Decades in making, public policy school now a reality
By James Dean
University leaders, faculty and staff gathered Sept. 15 in Martha Van Rensselaer Hall to celebrate the launch of the Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy – “an important moment here at Cornell,” said President Martha E. Pollack.
The school’s opening is the culmination of a four-year faculty review focused on elevating excellence in the social sciences, which Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff said was preceded by five decades of discussions about a policy school’s potential.
Now a reality, Pollack said the Cornell Brooks School fits squarely within Ezra Cornell’s founding vision for a university that would create and share knowledge for a public purpose.
“The idea, right from the very beginning, was that at our heart we were going to be a university that generated knowledge that would go out from here and make the world a better place,” Pollack said. “Of course, one of the ways that knowledge can be used to shape a better world – one of the most important ways – is through informed policy.”
The Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy advances the university’s mission, Pollack said, by creating a home for policy-oriented faculty to study and teach, and for students to learn, about effective, thoughtful policymaking, analysis and management.
Pollack and Kotlikoff joined the school’s inaugural dean, Colleen Barry, in thanking the many faculty members who participated in and led committees that resulted in creation and implementation of the school announced last year. They thanked Jeb E. Brooks, MBA ’70, and his wife, Cherie Wendelken, together with the Brooks Family Foundation, for their generous gift naming and endowing the school.
“Now we move to the process of building the school, of moving it into its construction phase,” Kotlikoff said. “I have no doubt that we have secured the critical leadership that is a necessary condition for the success of the school.”
On her first day as a member of Cornell’s faculty, which she joined after chairing the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, Barry said it was a significant day for both the university and the field of public policy.
One need only scan recent headlines, she said, to appreciate the scope and complexity of global policy challenges and the urgency of the school’s work helping to develop solutions.
The Cornell Brooks School’s establishment, she said, “creates a foundation for more directly tackling the critical problems we face, as a country and globally, in a manner that is both grounded in science and solution-oriented, with a mandate to actively improve people’s lives and to reduce suffering in the world.”
To that end, the school plans to leverage and develop strengths in environmental and sustainability policy; health policy; human security; inequality and social policy; the politics and economics of development; data science and technology policy; and race, racism and public policy.
Attendees at the opening reception included the Cornell Brooks School’s initial faculty, including those who had been members of the Department of Policy Analysis in the College of Human Ecology (CHE) and policy-oriented faculty from the Department of Government in the College of Arts and Sciences, and other departments.
The school’s inaugural students include undergraduates majoring in policy analysis and management and health care policy (retaining their CHE affiliation if admitted there), and graduate students in the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs (CIPA) and Sloan Program in Health Administration.
The school is now also home to the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs and the Cornell in Washington and Capital Semester programs. Barry plans to forge strong partnerships with Cornell Tech and Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, as well as in Albany, New York, and Washington, D.C.
The school plans to develop a new undergraduate major in public policy and a new master’s in public policy degree that would be the first of its kind in New York state.
“Creating a new school is complex and we really want to get it right,” Barry said. “(I will) work with you so we can structure the school in a manner that will be strong and will be enduring.”
Barry made reference to the personal significance to her of celebrating the school’s launch during the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – in the Jewish tradition, the days of awe focused on new beginnings and building a better world.
“So, too, here,” she said. “I’d like to challenge us all to think about how through this opportunity that we’ve been given to connect with the Brooks School, we can work together in new and different ways to make our world safer, healthier and more prosperous for everyone.”