Feedback sought on two public policy models

A new school or college of public policy would represent a “promising avenue” for Cornell, a faculty committee said in an interim report that details specifics about both options and some of their pros and cons. 

The report from the Social Sciences Implementation Committee, released Nov. 18, is the latest milestone in a multiyear review of how to strengthen the social sciences across the university. 

The initiative, like several recent external reviews before it, identified public policy as a critical area where Cornell scholarship could achieve greater impact and recognition. Provost Michael Kotlikoff charged the 11-person implementation committee with recommending the best approach for establishing a world-class public policy entity over the next 10 to 15 years. 

The committee’s interim report, “Considering School and College Structures for Public Policy at Cornell,” presents a preliminary overview of the benefits and limitations for two models: 

  • a cross-college School of Public Policy that would sit between the College of Human Ecology and the College of Arts and Sciences, and be led by its own dean; or 

  • a College of Public Policy achieved by refocusing the College of Human Ecology, which has the highest concentration of policy-oriented faculty. 

The report highlights some potential advantages and challenges for both models across nine categories: governance; resources; undergraduate training; master’s training; doctoral teaching; extension and outreach; and implications for the College of Human Ecology, the College of Arts and Sciences and the university. 

For example, the report finds that the School of Public Policy model might be a good way to start at a relatively modest size and grow over time, among other advantages. But it could also add a complicated structure involving two colleges and raise concerns about the focus of the College of Human Ecology if substantial numbers of its policy faculty have migrated to the school. 

A College of Public Policy, on the other hand, would benefit from higher visibility, easier branding and governance, and a simpler physical footprint. But because it involves refocusing an existing college, this option has major implications for faculty members in the college who do not consider themselves to be engaged in policy-relevant research, teaching, outreach or extension. 

To achieve its goals, the committee said, either public policy entity should be led by its own dean with authority to control budgets and new hires, and should draw faculty from across the university. 

Any entity, if approved, would unfold over years and not result in faculty or staff job losses, the report stressed. 

Students, faculty and staff are invited to share feedback on the two approaches in a series of listening sessions over the next month, including universitywide sessions scheduled for Nov. 20 and Dec. 12. Written comments can also be submitted via email

“We look forward to hearing feedback from the university community on these policy models,” the report states. “This interim report is not meant to be interpreted as our final word on the subject.” 

After receiving that feedback, the committee plans to offer recommendations on the best public policy option in a final report to be submitted to Kotlikoff and President Martha E. Pollack before the end of the year. 

Kotlikoff also has charged the committee with proposing models for new or expanded “superdepartments” in economics, psychology and sociology. Superdepartments would incorporate faculty from multiple colleges or schools, encouraging greater collaboration between scholars and students who review committees have said are now too widely dispersed. 

Subcommittees exploring the potential superdepartments have produced reports and are engaged in discussions with the relevant departments. That work, however, was “not yet far enough along” to be detailed in the interim report, the implementation committee said. 

Pollack and Kotlikoff are expected to decide in the spring about which public policy entity to pursue and any further restructuring of the social sciences, in consultation with university leadership, trustees and stakeholders. 

“This final decision has dimensions beyond strengthening public policy at Cornell,” the interim report notes. 

The implementation committee’s co-chairs are Melissa Ferguson, senior associate dean of social sciences and professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences; Christopher Wildeman, associate vice provost for the social sciences and professor of policy analysis and management in the College of Human Ecology; and John Siliciano, deputy provost. 

Their interim report follows a September update providing a draft vision that the committee said has received broad support for outlining “a bright future for Cornell in public policy.” 

Visit the Office of the Provost’s website for more information on the provost’s review of the social sciences.

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Abby Butler