University Statements

Provost responds to academic task force reports

Dec. 18, 2009

Provost Kent Fuchs issued the following message to the Cornell community:

The following document provides my perspective on the academic task force reports that have been prepared during the course of this year. Some aspects of the reports focus primarily on budget savings, but many are aimed at using this difficult time as an historic opportunity to rethink the focus, scope and direction of our academic enterprise. A number of the proposals are ready for implementation, but for others I am requesting additional study and development. In all cases, I have sought to respect the need to accord individual academic units an appropriate degree of autonomy, while at the same time ensuring that all such decisions support and advance the overall strength of the university.

President Skorton and I want to offer our profound thanks to the task force members for their efforts in this critical undertaking. Of the many things that make us proud of our great university, none exceeds the deep and selfless commitment of those who serve it. We are very grateful for the work of the twenty academic task forces and for everyone who is contributing to our broad planning efforts. We look forward to working with you as we implement many of these exciting ideas in the coming year.

Very best wishes for a restful and enjoyable holiday season.

Provost Kent Fuchs

Academic Task Force Reports

Response by the Provost

December 18, 2009

General Principles

This document provides the perspective of the provost on the twenty academic task force reports The next steps outlined here primarily deal with issues that require resolution at the university level. These include, but are not limited to, those that:

  • affect university-wide strategic goals and objectives
  • create major resource allocation issues for the unit or the university
  • affect the goals or operation of another unit
  • affect other initiatives at a cross-unit or university level
  • fundamentally change the focus, orientation, or structure of the unit
  • create political issues that are likely to extend beyond the unit

Issues and proposals contained in the task force reports that do not meet the above criteria and are not mentioned in this document should be treated as unit-specific issues, and the unit should move forward, consistent with its own internal decision-making processes. Input on unit-specific plans from faculty, staff, and students is encouraged. All academic units should inform the Provost's Office in advance of any significant actions resulting from their task force reports or from budget decisions. Units must also communicate and collaborate effectively with all other units that may be affected by their actions. All decisions related to the task force reports must have academic excellence as the highest priority. (See attached Statement by President Skorton on Criteria for Decisions). Over the next two months, priorities will be set for the work required to implement the initiatives resulting from the task force reports and this document.

Many issues and areas that are important to the future of the university are not addressed in the task force reports or in this document. The charge given to the task forces was limited to determining how Cornell should be organized and focused in the context of a significant reduction in resources and budgets. Cornell's longer-term priorities and aspirations will be addressed in the strategic planning document currently under development A draft of that document will be available for comment by the Cornell community in March 2010.

While last year's budget cuts were, of necessity, across the board, we are committed to implementing further reductions in a way that protects, to the maximum degree possible, the university's core commitments to education, scholarship and outreach. To this end, we plan to address a significant portion of the remaining shortfall through a comprehensive initiative to reduce the expenditures from our administrative operations. The president and provost announced this week the process we are implementing to achieve these administrative savings

There will continue to be long-term budget pressures beyond the current economic recession due to reductions in endowment payout, an expected reduction in funds from New York State, limited growth in external research funding, constraints on increasing tuition, higher demands for financial aid, and the slow return to pre-recession levels of fundraising. We must take appropriate and bold actions now that will position Cornell to be academically stronger in the context of these enduring budget pressures.

The decisions and next steps described below are organized into three groups:

  • campus-wide actions that were not the charge of a specific task force, but developed from discussion of the reports over the past several months
  • responses to the broad cross-university task force reports
  • responses to the college and school specific task force reports

1) Campus-wide Action

  • The Provost's Office will lead a study of the potential for a common academic experience for first-year students with the goals of highlighting the core competencies that define a Cornell education and providing a broad coherence for undergraduate education.
  • The Provost's Office will work with the deans to determine realistic and appropriate goals for faculty size in each college or school. A method for tracking all open faculty lines and searches will be put into place.
  • The Provost's Office will lead an effort in conjunction with the Office of Human Resources and the colleges and schools to develop and implement regular and effective post-tenure and post-promotion review processes to ensure that all faculty members meet effort and performance expectations of their departments throughout their careers at the university.
  • The Provost's Office will work with the deans to determine how our collective resources can best be utilized to facilitate broad institutional goals. This includes the question of whether a limited number of existing faculty lines should be targeted by the Provost to meet key academic objectives.

2) Cross-University Task Force Reports

Budget Model

  • The President and Provost provided written feedback on the initial draft of the interim report in October 2009, and the final report will be completed by January 2010.
  • The Provost's Office will manage the campus discussion of the budget model task force report. A decision on the budget model, which will have significant implications for the way resources are allocated, is expected by summer 2010 with full implementation in place for FY 2012.

Graduate School


Life Sciences

Management Sciences

Social Sciences




Public Policy School/Institute

Student and Academic Services

Student Enrollment

3) College/School Task Force Reports

Agriculture and Life Sciences

Architecture, Art, and Planning

Proceed with the planning of a design-centered college/school, e.g., a College of Design. This process includes the following initiatives

Arts and Sciences

Computing and Information Science

Continuing Education and Summer Sessions


Hotel Administration

Human Ecology

Industrial and Labor Relations

Johnson Graduate School of Management

Law School

Veterinary Medicine

Statement by President Skorton on Criteria for Decisions

  1. Decisions on reorganizing our programs and activities should be made based on the importance of those activities to the university's core mission with the objectives of enhancing academic excellence, increasing effectiveness and efficiency of functions, and reducing expenditures.
  2. Expenditure reductions should be greatest in administrative operations, consonant with appropriate processes and risk management, recognizing that those operations occur across the university in colleges and central units and must be viewed holistically.
  3. All units across the university will contribute to reducing the structural financial deficit of the university.
  4. Final decisions will be made by the president and provost after broad and transparent consultation, with special consideration of the opinions of those most conversant with the areas under review.
  5. Decisions should be made as much as possible with the intention of optimizing the quality and value of colleges, individual units, and the entire university but, if a conflict exists, it should be decided in favor of the greater university.