Provost Kotlikoff’s message on the Decisions Following Social Sciences Committees Reports

Feb. 27, 2020

To: Members of the Cornell Faculty
From: Michael Kotlikoff, Provost
Subject: Decisions Following Social Sciences Committees Reports



I would like to thank the university community, and particularly our social scientists, for the extensive and comprehensive discussions that have taken place over the past three years as we considered ways to effectively enhance these critical areas of inquiry. Particular thanks go to Professors Melissa Ferguson, Christopher Wildeman, John Siliciano, Judith Appleton, and Ted O’Donoghue, and the committees they chaired, for their exhaustive work, extensive outreach, and extraordinarily thoughtful analyses. I also want to thank all of the faculty, students, staff and alumni for their patience and input as we considered changes in the university’s organization in an effort to enhance our excellence.

Today we take bold, transformational steps that will ensure that Cornell continues to achieve its founding mission of harnessing knowledge for societal good. These steps follow the recommendations of the Social Sciences Implementation Committee (SSIC), and are consistent with previous reports from external and internal experts indicating that “transformational change that is necessary in the social sciences.” [1] The actions that we take today establish a bold vision for Cornell’s future by making both important structural changes and new investments in the social sciences. We now request your further support and energy as we seek to follow your past and present guidance.

[1] Social Sciences Task Force Report 2009 (PDF)



In consultation with the president, the SSIC committee chairs, department chairs, deans, and vice provosts, and attending to feedback from the Faculty Senate and stakeholders, we are launching the Cornell School of Public Policy. The school will be a separate entity with a dean reporting to the provost. The Cornell School of Public Policy will initially comprise faculty of the Department of Policy Analysis & Management, as well as policy faculty from the Government Department, but its membership is likely to extend beyond the current parameters of those departments. The College of Human Ecology, however, will continue to function as an independent college. Policy Analysis & Management (PAM) and policyoriented Government faculty, as well as appropriate undergraduate and graduate academic programs, will be associated with the school as well as their colleges, and it will seek to develop new majors and areas of study in conjunction with other units on campus. The current Master of Public Administration, along with a newly envisioned Master of Public Policy, will be directly administered by the school, as the programs will constitute a significant component of the school’s reputation and resources.

Rationale. As the report of the Social Sciences Implementation Committee states: “The pressing societal issues of our time—from climate change to national security, from immigration to inequality, from global economic development to domestic tax reform—are deeply intertwined with decisions made by governments.” The establishment of an entity dedicated to the science and scholarship underlying rational and effective policy has been repeatedly called for in past reports by faculty experts. [2]

How we do this, however, has been the difficult and challenging question. In considering that report and its recommendations, as well as extensive feedback from faculty, staff, students, and alumni, several areas of broad consensus have become clear. First, despite the focus of many CHE faculty on nutrition, aging, childhood development, and environmental analysis, areas in which strong links between research, policy formulation, and policy analysis are increasingly demanded, there is a strong sense that the College of Human Ecology’s focus is broader than policy. Achieving excellence will require unity of purpose and focus, and the inclusion of many faculty who view themselves as outside of this focus would constitute a risk to long-term success and disrupt current non-policy programs. Second, there is a general concern amongst faculty that establishing public policy within a single college might be less effective in engaging the breadth of Cornell’s public policy expertise than would a new, distinct and distinctive school of public policy. Finally, the alternate option of a shared school of public policy raised a core concern amongst the SSIC and numerous policy faculty, who believe that a school model that was placed within CHE, or that reported to CHE and CAS, would lack the degree of autonomy and resource control necessary to achieve the desired distinction and excellence. The depth, implications, and scope of these concerns were made clear by the last two years of the committee’s listening sessions and analysis, and are serious enough that we have concluded that a separate school of public policy with its own dean and resources is the only viable option to enable Cornell to achieve its ambitions for public policy. This was also the conclusion of faculty committees evaluating public policy in 2009 and 2012. [2]

[2] Social Sciences Task Force Report 2009 (PDF)

Public Policy Report 2012 (PDF)



New multi-college departments of Psychology and Sociology will be formed, and the existing super-department of Economics will be expanded. Faculty from the existing departments of Psychology (A&S) and Human Development (CHE) will form a new Department of Psychology. Sociologists from Sociology (A&S) and PAM (CHE) will comprise the core faculty of a new Department of Sociology. Economists from PAM will join the existing super-department of Economics. Faculty trained in these disciplines from ILR, CALS, Law and other relevant departments will be invited to join as appropriate. Investments will be made by the provost to enhance and balance these new departments over the next 5 years.

Rationale. The SSIC overwhelmingly recommended the formation of “superdepartments,” or multi-college departments, as a way to “enable greater intellectual synergy and collaborations,” diversify scholarship and facilitate recruitment, enhance graduate education, and create a critical mass of scholars in the fundamental disciplines of the social sciences. Multiple external and internal evaluations have consistently expressed strong concerns regarding the fragmentation of the social science disciplines at Cornell and the attendant opportunity costs for the institution. [3] In developing the current recommendation, subcommittees for the disciplines of Economics, Psychology, and Sociology, consisting of members of the SSIC, the relevant department chairs, and faculty from the departments, undertook extensive discussions and examined the benefits and risks of such an extensive departmental restructuring. While, as outlined by the committee, formation of these new departments will create some cultural, geographic, and disciplinary challenges, I have concluded that they are essential to achieve “long-run excellence.”

Over the coming weeks, I will appoint implementation subcommittees to work with me, Deputy Provost Siliciano, and the appropriate deans to develop the processes required to launch these new departments, with the goal of full integration by the 2021 Spring term.

[3] Provost’s Task Force on the Future of the Social Sciences at Cornell Report 1999 (PDF)

Social Science External Advisory Committee Report 2006 (PDF)

Social Sciences Task Force Report 2009 (PDF)