Update on the Committee on Organizational Structures

Email to Cornell University faculty
July 17, 2018

Dear Colleagues:

I write to update you on the Provost’s Review of the Social Sciences at Cornell, an effort to identify opportunities to strengthen our social sciences research, education, and outreach. To that end, we have conducted an internal and an external review, and following feedback on these reviews, established two faculty committees. The committee to advance ideas about improved organization issued its report in March, and a committee to propose ideas for possible Radical Collaborations in the social sciences will complete and distribute its report soon. In addition, we will soon launch a committee on administrative structures that will address concerns about policies and practices that impact faculty scholarship and productivity.

As you know, during the spring term and into the early summer, we had numerous discussions about the organization of the social sciences following the release of the first report—almost 30 meetings with faculty, staff, and students, including meetings with colleges and schools, departments, social sciences chairs, assemblies, alumni, and others. In addition, a series of meetings with faculty in June focused on specific ideas, and while attendance was relatively light, those meetings were very productive. It was useful to continue to hear people’s thoughts for how we might best position the social sciences for excellence in the years ahead.

The idea that generated the most discussion and concern was the combination of the College of Human Ecology and School of Industrial and Labor Relations into a single college. Clearly, this idea is opposed by many faculty, staff, students, and alumni, who feel that any such merger risks damage to the unique focus and interdisciplinary combinations of faculty in both ILR and CHE. Because this idea does not have significant support and is unlikely to be pursued, I have decided to set it aside while we focus on other ideas. Nonetheless, the discussions generated valuable ideas about the organizing principles of both schools and suggested the need to redefine and rearticulate the vision for these units. I will work with both colleges to foster these efforts as we move forward.

Similarly, there is scant enthusiasm for the idea of creating a college of social sciences. This idea provoked concerns about what would and would not be included, as well as the likely impact on existing units. As with the idea of combining CHE and ILR, no faculty constituency arose that was strongly in favor of a college of social sciences, and the sense of potential damage dominated the discussions. Hence, I am setting aside this idea as well.

On the other ideas, we will continue to have more focused discussions starting early in the fall semester, and there will also be opportunities to raise new ideas. To set the stage for the next round of meetings, during the next few weeks we will digest all the feedback to date (emails, meeting notes, blog posts, etc.) and prepare and circulate a brief summary. In the meantime, people should feel welcome and encouraged to continue to provide input by sending emails to ssreview@cornell.edu or by posting comments here.

In closing, I thank all of you who have spent time considering these difficult questions that are critical to our future strength in the social sciences. The process has been painful to some, but it has raised questions that we should discuss openly as colleagues seeking the best for Cornell. To date, our deliberations have raised more concerns and questions than proposed remedies, but I am hopeful that we can move toward a discussion of more focused proposals in several key areas in the fall, as well as combining these discussions with ideas for Radical Collaborations in the social sciences. While I realize this process is time-consuming, I am confident that it will help us determine areas of strategic investment in the social sciences that will build on our unique strengths and enhance our position as a world leader in these critical disciplines.

I look forward to continuing to work with the faculty to pursue these goals in the coming term.


Mike Kotlikoff