Ben Parker/Sun Senior Editor

A new School of Public Policy will determine the future of the Human Ecology school.

April 8, 2021

Future of Policy Studies at Cornell Unclear as University Plans New Policy School

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Cornell could kick start its new School of Public Policy as early as this fall, but many of the related decisions remain a mystery to current policy analysis and management students.

The school, still in preliminary planning stages, will aim to bridge policy studies in the College of Human Ecology and College of Arts and Sciences. Some potential changes include hiring more faculty, expanding “superdepartments” and offering new public policy degrees at undergraduate and graduate levels. 

Following years of discussion — including a review of social sciences, an initial policy school proposal and a proposal to rebrand the College of Human Ecology that was rejected by the Faculty Senate — the school will bring together policy-focused faculty from across the University. The school is a response to long-held concerns about the decentralized nature of policy studies, attempting to consolidate faculty from PAM, government, economics and sociology departments. 

To encourage collaboration, the school also plans to create new joint government appointments and new superdepartments in sociology and psychology, and expand the existing economics superdepartment to include PAM faculty. Co-chair of the policy school implementation committee Prof. Thomas Pepinsky, government, said the new school will engage with a range of disciplines including sustainability, political and economic development, data science and healthcare. The school will also have a deliberate focus on the study of race and racism.

The change may have the largest implications for the future of PAM, and Pepinsky believes most PAM faculty can expect to be included in a superdepartment. But in the near future, much of PAM will remain the same. The major may be associated with a new school, but many classes will remain as they are now, and professors and administrators will still coordinate with the College of Human Ecology. 

According to Prof. Kelly Musick, chair of the PAM department, PAM students’ studies “will not be affected directly,” but students will have access to “new opportunities.”

However, Pepinsky does envision a new policy major that could eventually replace the current PAM major. The new major is only a proposal, but Pepinsky said he thinks it could expand on PAM and bring a more politics-focused approach to policy studies at Cornell.

“The faculty and school itself will ultimately make this decision, so that’s a big caveat,” said Pepinsky.

According to Pepinsky, most PAM faculty are fully aware of potential changes. However, some students who spoke to The Sun can’t say the same. 

Madeline Lei ’23 said she thinks there is “a lot of behind-the-scenes work” that students aren’t hearing about. Charlie Mann ’23 said the school still felt abstract because he wasn’t sure how it would impact his day-to-day life as a PAM student.

“It’s not something that we [PAM students] talk about on a daily basis,” Mann said.

And Cameron White ’24 said he was not aware that the new policy school would launch in the fall, and thought it was a “no-go” after the Faculty Senate rejected a proposal to turn all of the Human Ecology college into a new policy school.

Prof. Jamila Michener, government, a member of the implementation committee, said she recognized a lack of communication to the general population about the new school, but emphasized that there hasn’t been much finalized information to announce. 

“You don’t build a policy school with one committee,” said Michener, who studies U.S. policy related to racism, poverty and inequality. “There are going to be lots of other opportunities for faculty and students to get involved at different stages.” 

The new school’s dean search committee — a group of faculty members across human ecology and the arts college — hopes to hire a dean by late summer or early fall to begin more formal decision making. Formally, the hiring specification says the school will launch July 1, but hiring new faculty, another plan for the policy school, will not begin until at least fall 2021. 

“It’s not like overnight the curriculum is going to suddenly change. It’ll be an evolution,” said Prof. Sean Nicholson, policy analysis and management, who is also on the implementation committee. 

Some faculty and students said they hope the new school elevates policy studies at Cornell, and that it might elevate Cornell as a university. Gavin Mosley grad, a candidate for a Master’s in Public Administration, said a policy school is “long overdue.”

Nicholson looks forward to interdisciplinary research collaboration. Similarly, Prof. Douglas Miller, policy analysis and management, said he hopes fellow economists in the superdepartment can work in closer physical proximity, increasing the chances that they develop ideas together. And Michener said she hopes the school will be more outward facing and engage with relevant policy even on a local level.  

With many decisions yet undecided, excitement is building for the new school and its prospective operations for this fall. 

“The devil is in the details,” Michener said. “How it plays out is an open question.”

Clarification, April 9, 10:07 a.m.: A previous version of this article said potential changes to the policy analysis and management major may be contingent on approval from the state. It is unclear whether these changes would require state approval.