February 13, 2020

GUEST ROOM | An Open Letter to President Pollock Regarding the Revamp of the College of Human Ecology

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I am a graduate of the Design and Environmental Analysis program within the College of Human Ecology. I was attracted to the program, and to Cornell, because of its multidisciplinary aspects, and the ideal of Any Person, Any Study. This was a key factor in my decision to attend Cornell and select DEA as the foundation for my future. After graduating from Cornell in 1990, I attended New York University and was awarded a Master of Urban Planning from the Wagner School of Public Service.

Now the Director of Regional Planning for the County of Los Angeles, I am arguably the epitome of a public policy leader you are striving to develop. I recommend significant public policy changes to land use, affordable housing, environmental protection and economic development in the most populous county in the United States. I interact regularly with public policy professionals in the fields of public health, consumer affairs, environmental health and public art. Yet, I do not identify myself as a public policy professional, and often felt at odds with my public policy colleagues in graduate school. I am, first and foremost, a creative problem solver who happens to excel in implementing complex public policy solutions.  Without my foundational studies in DEA that challenged my perspective and required me to work through multiple scenarios before determining the ultimate solution, I would not be able to propose meaningful solutions to deep routed community issues.

The basic premise to meaningful public policy is balancing the implementation of new initiatives with the needs of existing stakeholders. I find it ironic that the Social Sciences Implementation Committee is denying that very premise by ignoring the nearly 80 percent of students, faculty and alumni within CHE who are not engaged in public policy, and who selected CHE because of its multidisciplinary programming. This is not the foundation with which to build a legitimate public policy institute.

Additionally, no practitioner of public policy development considers the use of “listening sessions” as a legitimate approach to public engagement. “Listening sessions” are little more than predetermined avenues to “push out” information to a selected constituent base, without expectation or desire for meaningful input.  Sustainable public policy is not built on pushing information out and then claiming there was stakeholder engagement. As such, I ask that you set aside the SSIC recommendations as being little more than a predetermined answer to a given directive.

While I disagree with and do not support the recommendation to transform CHE into a College of Public Policy, I do understand and concur that Cornell needs to develop a public policy institute to remain competitive with its peers, and to reflect the ongoing demands of the workplace.  As such, I support the alternative option presented in the SSIC report – a shared School of Public Policy residing in both the College of Arts and Sciences and CHE. I simply cannot support the transformation of CHE into a stand-alone public policy college to the detriment of nearly 80 percent of its students, faculty and alumni.

I urge Cornell’s leadership to preserve the College of Human Ecology in its current form.

Amy Bodek is a 1990 graduate of the College of Human Ecology. Comments may be sent to opinion@cornellsun.comGuest Room runs periodically this semester.