Next year, the Master of Public Administration program at Cornell will be turning 75 years old, thus making it one of the oldest MPA programs in the Ivy League. First housed in the SC Johnson College of Business and, since 1985, in the Cornell Institute of Public Affairs, 2021 will represent a rebirth of sorts as the MPA becomes the anchor of the newly formed Cornell School of Public Policy. With eight concentrations ranging from International Development to Environmental Policy, the MPA at Cornell is arguably one of its most versatile degrees, allowing its alumni to scale the ladders of organizations across the areas of law, business and nonprofit management.
President Martha E. Pollack, the second woman to have led Cornell in its 155 year history, pointed out in an address earlier this year that the School of Public Policy would “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.” In theory, President Pollack is right. The top five schools of public policy all seek to train students on a broad set of policy competencies. But they also share one other, lesser-known fact: They are all named after men. This is not uncommon as the naming of schools within a university many times comes down to financial benefactors or the prominence of the individual that the university bestows naming on behalf of.
Cornell stands and has stood since its inception as a bit of a unicorn. Founded on the promise that any individual can pursue any field of study, it has charted many firsts relative to women and minorities across a wide range of studies. With the MPA transitioning into a as yet unnamed School of Public Policy, the time is now for Cornell to make yet another bold statement – the bestowment of name recognition to our most prominent graduate in the field of Government, recently departed Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ‘54. Naming the School of Public Policy after Justice Ginsburg is more than a ceremonial one-off idea; it is based on a few things, namely her breadth of work and the ways that it ties into the tenets and foundation of the MPA program here at Cornell.
Of the eight concentrations within the MPA program here at Cornell, three are of particular note because of their ties to work that Justice Ginsburg fought for. A longtime advocate of marriage equality, Justice Ginsburg was on the winning side of Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark decision which assured it. The MPA’s concentration in Human Rights and Social Justice falls squarely into the scope of her argument that equality for one must mean equality for all. In the landmark Bush v. Gore, she wrote one of her most notable dissents surrounding a case that allowed a United States election to be decided by the Supreme Court. As a concentration in the MPA program, Government, Politics and Policy Studies looks at this decision throughout many classes to answer the ‘why’ behind the development of our political lens regarding present circumstances. Overwhelmingly, however, the fight of Justice Ginsburg’s life in government was centered around the idea that women are in no way, shape or form less than men, a belief that she espoused in various cases through the years including the United States v. Virginia where she argued that public colleges could no longer deny admission to women on the basis of sex. The MPA’s concentration in Social Policy allows students to structure their studies around issues related to gender inequality or issues affecting the disenfranchised. Justice Ginsburg’s work, her ideology which took shape while studying Government here at Cornell and her lifelong pursuit of a more homogenous union are the basis of all that MPA students at Cornell hope to do in their lifetime.
As the MPA at Cornell turns 75 and as we prepare for a new School of Public Policy, what do we want our legacy to be for the next 75 years? If the School of Public Policy is named in her honor, The Ginsburg School of Government and Public Policy would become only the second tier-1 public policy school in our nation to be named after a woman, following Stanford University’s program which is named in honor of benefactor Susan Ford Dorsey. The Ginsburg School would be a place for rigorous introspection on some of the decisions, both legal and governmental, which have shaped the human experience in America over the past 30 years, many of which Justice Ginsburg had a front row seat to. Duly a Ginsburg School of Government and Public Policy could serve as a place far away from Washington D.C. where her writings could be housed and studied for generations to come. As we reflect on her legacy and the legacy we hope to leave, we must ask ourselves: Will our actions to honor Justice Ginsburg be purely performative or will we pursue a different route, one just as bold as the decisions she authored? My argument, on the basis of her accomplishments and her place in history, is that we must strive towards the latter. To propagate equity amongst the ranks of America’s Schools of Public Policy, the only way to go is towards a Ginsburg School of Government and Public Policy here at Cornell.
Gavin Mosley is a second year student in Cornell’s MPA Program and the current class president of the Cornell Public Affairs Society. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Guest Room runs periodically throughout the semester.