Update on the Social Sciences Review and the draft vision of a public policy entity at Cornell

Dear Colleagues,

We are writing to provide an update on the Provost’s Review of the Social Sciences. As a reminder, you can read our previous updates and the charge for the committee from President Pollack and Provost Kotlikoff.

The implementation committee met frequently over the course of the summer and will meet weekly throughout the fall. We have spent much of our time thus far creating a vision of how to develop a world-class policy entity at Cornell, based on both existing strengths and emerging interests and initiatives. We have included below a draft of this vision. In the coming weeks, we will directly solicit reactions and feedback on this draft from policy scholars on campus as well as faculty outside of the policy area.

As you will see, the policy draft does not yet speak to how this vision for policy might be most successfully implemented within the complex organizational structure of the university. The committee will next turn to this question, focusing on the two options that the President and the Provost have identified as the most promising approaches to establishing an outstanding school or college, based on the prior stages of the social sciences review (see their statement on this). The first is that the College of Human Ecology would be strengthened and focused as a college of public policy and the second is that a shared policy school would sit between the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Human Ecology. The implementation committee aims to produce an interim report, hopefully by early November, which will offer the committee’s preliminary recommendations around how to best achieve pre-eminence in policy, at which point the committee will again seek input from faculty, leadership, and other relevant stakeholders, particularly in the College of Human Ecology.

In addition to these efforts, our committee has also created subcommittees to discuss how we might best implement cross-college “super-departments” in the disciplinary fields of Economics, Psychology, and Sociology. The membership for each of these three subcommittees is listed at the end of the policy draft, and is broadly inclusive of faculty within the relevant disciplines, including faculty not on the implementation committee. The full implementation committee will review the recommendations of these subcommittees and then seek feedback from the relevant departments and the broader social science community. We anticipate this taking place in November and December.

The committee’s final recommendations on both the optimal policy structure and on enhanced social sciences departments will be reported to the President and Provost by the end of the semester, who, in consultation with CHE leadership and other stakeholders, will then decide what recommendations will ultimately be implemented through the formal change processes.

As always, we welcome your feedback (ssreview@cornell.edu) and look forward to continuing these conversations on how to further elevate the social sciences at Cornell during the course of the next decade.


Melissa Ferguson, Christopher Wildeman, and John Siliciano
Committee Co-chairs

Draft Vision of a Public Policy Entity at Cornell

The Social Sciences Implementation Committee has produced this vision as part of a faculty-led collaborative effort to chart a path towards strengthening the social sciences at Cornell over the next 10-15 years. These efforts included three faculty-led committees on administrative structures, ideas, and organizational structures in the social sciences. In all three of these committees, as well as across multiple town hall meetings and discussions, the importance of creating a more visible and vibrant public policy structure at Cornell repeatedly rose to the top as a key priority. It is for this reason that the President and Provost charged our committee with focusing on building a new public policy entity at Cornell.

This draft reflects the committee’s current thinking on what a public policy entity might optimally look like at Cornell, considering the university’s existing and distinctive areas of strength in the policy realm as well as emerging areas of inquiry. The committee examined options and experiences of a wide range of policy schools, both traditional and comprehensive policy schools and newer, more specialized policy schools. The committee paid particular attention to the experiences of those policy schools that have been founded in recent years, as they may offer lessons that are particularly relevant for Cornell moving forward. The programmatic focus that the committee has outlined represents the faculty committee’s current understanding of core features that all policy schools share, the existing and developing areas of strength in the policy-oriented social sciences at Cornell, and some potential interdisciplinary collaborations that are likely to generate excitement across the university.

In outlining a blueprint for a uniquely successful policy entity at Cornell, our committee set aside the question of organizational structure in order to first craft an aspirational vision to create a world-class policy school or college, understanding both the excellence and breadth of Cornell’s current policy faculty and the increasing importance of scholarly engagement in the conception and evaluations of initiatives that respond to local and global challenges. Such a school would leverage Cornell’s legacy of deploying knowledge for the public good. To that end, we have placed emphasis both on traditional core components of policy schools, as well as Cornell’s strengths in the policy-related social sciences, and areas that build on the University’s broader strengths (and where faculty have indicated enthusiasm and a potential for mutually beneficial collaboration). We welcome a fulsome discussion of faculty ideas on how Cornell can fully achieve this vision of policy excellence.

As we alluded to above, it is important to note that the committee has not yet sought to map this vision against the current, or possible future, organizational structure of the university. Informed by your feedback on the general vision of a public policy entity, the committee will now consider how this vision can work in the two ways specified by the President and Provost in the committee’s charge: (1) with the College of Human Ecology being focused and strengthened as a college of public policy or (2) as a shared school that sits across the College of Human Ecology and the College of Arts and Sciences. Given that our charge is to give these structural options equal consideration, we did not make assumptions about the future role of individual College of Human Ecology departments in this vision. In a similar vein, we did not make assumptions about how specific departments, groups, or individuals in other units on campus would want to engage with any policy entity. As a result, we look forward to a vibrant dialogue with the relevant stakeholders in the College of Human Ecology and a host of other units across campus around how, if at all, they would anticipate engaging with a policy entity that has the general focus we lay out in this statement.

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. Public policy is the study of how government choices intersect with people’s lives. The study of public policy is fundamentally interdisciplinary and problem-oriented in nature. Scholars of public policy consider a wide range of topics:

  1. the policy process (how policies are proposed and how problems are defined);
  2. program design (ranging from market design to administrative structure);
  3. bureaucracies and policymaking institutions;
  4. how to evaluate policies’ intended and unintended consequences; and
  5. the social, political, economic, and technological forces that shape each of these.

A School [1] of Public Policy brings together researchers who are interested in how policy is made, whether policies work, and how to improve public institutions and decisions. The educational structure of a policy school flows from this research mission, and can be the organizing locus of broad undergraduate programs, as well as the more traditional master’s, and Ph.D.-level training programs. Graduates of schools of public policy often find employment in the public sector in governments at the local, state, or federal levels.  They also often become employed in the private sector (e.g., for consulting firms needing to understand the implications of policy for businesses and markets) or in the non-profit sector (e.g., working in community-based organizations to provide services).

Below, we outline key components of a Cornell policy school including:

  1. a set of “core” social science components,
  2. topical areas in the policy-related social sciences where strength at Cornell already exists, and
  3. areas for development of the policy-related social sciences at Cornell.

This school would offer degrees and programming at all levels, as described below. Building on Cornell’s unique strengths in public engagement and extension will be crucial for its success, as will attention to successful research development (including extramural grantsmanship) and visibility enhancement.

A School of Public Policy would enhance Cornell’s reputation, visibility, and impact both in the academic community and in the policymaking community and public sphere. First, much of what is needed to be a successful School of Public Policy—as defined by any number of academic metrics—is already housed at Cornell. However, the existing structure of the University and the lack of purposeful sustained connection across the various policy-related activities at the University are a significant barrier to internal collaboration and to the visibility and reputation of the University in these areas. This is a longstanding problem that has been noted at several points in the current and many previous reviews of the social sciences at Cornell. Creating a School of Public Policy would have the added benefit of coordinating the distinct educational offerings currently scattered across a number of different fields and programs so that Cornell provides a comprehensive, multidisciplinary educational experience for students and a strong signal of our reputation in this area to external stakeholders.

Second, a fundamental goal in developing a policy school should be to increase the visibility of the School and University in ways that will enhance its reputation in the policy community. Cornell’s policy landscape would be strengthened and made more visible through greater connections to high-profile policymakers and policy-focused events. As we describe below, this can be done through increases in the visibility of research and through work in public engagement, but should also be done through deliberate investment in high-wattage events and visitors. Increased connections with other parts of Cornell, like the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs, Cornell in Washington, Cornell in Albany, and the NYC campuses would help achieve these goals. Given its commitment to public engagement, a School of Public Policy would also provide the infrastructure and resources to connect Cornell research to policy officials in more direct, sustained, and impactful ways than is possible for individual faculty, departments, or centers to do on their own. Therefore, creating a School of Public Policy would have an immediate and long-lasting effect on the impact and reputation of the University in public policy and public affairs.


Core Social Science Components: Virtually all public policy schools have a set of core social science components that draw primarily from economics and political science. In economics, this typically includes microeconomics, public finance, and policy evaluation. In political science, this includes political economy, the policy process, institutions and organizations, and strategy. Quantitative methods are a key focus in the core approaches to the study of public policy, but political scientists and other social scientists in policy schools also employ qualitative and historical methods in the study of public policy.

Cornell already has significant strength in these areas, particularly within the Department of Government (GOVT) and the Department of Policy Analysis and Management (PAM). This existing strength is highlighted in the internal and external reviews of the social sciences at Cornell, in feedback from the Social Sciences Review process, and in the Provost’s charge to the Implementation Committee.

A Cornell policy school would highlight Cornell’s distinctive strength in “politics of public policy.” The politics of public policy focuses on how policy problems get identified, how they are formulated or framed, the role of stakeholders in the policy process, the institutional and bureaucratic constraints on implementation, and the feedback loop between beneficiaries or constituents and the broader political environment. This sort of work has always been multi-method in approach, requiring institutional analysis and careful attention to the policy process. Cornell’s longstanding strengths in institutions and policy analysis mean that this is an area in which a policy entity could be distinctive and perhaps world famous relatively quickly.

A policy entity at Cornell should match this kind of institutional- or process-focused public policy research with the analysis of policy implementation and its consequences that is also strong at Cornell. In addition to quantitative evaluations of the effects of policy on individual decision-making or outcomes, this domain includes research that uses a diverse set of methodological approaches to understand how people experience policy and government in their daily lives, and to show how policy action or inaction creates, perpetuates, or disrupts inequalities in the social, economic, and political spheres.

Because GOVT and PAM would play a central role in the School of Public Policy, some of the resources of these departments could be used as a foundation for the School. However, some of the educational and research activities of these departments, especially GOVT, will remain separate from the School of Public Policy, meaning that some additional resources will be required in these core areas to supplant those lost by those units to the new school.

Areas of Existing Social Science Strength: Cornell’s strengths in public policy are not limited to the core disciplines of economics and political science, nor are they only found in GOVT and PAM. Policy-related research at Cornell happens across the traditional social sciences, as well as in Science and Technology Studies, Natural Resources, Communication, ILR, the Law School, and beyond. Social scientists across campus have built notable strength relative to our peers in areas like Health Policy, Human Security, Politics and Economics of Development, and Social Policy. Policy-related scholars on campus have endeavored to push across disciplinary boundaries for specific research and hiring initiatives, but larger cross-college research and teaching efforts have often been stymied by institutional barriers. By combining faculty expertise across disciplines and colleges as part of a new School of Public Policy, Cornell would crystallize its reputation as a national leader in public policy in these domains.

Health Policy: Cornell is already deeply invested in both health policy and population health, which represents a comprehensive understanding of the various factors that shape health and well-being—and disparities in health and well-being—across the life course. Although medical training at Cornell takes place in New York City and public health training at Cornell takes place in the College of Veterinary Medicine, we see a broad focus on health policy and population health as being a comparative advantage that Cornell has already established but needs greater organization to showcase. By connecting health researchers across departments and across campuses, a focal area in health policy in the School of Public Policy might better serve student interests and provide a useful conduit for increased external funding. This could especially be the case with major externally funded centers that would increase our profile.

Human Security: Cornell is a leader in the interdisciplinary study of security. Programs such as the Judith Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies focus on international security, initiatives at the Atkinson Center conduct cutting-edge research on food security, and related programs in the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies and elsewhere target related topical areas such as migration, civil violence, nuclear policy, and others. A School of Public Policy would be well positioned to capitalize on these strengths through an interdisciplinary focus on Human Security that builds on these issue areas but provides the infrastructure and resources to explore connections among them. This would also be a signature component of the School’s international focus.

Politics and Economics of Development: Although Cornell has particular strengths in development economics, applied economics, and political economy, the university’s organizational structure (dividing scholars among Dyson, GOVT, Economics, PAM, among others) makes collaborative research across units rare and difficult. A School of Public Policy could bring together policy-focused researchers in development policy and political economy. Combined with Cornell’s rich offerings in Latin American, African, Asian, and European Studies—both in the academic departments and in cross-college programs housed in the Einaudi Center—a School of Public Policy has the opportunity to take a distinctive place among its aspirational peers, combining policy with global scope and deep contextual knowledge.

Social Policy: Cornell faculty across a number of colleges, departments and graduate fields have developed national reputations for excellence in the study of social policies. Existing research efforts on campus have tackled key domains of social policy and garnered national renown, including but not limited to: immigration, criminal justice and the law, education, family and social welfare, and democratic institutions and the policymaking process. This reputation has been bolstered by the leadership and resources of the Center for the Study of Inequality, the Institute for Social Sciences (now a core component of the Cornell Center for Social Sciences), the Cornell Population Center, and other centers on campus. Because these are key areas for success of a policy school, it is important that these areas of strength be maintained through replacement hiring in the event of faculty turnover or to build as opportunity arises. Such decisions should be made with the overall success of the Policy School in mind.

Areas for New Development: A new School of Public Policy should develop additional strength in areas of policy where Cornell has a unique comparative advantage relative to its Ivy and top public research institution peers: Data Science and Technology Policy and Environmental and Sustainability Policy. Since neither GOVT nor PAM has significant existing strengths in these areas, it will be necessary to invest in new faculty in order to be successful. Also, success will require connecting the Policy School to the strong base of faculty Cornell has in areas outside the traditional social sciences components named above. An additional benefit of investing in these spaces, moreover, is that they are already part of existing institutional priorities, meaning that investment in those areas can further the broader vision for the University, while also strengthening a fledgling School of Public Policy at Cornell.

Data Science and Technology Public Policy: As data and technology have rapidly expanded over the past few decades, they have become a fundamental part of people’s lives and of policymaking. Yet, policymakers often struggle to understand how to use data and technology to enhance their policymaking efforts. Similarly, technology companies struggle to navigate the policy and regulatory landscape. Our survey of other public policy programs showed that these are areas to which many existing schools of public policy are paying attention, but so far most programs are still developing (e.g., only 5 of the top 25 programs have a specialized concentration in data science and none offer data science training to all students—and few are at institutions with existing strength in computer science, information science, engineering, and other sciences that could be readily extended into the policy domain). Therefore, through a new School of Public Policy closely connected to Cornell Tech, Computing and Information Science, Engineering, and other relevant groups at Cornell, Cornell would immediately become a world leader in these areas.

Environmental and Sustainability Policy: One of the biggest challenges facing policymakers is how to deal with the existing and impending effects of climate change. Cornell is a world leader in various aspects of the science and engineering related to sustainable environmental policies.  However, science alone cannot solve the problem of climate change. Going forward, social scientists will need to play a key role in convincing people of the need for action, designing and building support for efficient policies, and determining their effectiveness. By adding more social science strength to its existing strength in this area of the sciences, Cornell could both become a world leader in environmental and sustainability policy and have enormous impact in the public sphere.


Education of students at all levels should be a central component of a School of Public Policy, including expanding existing efforts and creating new degrees. Students who study and have future careers in areas related to policy are the embodiment of the University’s land-grant mission. This true whether they continue in roles in the public or private sectors.

Undergraduate Education: At the undergraduate level, the School of Public Policy should educate students in multiple areas related to public policy. First, there should be an undergraduate major in Public Policy. This would build upon the existing undergraduate major in Policy Analysis and Management by including a core set of coursework in political science and the policy process. As such, we expect it will be even more attractive than the current Policy Analysis and Management major, and will be able to support 400 or so undergraduates.[2] Additionally, the School of Public Policy should build on the undergraduate minor in Public Policy offered in Government in order to complement the existing structure and harmonize it with the new School’s needs.

Second, the policy school would offer a new undergraduate major degree in Data Science and Public Policy (approximately 400 majors).[3] This degree would involve some similar training to the degree in Public Policy but would have a more technical focus by emphasizing coursework in statistics, analytics, quantitative methods, and data science topics. This represents an exciting area for innovation: undergraduate data science tracks can be found in other top policy schools but a distinct major that unites data science with public policy would be a distinctive Cornell innovation that builds on existing strengths across the University.

Third, there should be a broader set of undergraduate majors that are built upon other key strengths mentioned above as possible foci and in other areas connected to Cornell’s many strengths. (We expect 3 to 6 additional majors, ranging from 50 to 200 students). For example, existing health related majors in CHE connected to policy (Health Care Policy; Human Biology Health and Society; Global and Public Health; etc.) would be excellent fits if included.[4]

Additionally, the School could house undergraduate degrees in policy areas related to environmental policy, science policy, workforce policy, and regulation policy. Since these degree programs will be innovative, blueprints for their construction should be developed by the relevant faculty. Buy-in from those faculty, and the broader faculty community, will require careful consideration of ways these majors can contribute to, rather than detract from, the missions and revenue streams of other parts of the University.

Professional Master’s Programs: All schools of public policy have a core set of professional master’s programs that both contribute to and provide revenue to support their missions. A Cornell School of Public Policy might include existing Cornell programs in Public Administration and Health Administration. Also, a new Master’s in Public Policy program that connects explicitly to the top social science scholars and educators at Cornell is likely to be very successful. A master’s degree in Data Science for Public Policy with close connection to Computing and Information Science is also likely to be enormously successful.  Additional profession master’s programs should also be considered. In general, these professional master’s programs will be most successful if they are closely connected to the research mission of the University’s productive faculty in the social sciences and other policy-related areas and if they build on the successful engagement and extension work at the University. These should be developed by faculty and leadership as the School advances.

Doctoral Education: The new School of Public Policy should also offer doctoral education programs. The main one would be a PhD in Public Policy. This could be modeled after the existing field of Policy Analysis and Management, but might include the offer of specialization in political science or other areas in addition to the current “tracks” in economics and sociology. Also, throughout the Social Sciences Review process, faculty in various disciplines have offered support for the creation of joint PhD programs (e.g. a PhD in Sociology and Public Policy or Government and Public Policy). Faculty should be encouraged to come up with models for joint programs that will enhance faculty research and support graduate student success.

Additional Educational Programs: In addition to these more traditional degree programs, the School of Public Policy should also offer a suite of nontraditional coursework and programs. This effort could build upon the existing Executive MHA program and the proposed Executive MPA program, which offer blended-learning environments to mid-career professionals, and on existing online certificate programs, which provide remote-learning access to Cornell for people outside Ithaca. This will help attract students outside Ithaca who are embedded in policy careers, providing the Policy School with an opportunity to educate those already deeply involved in policy work. These additional programs should also make use of the NYC campuses, as well as the existing work being done by Cornell in Washington and Albany.

To summarize, degrees in Public Policy (at all levels) and Data Science for Public Policy (at the undergraduate and master’s levels) will provide the core set of degree offerings. In addition, depending on how the school develops, there should also be a set of additional degrees that pull from existing programs on campus or are newly developed by faculty and leadership. All of the degree offerings of the new School of Public Policy should be connected tightly to the vibrant, innovative research of Cornell faculty. In addition, they should make use of Cornell’s strong extension and engagement systems and connections to offer students high-quality experiential learning opportunities in innovative ways. Strong connections between the Ithaca and New York City campuses, as well as to Washington, D.C., and Albany, will also be crucial for overcoming the geographic limitations of the University’s main campus.


Public engagement is mandated by our identity as a land-grant institution and by the principles of the University’s founder. Connection to the community outside the University is also an imperative for increasing our visibility and enhancing the impact of Cornell’s excellent research and teaching. Policy-related public engagement takes many forms, including direct media engagement to help translate important research to the public, partnerships with communities to provide evidence-based care, data-based partnerships to evaluate program effectiveness and popular sentiment, and more.

To incentivize public engagement, the School of Public Policy should include appointments for tenure-track faculty that spend time engaging with the public and evaluating the impact of engagement. To maximize the engagement of faculty, some of these appointments could be rotating (i.e., fixed-term appointments) and some should have the explicit goal of encouraging faculty who are new to public engagement or translational work to engage in it. It will be important that the School have a strong infrastructure for public engagement, which could be built using the existing strengths of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs, the Scholars Strategy Network, the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, Engaged Cornell, and other groups already in place on campus. Programs like Cornell in Washington and Cornell in Albany, as well as connections to the NYC campuses, should be used strategically to help enhance public engagement.


The School of Public Policy should provide the infrastructure necessary for supporting and enhancing faculty research. For example, working with the new Center for Social Sciences to provide the highest quality computing and data infrastructure is crucial for allowing policy-related social scientists to be successful, as is providing the necessary support for in-depth qualitative work. Relatedly, generating external research funding is important for increasing both resources and visibility of the School of Public Policy. Therefore, the School should work with the Center for Social Sciences and the relevant faculty to provide support for a variety of external research funding, including support for individual research projects, larger collaborative grants, training grants, and, of particular importance for a successful policy school, research-practice partnerships.

Super-department Subcommittee membership





[1] Throughout this document, a “school” of public policy could be either a college or school entity.

[2] Recently, the number of PAM undergraduate majors has hovered between 200 and 250. With clearer branding and stronger connections to the other policy related parts of the University, we estimate that an undergraduate major built on the current PAM undergraduate major could sustain around 400 majors.

[3] Our understanding is that the current undergraduate programs in CIS are in high demand. By combining some of the skills of computing and information science with policy-relevant context, our sense is that a new undergraduate major in Data Science and Public Policy would be highly successful.

[4] Some of these degrees exist at Cornell already and would have synergies with the other offerings and strengths of the School of Public Policy. However, without a clear understanding of which faculty will affiliate with the School of Public Policy, it is difficult to specify this suite of additional degree offerings. The exact set of these majors should be determined and crafted by the faculty and leadership as the School is formed and develops.