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Section V

Strategic Initiatives
for 2010-2015

This section proposes university-wide initiatives directed at the main priorities of the strategic plan. The highest priority of this strategic plan is faculty excellence. This is the principal pathway for sustaining and building the preeminence of Cornell University and for achieving the longer-term aspiration of this plan. A faculty excellence priority is also timely given the challenge and opportunity of renewing the faculty ranks as roughly one-third to one-half of the faculty retire over the next ten or so years. Faculty excellence in this plan means excellence in both scholarship and teaching. As indicated in earlier sections, teaching excellence is a critical component of faculty excellence.

The top-ten aspiration for Cornell, as a single entity, implies that special attention and focus be given to research, scholarship, creativity, and graduate education over the next five years. These are the principal foundations for university stature and reputation, and they are contingent on the quality of the faculty. The research and graduate education focus must be implemented without sacrificing the centrality and importance of undergraduate education. The Strategic Planning Advisory Council believes strongly that there is no necessary trade-off between research and undergraduate teaching; scholarship and teaching are inextricably bound together in a research university. Moreover, Cornell should continue its efforts to have the very best undergraduate education among first-tier research universities.

With these priorities in mind, below are seven strategic initiatives and a series of steps to initiate work on them. These crosscutting, university-wide issues should be addressed as One Cornell, although the implementation and success of these initiatives will require consultation with and the support of deans and faculty in colleges, departments, and fields. The Strategic Planning Advisory Council intends these strategic initiatives to be collaborative efforts involving faculty, deans, and the provost, as well as students and staff where appropriate.

  1. Renew the faculty in the context of academic priorities and forthcoming retirements.
    1. Identify high-quality academic units of significant importance to the college and university where the age distribution of a department could lead to a substantial loss of faculty excellence over the next ten years or so.
    2. Develop multi-year hiring plans for those academic units that emphasize the recruitment of "rising stars" and promising new Ph.D.s, and generally do so in the context of the college's longer-term plans for faculty sizes across units and for the college as a whole.
    3. Create the resources to support these hiring plans through fund-raising, internal reallocation within colleges, and a central fund in the provost's office to assist colleges by selectively "pre-filling" on future retirements.
    4. Make proactive efforts to ensure that outstanding Cornell faculty are rewarded and supported in ways that reduce their motivation to pursue outside opportunities.
    5. Mitigate the disadvantages of a small, isolated university community with extraordinary dual-career efforts, and leverage the advantages by enriching collaborative intellectual communities among Cornell faculty, staff, and students.
  2. Identify a few departments or graduate fields of critical importance to the university and move them into a position of world leadership while working to prevent others from losing such stature.
    1. Ask colleges (deans in consultation with their faculty) to identify departments or graduate programs that are strategically important and on the cusp of leadership or on the verge of losing it.
    2. Seek the advice of faculty advisory committees regarding whether or not to invest in the department or unit.
    3. Where the answer is in the affirmative, develop a plan for raising the quality and stature (or preventing a decline) of that department or program over the next five years.
    4. If necessary, reallocate faculty positions or resources from other departments and programs in order to secure a position of academic leadership for the chosen departments.
  3. Create a culture in support of teaching in every department across campus.
    1. Survey policies and procedures used by departments and colleges to support and encourage excellence in teaching, and identify good models on campus.
    2. Ask deans, department chairs, and faculty to assess their policies, procedures and symbolic signals about teaching, using the models identified above as benchmarks (or others they deem more appropriate for a particular discipline or area).
    3. Identify departments and programs for improvements in teaching and provide targeted instructional support designed to foster higher-quality teaching and a stronger teaching culture.
    4. Ensure that there is sufficient, well-integrated support at the center and in colleges to promote excellence in teaching and to develop junior faculty as teachers.
    5. In consultation with faculty, develop indicators (quantitative or qualitative) for regularly assessing progress, appropriate to the discipline or department, and report to the department chair and dean on that progress.
    6. Consider the quality of teaching and the strength of the teaching culture as significant factors in the allocation of resources to departments by colleges and to individual faculty by departments. .
  4. Develop stronger connections or ties across colleges that enhance educational opportunities for students and the quality and stature of disciplines or fields.
    1. Review the academic necessity and justification for policies and procedures that limit or create obstacles to the capacity of students in one college to take courses in another.
    2. Make it easier to arrange and sustain joint appointments of faculty across colleges, especially those that strengthen the quality and stature of an academic discipline or area.
    3. Develop new mechanisms of coordination or connectivity in academic areas or disciplines within and across the life sciences and agricultural sciences, social sciences, humanities and the arts, and physical sciences and engineering.
    4. Use internal faculty advisory committees to develop ideas for new synergies across disciplines or disciplinary areas. .
  5. Develop and implement strategically focused, cost-effective enhancements to the infrastructure support for research, scholarship, and creativity-including the libraries, shared research facilities, and the administration of research grants.
    1. Define the relevant indicators or measures for assessing the library infrastructure for scholarship and education, and set a goal of Cornell having a library ranked in the top ten among university libraries in these terms.
    2. Develop a plan with significant faculty involvement to assess the library needs of different disciplines and how best to meet those needs in a cost-effective manner over the next five years.
    3. In recognition of the critical role of shared facilities, locally and nationally/internationally, develop a plan that defines future needs and includes a realistic assessment of funding options and sources.
    4. Strengthen the administration and support for research grants, and consult regularly with faculty and postdocs to track success and solicit suggestions for improvement. .
  6. Make significant progress toward greater diversity among faculty, students, and staff.
    For Faculty:
    1. Set explicit goals based on absolute criteria or the pipeline (whichever is greater).
    2. Assess current recruitment policies and practices to determine how they can be changed to generate more diverse candidate pools and to ensure that diversity impact is considered at each step of the recruitment process.
    3. Assign to a person or committee the responsibility for tracking progress and for reporting to the unit chair or college dean.
    4. Ensure that deans hold departments accountable for progress toward their goals and that the provost holds deans accountable for progress in their colleges.
    For Staff:
      The principles and steps are identical to the above for professional- and management-level positions, given a national market. For other job categories, where markets are local and pools are extremely thin, it is most important to ensure that those in an underrepresented category (e.g., a female painter or male kitchen worker) receive fair consideration.
    For Students:
    1. Set explicit goals for yearly growth in the proportion of underrepresented minorities among the undergraduate student population, and in the proportion of women and minorities in graduate and professional fields where they are underrepresented.
    2. Assess the adequacy of current programs for recruiting minorities and for ensuring a hospitable and supportive environment for minorities on campus.
    3. Strengthen programs that support, encourage, and recognize the academic achievements of minority students.
  7. Strongly connect public engagement with Cornell's areas of strength in research, scholarship, and education.
    1. Inventory the public engagement components of academic programs, defining these in broad terms (see Public Engagement in Section IV).
    2. Identify a range of models for public engagement in different academic disciplines, departments, or areas and ask departments and their faculty to consider the value and appropriateness of these models (or others they deem more relevant) for their programs and their students.
    3. Develop innovative approaches to public engagement that link the generation of knowledge through research, scholarship, and creativity with the transmission of that knowledge to local communities, the state of New York, the nation, and the world.
    4. Determine how best to ensure faculty involvement and leadership in programs involving public engagement.
    5. Enhance opportunities and reduce any bureaucratic obstacles for students to engage in service learning, study abroad, internships, working with local schools, and the like to create a more dynamic interface between the university and the larger world community.
    6. Encourage collaboration among departments to develop new, cost-effective ways of sharing knowledge and expertise with the public at large and to connect research with public engagement and education more effectively.


These strategic initiatives specify more concrete tactics or actions for advancing Cornell University over the next five years. Success at faculty renewal (initiative #1) is a critical issue that could determine whether the university rises or falls in quality and stature. Having a diverse faculty (#6) is fundamental here. Furthermore, recruiting and retaining distinguished and diverse faculty are contingent on the preeminence of academic departments (#2) and the quality of the infrastructure support for research and scholarship (#5). More connectivity among departments or programs (#4) contributes not only to faculty renewal but also to world leadership, because closer connections enable Cornell to leverage more productively its distributed and diverse academic strengths, thereby enriching the intellectual opportunities and experiences of faculty and students. These seven initiatives as a whole will have important effects on the educational experience of students, especially if faculty in preeminent academic units nurture a strong culture in support of teaching (#3) and a deep commitment to public engagement (#7).