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Section VI

Excellence in Organizational Stewardship


Stewardship refers to processes and structures that manage, allocate, and monitor resources that are crucial to fulfill the university's academic mission. These are enabling conditions for achieving the primary academic goals and strategic initiatives of the plan, detailed in prior sections. This section begins with a set of general guidelines and then focuses on three resource areas: budget and finance; capital projects and physical facilities; and information technology. Human resources (faculty and staff) are treated in other sections of this plan. Given the university aspirations proposed by this plan, the adaptability and efficiency of organizational stewardship will be more important than ever over the next five to ten years in order to generate and preserve the resources necessary for the implementation of this plan.

Objectives and Actions

Objective 1: Affirm general guidelines for organizational stewardship

Rationale: The university must function in a manner that ensures, on an ongoing basis, that all its operations align with and support its core academic missions. To this end, principles of good stewardship must be understood and followed at all levels of the university. These principles include a commitment to protect and enhance the reputation of the university, an understanding of priorities and responsibilities at an organizational and individual level, an appropriate respect for and use of shared governance and collaborative decision making, and a commitment to open communication and transparency within planning, priority setting, and decision making. All members of the community are stewards of the university, and they should understand their obligations to act in ways that are responsive to the interests and needs of the university.


  1. Implement resource allocation strategies that enable and motivate actions that enhance academic excellence.
  2. Clearly define and align roles and responsibilities for effective and efficient operations in a decentralized academic environment.
  3. Implement cost-effective investments in support systems and infrastructures that meet mission-based needs.
  4. Recognize, anticipate, and manage the different types of institutional risk (e.g., operational, compliance, reputational) and promote a university-wide sense of responsibility for these.
  5. Align support operations with the core academic mission and university strategic plan by maintaining clear priorities, metrics for assessing them, and appropriate internal controls.
  6. Develop and improve the skills of unit leaders to promote and manage change, especially given the need for continuous improvements in administrative and academic functions.
  7. Support and, where feasible, strengthen informed, collaborative, and transparent decision making.
  8. Review current mechanisms of shared governance in light of changes in the responsibilities at the center and in units (administrative and academic).

Objective 2: Make continual improvements in the stewardship of financial resources.

Rationale: Rigorous and effective stewardship of the university's financial resources, with appropriate "checks and balances," is critical to Cornell's ability to achieve its core mission. Because of the complexity of the university's budget and finance functions, it is imperative that such processes be open, transparent, and effective in protecting the university's fiscal health and in supporting its central and unit-level institutional priorities. Clear areas of responsibility and lines of authority, along with means to ensure accountability, are needed. Resource flows must be clear and predictable, but there must also be sufficient institutional flexibility to allow the strategic pursuit of important opportunities when they arise. The following are actions that should be undertaken by the appropriate administrators or officers of the university.


  1. Review existing budget models that determine resource flows to units in order to revise, simplify, and align these budget processes and ensure support for central and unit priorities.
  2. Seek to simplify or eliminate cross-charging schemes within the university to reduce time and effort.
  3. Clarify institutional roles and responsibilities related to budget and finance to facilitate effective collaboration and communication between responsible parties and appropriate monitoring of performance and accountability.
  4. Ensure that there are effective internal controls, sufficient transparency, and appropriate "checks and balances" to prevent excessive financial commitments and overspending.
  5. Prepare and present operating and capital budgets reflecting complete program and operating costs and sources of funding, and regularly review these to ensure that planned uses of resources do not exceed funds available.
  6. Ensure clear and explicit reporting documents for senior leadership and trustees, including reports on in-year operating budget performance, capital budget sources and uses, short-term lines of credit, the university's debt portfolio, and a multi-year financial model.
  7. Seek to balance the need for purchasing efficiencies through centralization with an allowance for flexibility and individual solutions necessitated by the diverse array of products and services utilized in units and departments.
  8. To the extent appropriate and possible, keep the Faculty Senate and/or the UFC's Financial Policies Committee informed of major budget issues and make public suitable information regarding the annual capital and operating budgets.

Objective 3: Promote effective stewardship of the built and natural environment.

Rationale: The beauty of Cornell's natural surroundings and its built environment are key assets that must be enhanced and preserved. At the same time, facilities must be allowed to grow and evolve as necessary to support the university's core mission. Decisions regarding facilities and the physical environment typically involve the complex interplay of multiple factors and interests that must be recognized and addressed in order to steward effectively the university's physical resources. These decisions should be framed by and consistent with Cornell University's commitments to sustainability and accessibility. An integrated planning model should involve the following elements:


  1. Make environmental sustainability a guiding principle in the stewardship of the university's facilities and resources and in assessments of its impact on the community and region.
  2. Pursue the sustainability objectives in Cornell's 2008 Master Plan for the Ithaca Campus and the Climate Action Plan of 2009.
  3. Ensure effective financial planning for construction projects, guaranteeing that budget effects, including ongoing facilities operations and maintenance costs, are known, understood, and agreed upon, and that a specific and approved funding plan is in place, before they are initiated.
  4. Optimize existing space use, and use renovation whenever appropriate as an alternative to new construction and expansion. 15
  5. Follow the Cornell Master Plan guidelines and requirements and emphasize the maintenance of openness on central campus, even though there may be short-term cost savings for construction there.
  6. Determine optimal use of open building sites by considering the full range of possible unit and university uses.
  7. Ensure that resources available for facilities, including those from the State University Construction Fund, are optimally allocated by a strategic analysis of unit or university priorities.
  8. Seek to create campus-wide space utilization that optimizes university and unit priorities, while accounting for the specific legal requirements and ownership issues of contract college buildings.
  9. Allocate sufficient funding for maintenance and renewal of existing facilities, and for university projects relating to infrastructure, common and shared facilities, public spaces, natural areas, and the like.
  10. Ensure proactive and long-term planning efforts with affected local governments and constituencies to optimize Cornell's investments, enhance community relations, and leverage local, state, and federal funding.

Objective 4: Provide cost effective infrastructures for information technology.

Rationale: Information technologies (IT) and infrastructure need to be maintained and renewed, while balancing technology needs with budgetary demands and other priorities of the university. Technologies and infrastructure that contribute to the core academic mission of the university warrant the highest priority.

  1. Effectively coordinate the delivery of IT services and infrastructure that support academic and research missions as well as business needs of the university in a financially responsible way.
  2. Ensure that information technology services and infrastructure support the access, security, and privacy needs for information stored within the infrastructure.

Conclusion: Stewardship Priorities

Stewardship along all of the domains covered here is an enabling condition for academic excellence and crucial to generate resources for implementing priorities of this plan. It is not possible or necessarily even wise to set priorities across these general areas. Instead, the Strategic Planning Advisory Council suggests that within each of these, priority be given to those aspects of stewardship that have the most direct impact on the seven strategic initiatives (see Section V). Adaptability and efficiency are the strategic themes of particular relevance to the effective stewardship of university resources.

15 Major renovation decisions should seek to avoid creating excess duplicative capacity and whenever possible should seek to support the needs and interests of adjacent units or functions. They should also honor the interior and exterior architectural integrity of the renovated buildings.