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Cornell University at its Sesquicentennial

Members of the University community:

The final version of the university's strategic plan is now available. The Strategic Planning Advisory Council appreciates the comments and suggestions from the university community over the past year.

Best Regards,

Ed Lawler and Kent Fuchs

A Strategic Plan
2010-2015

May 11, 2010

Download the Strategic Plan (pdf)
Download the Strategic Plan Summary (pdf)

Contents

  1. Preamble
  2. Cornell's Enduring Commitments
  3. The Institution and Its Environment
  4. Goal Areas: Objectives and Actions
  5. Strategic Initiatives for 2010-2015

  6. Excellence in Organizational Stewardship
  7. Cornell at its Sesquicentennial

Section I

Executive Summary

The Approach

This strategic plan treats Cornell University as a single unit or entity. Cornell, aptly described as the "first American university," is today a comprehensive university that combines the finest attributes of an Ivy League institution with a deep commitment to public service, stemming from its history as a land grant institution. The academic strengths of the university are grounded in a wide range of outstanding colleges and schools, each of which has achieved academic excellence and a position of distinction in its own field. Cornell is a productive conglomeration of very strong colleges and schools, and it also is a whole greater than the sum of these parts. The focus of this strategic plan is that "greater sum," rather than the particular subunits or parts that compose it. The plan proposes university-wide goals and actions that crosscut or transcend the boundaries of colleges, schools, and administrative units. It suggests that the university can take even greater advantage of its distributed strengths while also reinforcing those strengths and facilitating the "bottom-up" blossoming of innovation and creativity characteristic of the colleges and schools. The relationship of individual academic units to the central administration of the university should involve an ongoing dynamic interchange.

Developing a strategic plan with a focus on Cornell as a single entity is important. The challenges and opportunities of Cornell's changing environment suggest the need for enhanced institutional capacity to act as a unit, that is, to chart strategic directions and mobilize colleges and schools around those directions. A few examples: The renewal of Cornell's faculty is a major issue for the university in light of anticipated retirements over the next ten to fifteen years, and this requires an institution-wide response. This challenge also presents an opportunity to increase significantly the diversity of the faculty. The growing infrastructure costs of research and scholarship (e.g., libraries, research facilities) require an institutional response that sets priorities and ensures support is cost-effective. Financial pressures from the cumulative declines in state support for the land grant mission create a need to rethink how the university fulfills and revitalizes Cornell's unique commitment to public engagement and whether historic structures and practices will be adequate in the future. Institutional, university-wide strategies and tactics will help Cornell meet such challenges effectively over the next five years and take advantage of opportunities for academic enhancements.

An Aspiration

The plan puts forth an overarching aspiration for the university: to be widely recognized as a top-ten research university in the world, and a model university for the interweaving of liberal education and fundamental knowledge with practical education and impact on societal and world problems. This aspiration reflects both Cornell's stature as a first-tier, Ivy League institution of higher education and its special and unique capacity to bridge the world of thought and ideas and the world of practice and action. Having an overarching aspiration for the institution as a whole is important for the one-university theme of this plan.

The general strategy proposed here for achieving this aspiration is captured by two words: focus and connectivity. (1) Focus on strong or potentially strong academic programs that are strategically important to the university and maintain areas of excellence within each of the basic academic groupings-humanities and the arts; life sciences and agricultural sciences; physical sciences and engineering; social sciences; and professional schools. In other words, create and maintain academic leadership across all of the broad areas but do so selectively and strategically within each. (2) Build greater connectivity among the diverse colleges, schools, and programs around these basic academic areas by developing new integrations, boundary-crossing structures, and productive synergies. Greater connectivity implies that it will be easy for students and faculty to cross college and program boundaries in pursuit of their academic goals. The idea is to make academic boundaries at Cornell as permeable and seamless as possible.

The main elements of this document include Goal Areas with associated Objectives and Actions which define areas of focus for the plan and steps for achievement. Among these, there are Priorities that provide direction on where to start. Strategic Initiatives then describe in more detail how the priorities can be implemented.

Specific Objectives and Actions

This plan develops a series of specific objectives (ends) and actions (means) to enhance excellence in five central domains or goal area of the university: Faculty; Education; Research, Scholarship, and Creativity; Outreach and Public Engagement; Staff and Organizational Stewardship. The Faculty section emphasizes the importance of increasing the size and quality of faculty in strategically important areas, enhancing the diversity of faculty, and anticipating future retirements by pre-filling positions and recruiting at lower ranks. The Education section identifies ways to enhance excellence in teaching across the university and ways to enable students to take full advantage of the university's educational breadth through more field-based or international activities in which they "engage the world" in their academic work under faculty supervision. The health and well-being of students are included as conditions for academic and life success. A key theme is to make public engagement and impact a more distinctive component of education at Cornell. The Research, Scholarship, and Creativity section stresses the need to increase the number of academic departments that achieve a position of leadership, strengthen support for emerging interdisciplinary areas, and provide libraries and shared research facilities. In the section on Public Engagement, the outreach mission is broadly defined as "public engagement" so as to include the entire university. The plan suggests the need for a rigorous assessment of the university's public engagement and impact with an eye toward connecting these activities even more closely to educational and research strengths on campus. A section on Staff Excellence affirms the critical role of staff in support of the academic mission and the importance of being an exemplary employer; under Organizational Stewardship, the plan develops objectives and actions for how the management of key resources (finance, capital, and information technology) can efficiently support the academic mission. Effective organizational stewardship will be necessary to free up the resources important for achieving the strategic initiatives of this plan. Overall, the specific objectives and actions of the plan suggest the need to move on a number of fronts to keep abreast of the competition and enhance academic excellence.

Strategic Priorities and Initiatives

The highest overall priority proposed for the next five years is to enhance faculty excellence. Such a priority is timely and important because of the need to anticipate and be proactive about forthcoming faculty retirements. Along with a faculty excellence priority, special emphasis should be given to promoting and recognizing excellence and leadership in research, scholarship, creativity, and graduate education. Improving the quality of research and graduate education is critical for ensuring a place among the top-ten research universities in the world. These emphases can and should be pursued with a parallel focus on enhancing the teaching of undergraduates. Excellence in teaching is an integral component of faculty excellence, and this plan affirms Cornell's commitment to have faculty who achieve excellence in both research and teaching. Research and teaching quality should be inextricably bound together at Cornell University.

In the context of these overarching priorities, the plan proposes seven strategic initiatives over the next five years.

  1. Faculty renewal in the context of academic priorities and substantial retirements. Identify strategically important departments where the age distribution will result in a significant loss of reputation over the next ten years and develop multi-year hiring plans giving priority to recruiting new Ph.D.s and "rising stars." Use pre-fills of retirements, internal reallocation, and fund-raising to generate necessary resources.
  2. Identify a few departments or 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. Identify departments on the cusp of leadership or on the verge of losing it and make proactive efforts to generate or preserve that leadership.
  3. Create a culture in support of teaching in every department across campus. Improve assessments of teaching and enhance the importance of teaching excellence through the allocation of resources to departments, programs, and faculty. Identify good models for promoting a culture in support of teaching and use these as benchmarks to assess and improve teaching in other units.
  4. Develop stronger connections across colleges to enhance educational opportunities for students and the quality and stature of disciplines or fields. Develop policies that encourage students in one college or campus to take courses in another, and devise new mechanisms of coordination and connectivity across academic disciplines or across colleges within a given academic discipline.
  5. Implement strategically focused, cost-effective enhancements to the infrastructure in support of research, scholarship, and creativity. This includes in particular the university libraries, shared research facilities in the sciences and social sciences, and administrative support for faculty applying for or managing research grants.
  6. Make significant progress toward a more diverse faculty, student body, and staff in terms of gender and race and ethnicity. Establish explicit and ambitious goals, considering appropriate pipelines and the importance of "critical mass"; enhance recruitment and retention processes; and ensure that mechanisms holding units accountable are effective.
  7. Strongly connect outreach and public engagement with Cornell's areas of strength in research, scholarship, and education. Broadly redefine the outreach mission as public engagement and impact, extend it across campus, and develop approaches appropriate to different academic disciplines or fields; strengthen opportunities for students to "engage the world" as part of their academic work.

Assessment

The plan develops a framework for assessing progress that emphasizes the importance of (a) multiple measures for a given objective or priority, (b) combining quantitative metrics and qualitative indicators, and (c) minimizing the staff time devoted to such measurements. This plan specifies a core set of metrics for assessing institutional progress toward key priorities. For example, these include the number of top-ranked programs and departments; amount and nature of faculty hiring; faculty and staff compensation; the age distribution of faculty; diversity of the faculty, students, and staff; student learning outcomes; student surveys; library rankings; and sponsored research. Such metrics need to be supplemented with qualitative assessments by colleges and regular external reviews of academic programs. The mechanisms of assessment should be developed and finalized at the implementation stage of this strategic plan and in consultation with academic units.