Following months of faculty and student backlash, the Faculty Senate rejected transforming the College of Human Ecology into a public policy college on Feb. 12.
Although the report deemed the new school to represent “a promising avenue for public policy at Cornell,” there are “key limitations and major unresolved issues” preventing its current creation.
In October 2019, the Social Sciences Implementation Committee — a committee formed in July 2019 to research implementing a policy structure and super-departments — held a listening session to gauge public opinion and inform the administration’s ultimate decision.
During the session, many Cornell undergraduates defended the status quo of the human ecology college, expressing opposition to further changes.
Hayley Timmons ’20, a policy analysis and management major, previously told The Sun that she feared she would not have the same learning experiences in a College of Public Policy, because she feared that it would limit course options.
This proposal followed an unsuccessful proposal in 2018 to combine the human ecology college with the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, which would have created a new center for social science research.
While that idea was nixed, in September 2019, the Social Sciences Implementation Committee proposed two models for establishing a public policy school: a cross-college School of Public Policy and a proposed “College of Public Policy,” which would fully rebrand the human ecology college.
In the cross-college model, also known as the ‘shared school model,’ the School of Public Policy would exist as part of the human ecology college and the College of Arts and Sciences.
Such a plan is modeled on examples of pre-existing successful cross-college units that already exist at Cornell — such as the environmental and sustainability sciences major, which is housed in the arts college and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
The second model called for a “simple rebranding of [the College of Human Ecology] into [the College of Public Policy] with no substantive increase in focus on policy,” the final report read.
Four months after the committee proposed these two models, it released its final report on Jan. 16, where it formally called for the University to rebrand the human ecology college into the College of Public Policy.
The recommendation quickly received pushback from Cornell faculty. Prof. Yasser Gowayed, fiber science and apparel design, stated, “By limiting [the] scope [of the report], they forced themselves to an inevitable answer” to rebrand the college.
Prof. Emeritus Anne Lemley, former chair of the textiles and apparel department, said that changing the name of human ecology would negatively impact alumni donations and that she, herself, would not donate to a College of Public Policy, The Sun previously reported.
“The committee is unanimous in believing that university leadership must carefully and comprehensively account for such impacts in deciding a course of action,” the committee said in its report.
Although a majority of the committee recommended a rebranding the College of Human Ecology into a College of Public Policy, feedback from the University community “indicates that this path would encounter significant resistance and would also have to overcome serious obstacles to simultaneously refocus the college on public policy,” the report stated.
On March 11, the Faculty Senate will vote on the resolution to form “super-departments” within the fields of economics, psychology and sociology to “enhance the corresponding disciplines and the social sciences more generally at Cornell.”
Correction: The headline of this article has been changed to emphasize that the Faculty Senate does not possess the ability to unilaterally reject proposals to alter the organization or name of the College of Human Ecology; that final decision ultimately rests with The University administration.