Cornell creates Center for Social Sciences

By: Susan Kelley,  Cornell Chronicle
Wed, 03/27/2019

Since January 2016, Cornell faculty members and administrators have been developing a vision for how to enhance the university’s excellence in the social sciences over the next 10 to 15 years. This effort, summed up in three faculty reports, is now complete.

As a result, the university will create the Cornell Center for Social Sciences, Provost Michael Kotlikoff announced March 28. In addition, he announced the formation of a faculty implementation committee charged with developing recommendations for two efforts: the creation of an organizational structure that will integrate public policy academic areas at Cornell; and the creation of “superdepartments,” similar to the existing Department of Economics.

“This is an acknowledgement of the importance of social sciences at Cornell,” Kotlikoff said. “With the creation of the center, and new thinking around a public policy entity and the organization of core disciplines, we are trying to achieve greater visibility for faculty and their scholarship, enhanced opportunities for students and for Cornell to educate the next generation of engaged citizens and global policymakers, and greater national and international influence for the university.”

The goal of the center will be to enhance the stature and impact of the social sciences at Cornell by facilitating collaborations in key areas that build on Cornell’s strengths and by providing infrastructure to support them. It will be supervised by Emmanuel Giannelis, vice provost for research and vice president for technology transfer, intellectual property and research policy.

The administration has committed to making significant investments in the center, which will retain popular Institute for the Social Sciences programs such as the faculty fellows and small grants programs, Giannelis said.

“A new, coordinated research center will bolster the impact of social science programs at Cornell,” he said. “Our goal is to facilitate increased collaborations across the disciplines and colleges, provide enhanced research infrastructure, and support future opportunities for research and growth.”

The center will not oversee the existing topical social sciences centers in the colleges, although it will allow them opportunities to affiliate should they choose. It will oversee the Institute for the Social Sciences, the Cornell Survey Research Institute, the Roper Center for Public Opinion Researchand other core data resources, Giannelis said.

The implementation committee working on the integrative public policy structure and the superdepartments will be led by Melissa Ferguson, senior associate dean of social sciences and professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences; Christopher Wildeman, associate vice provost for the social sciences and professor of policy analysis and management in the College of Human Ecology; and John Siliciano, deputy provost. The committee will be made up of faculty members who will be named in the coming weeks, and it will receive input from faculty, staff, students and alumni via listening sessions. Recommendations will be presented to Kotlikoff and President Martha E. Pollack by the end of 2019.

“The goal is to enhance Cornell’s reputation in public policy and develop avenues for connecting disciplinary excellence across colleges,” Ferguson said. “This is going to be a deliberative, thoughtful process where multiple options are considered.”

Regarding the integrative public policy structure, Wildeman said excellence in public policy is at the core of Cornell’s land-grant mission. Cornell has the faculty expertise to become a world leader in policy, but that expertise is currently dispersed, making curricular coordination difficult and international visibility more limited than it should be, he said.

“By bringing policy scholars together in a new collaborative structure,” Wildeman said, “we can realize Cornell’s enormous potential, and maximize the prominence, stature and influence of policy scholarship at Cornell.”

Regarding superdepartments, Ferguson said the visibility, excellence and impact of Cornell’s world-class social scientists may be limited by their current organization in unconnected units and departments across campus.

“Scholarship, education and outreach seem more likely to thrive when scholars see each other and interact regularly,” she said. “The best way to make this happen is to build a cohesive community in which scholars have common goals and frequent interactions, enabling more cross-cutting scholarship, pedagogy and outreach.”

“Cornell has excelled at creating solutions that bring faculty together across administrative units and disciplinary boundaries,” Kotlikoff said. “With our extraordinary intellectual breadth and prominent mission of engagement, I am confident that we can position Cornell as the leader in key areas of social science research that address society’s most complex and critical problems.”

This article also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

Melissa Ferguson and Christopher Wildeman