February 16, 2020

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

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To the Editor:

As an alum, I don’t understand the logic of replacing a college as unique as Human Ecology with a College of Public Policy when there are already so many other well established public policy programs at other universities for prospective students to consider.

The only reason I chose Cornell for my doctoral studies was because of the international nutrition program in the Division of Nutritional Sciences. It offered both depth in science of nutrition and breadth in the mechanisms for transforming that knowledge into effective change. My minors in program evaluation and epidemiology were an important base for working on several policy papers with professors. I also enriched my education through the unofficial “bridge” to CALS with courses in biostatistics and agricultural economics.

In theory, good policy is based on evidence from epidemiological and economic studies. Numbers alone are not enough; good policy should also be grounded in context.  In nutrition, this requires understanding nutrients at the molecular biological level and behaviors at the individual, family, community and, ultimately, global level.

I have seen countless examples of failed policies in both my international and domestic work. The common denominator in all these failures was when the policy makers didn’t fully engage the primary stakeholders who either benefitted from, or implemented, the policies. It seems that the Cornell administration is going down the path of neglecting its stakeholders. If there is one giant take-home lesson from the education I received at Cornell and my subsequent work, it is that you should never ignore your stakeholders if you want something to succeed.

The proposal by the Board of the Human Ecology Alumni Association for a School of Public Policy bridging the Colleges of Arts and Sciences and Human Ecology is a reasonable compromise.

Susan E. Burger, M.H.S., Ph.D. ’93, I.B.C.L.C.