Progress report on planning efforts

Dear Cornellians,

As we settle in for a productive semester, I write to share some general news and to provide a brief progress report on our several efforts to lay a secure financial foundation for our university.

Cornell is once again in record demand among prospective students. We have now received over 36,000 applications for the 3,150 places in the Class of 2014, a new high. This hugely successful application season promises the arrival of yet another talented and diverse class of Cornellians next year.

Our thoughts over the last month have been so much with our colleagues and neighbors in Haiti. Cornell University, through the pioneering efforts of faculty at Weill Cornell Medical College, has been serving Haitians for 30 years at the GHESKIO center, one of the first HIV/AIDS clinical care programs. We mourn the loss of colleagues in the earthquake, yet we are active in Port-au-Prince, delivering desperately needed medical care. To guide Cornell's participation in Haiti's recovery and reconstruction, I have appointed Alice Pell, vice provost for international relations, and WCMC Professor Warren Johnson to lead a faculty steering group that will harness the skills and energy of the entire university.

Over the next five months, we will complete the various planning processes - budget, academic task forces, administrative reorganization and strategic planning - and implement administrative and academic changes that will set us on the path of sustained excellence and broadening horizons as we look to the university's sesquicentennial celebration and beyond.

First, the budgetary outlook, while still quite difficult, is improving. Our current-year budget deficit is down to approximately $68 million, following reductions of approximately $50 million. However, if we do not continue to reduce expenditures in a sustainable fashion, next year's deficit instead could grow back substantially. We have no choice but to maintain our discipline and build on the progress to date. We must make the difficult but necessary decisions that will lead to financial equilibrium and enhanced flexibility to maintain robust need-based student financial aid and return to a healthy pace of faculty hiring.

Second, the 20 task forces, set up to consider changes within the university's academic units to enhance Cornell's scholarship in an era of reduced revenues, have completed their tasks. The reports have been reviewed and summaries disseminated publicly. The provost shared his reactions to these recommendations with the campus, and identified those that deserve further consideration and those that are to be undertaken. Summaries of the task force deliberations and the provost's decisions are on our web site. More in-depth discussions are under way among academic leaders as they begin to make important decisions in each college and school.

Third, we are entering the critical phase of our administrative reorganization. Since last summer, we have consulted hundreds of individuals on campus, with support from external advisors, to identify significant opportunities to streamline our administrative operations. Now, teams of vice presidents, deans, unit administrative officers and others are zeroing in on the most promising areas, such as our new procurement initiative, information technology, communications and other areas. They are starting to design the actual changes required to realize real savings. I expect to report back to you this spring once I have reviewed thoroughly the status of these initiatives, and approve those implementation plans ready to go forward.

Finally, and of enormous importance for our long-term future, Professor Ed Lawler is leading a superb faculty advisory committee to develop a true, comprehensive strategic plan to guide Cornell University for the next decade. The draft outline of the plan was released last week to the community.

I am grateful for the efforts and contributions of all of you, especially the vice presidents and deans, who are participating in these various efforts. Provost Fuchs is providing indispensable leadership in moving forward each of these processes in an open and inclusive fashion. The success of each individual planning effort is critical to the realization of our community's aspirations. Your continued input, criticism and partnership to finalize our plans for the future, are needed at this critical moment.

I urge you to participate actively in the public forums, panel discussions and "brown bags" being organized across campus. Stay abreast of the progress of the various initiatives by visiting the web site devoted to Reimagining Cornell. The Cornell Chronicle's Friday e-newsletter will bring you the week's campus news. Of course, the Cornell Daily Sun and WVBR are doing an excellent job keeping you informed every day.

The significance of these planning efforts cannot be overestimated. We must succeed in our effort to streamline our operations and reduce non-personnel costs, such as procurement, because it's the only way to mitigate reductions in personnel. We must balance our budget because it is the only way to secure the university's financial foundation; and we must sustain and expand our academic excellence for decades to come.

With the ideas and active participation of our faculty, staff, students and alumni, Cornell will meet the challenge of restructuring and positioning itself for the future rigorously, responsibly and humanely.

I look forward to our continuing dialogue.

Best regards,

David J. Skorton