initiatives. Outstanding policy work is being performed by many departments across multiple colleges. Organization of that effort under a unified center should bring greater prominence to the University and its standing amongst its peers. However, we disagree with the SSIC’s recommendation which risks destruction of the College of Human Ecology’s diverse, multi-faceted departmental work.

While the SSIC’s recommendation does not outline what will happen to non-policy majors under a re-envisioning of the College of Human Ecology into CPP, such a fundamental change will inevitably result in negative consequences that could be minimized in a shared school of public policy. If non-policy units, representing 80% of undergraduate studies, are split up and re-organized into different colleges, we risk losing the current multidisciplinary nature of these programs. Should they remain in CPP, perhaps more devastating is the risk of an exodus of talented faculty and transition to a more homogenous student composition over the long term. The majority of existing and incoming students and faculty will not define their identity in a policy college. Either way, our board members viewed the re-envisioning option as a disregard for the outstanding diversity and uniqueness of the College of Human Ecology.

In addition to the impact on those currently calling the College home, our alumni have strong roots tied to the interdisciplinary programs that are its foundation. For many of us, it is the diverse and eclectic experiences from our studies in the College of Human Ecology that have formed our personal identities and led us into fields of science, medicine, law, finance, design and innovation, government and industry where we have worked to improve the social responsibility and connectedness of our communities – the true hallmark of our Human Ecology education. By redefining the College’s primary focus on policy, particularly to the exclusion of non-policy units, we believe that the special quality of our educational experience will be lost and our connection to the University compromised. Such a change risks cleaving significant alumni support from the college, of both time and talent, as alumni of non-policy programs lose our college identity amidst this re-envisioning.

The alternative option presented – a shared School of Public Policy sitting between the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Human Ecology – would allow Human Ecology to continue while creating a stronger university focus on policy. It is even noted in the SSIC Interim Report in November 2019, “Because a School of Public Policy at Cornell would be starting something new–bringing together relevant units and individual faculty into a new School–rather than transforming an existing entity into a College of Public Policy, we see the steps leading to a successful School of Public Policy as relatively straightforward (whereas the College Option would likely involve significant ongoing negotiations).” Bridging two meaningful educational units could be a more feasible option than eliminating one to establish another.

The Board strongly endorses the creation of a shared School of Public Policy – a choice that we believe will build on everyone’s great work, not one that will unwind the enriched fabric that contributes positively to the University’s standing. In today’s world, the challenges we face are too complex to be understood from a single perspective. New solutions require a consideration of scientific, design, psychological, sociological, policy and economic approaches. This is the guiding principle of the College of Human Ecology that makes it so unique. It is this multifaceted approach that Cornell must continue to embrace by adopting a shared School of Public Policy while maintaining and supporting the College of Human Ecology. We hope that you will consider our perspective as you make your final decision.

Rachel Casanova ’95, Co-President of the Board of the Human Ecology Alumni Association

David Peck ’91, MPA ’92, Co-President of the Board of the Human Ecology Alumni Association