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Announcement of new school of Public Policy sends shock waves across campus.

February 28, 2020

Cornell Announces New School of Public Policy Amid Months of Conflict

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Cornell will soon house a ninth undergraduate school, the School of Public Policy, Provost Michael Kotlikoff announced Thursday evening.

Opening as soon as spring or fall of 2021, the new hub for both international and domestic policy will have its own dean, who will report to the provost. The announcement comes following a years-long debate about how to better incorporate public policy at Cornell. The school will draw together faculty from the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Human Ecology.

The contentious back-and-forth in the weeks leading up to the announcement saw current students and alumni express concern about losing niche programs they valued, altering the fundamental character of the college and isolating the non-policy majors.

A 2016 report by the provost catalyzed the push for a new school that would bring together social scientists that were scattered across the University. In the intervening four years, the other options — including combining the School of Industrial and Labor Relations with the human ecology college and changing human ecology entirely to public policy — were rejected.

The Board of Trustees, in conjunction with President Martha E. Pollack, announced the proposals to form the separate school Thursday after faculty had gone home for the day.

“The new School of Public Policy will both enhance Cornell’s reputation as a leader in public policy and train our students with broad policy perspectives that will serve them in the public and private sectors,” Pollack said.

A month and a half ago, the Social Sciences Implementation Committee submitted a report to the president and provost, urging them to shift the focus of the human ecology school towards public policy, a proposal  that was heavily challenged by students.

Although a majority of the committee supported the idea, protestors feared that the four out of seven human ecology school departments not focused on policy would be overlooked in this decision.

It is unclear as to whether students will select the school as a major or apply to the school through the human ecology or arts colleges, according to a media relations representative.

While the University is looking for a space to house the school, Kotlikoff will also appoint a faculty committee to get the initiative’s feet on the ground and find a dean. He has assured additional “investments” will supplement relevant departments’ faculties.

A protest — since cancelled — was planned for 2:30 p.m. Friday to fight changes that threatened to refocus the human ecology college. A press release shared by the protest organizers, Hayley Striegel ’20 and Nicole Cunningham ’20, detailed reasons for dissent, including the fact that only 17 percent of human ecology students are in policy-related majors.

“We’re happy with the decision and grateful that we were able to play a role in defending Human Ecology. As long as HumEc remains able to function independently, we support investing in policy and the social sciences at Cornell,” Cunningham told The Sun in an email.

In addition, Kotlikoff announced the expansion of “superdepartments.” One existing superdepartment, economics — which staffs faculty from the arts college and ILR — will be expanded. New superdepartments will include psychology and sociology.

The late Thursday announcement preempted the Faculty Senate to vote to discuss a resolution on superdepartments on March 11 and the Student Assembly to vote to disapprove re-envision the human ecology college.

“Cornell’s combination of contract and endowed colleges has forced us to find ways to work together, enhancing our scale and enabling combined strategic planning. It is time to apply some of these time-tested solutions to the social sciences,” Kotlikoff said.

Regardless of how the University decides to execute this, New York residents applying under Human Ecology will receive the existing state tuition discount.

Madeline Rosenberg ’23 and Stacey Blansky ’20 contributed reporting.