We begin the academic year with a new vision of our path ahead for the next five years. After a year-long, faculty-led, and broadly consultative effort, "Cornell at Its Sesquicentennial: A Strategic Plan 2010-2015" was adopted by the Board of Trustees in May. The plan "treats Cornell University as a single unit or entity." This vision coincides with my sense that this is the moment for our often disparate centers of excellence to come together as "One Cornell."
Since many of us associate the excellence of Cornell with specific areas of instruction, research, or public engagement, I'd like to elaborate on the rationale for "One Cornell" and what it might mean for our future.
Our aspiration, as stated in the strategic plan, is "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." However, we are faced with continuing financial challenges, the anticipation of substantial retirements from the ranks of faculty and staff, a vastly increased need for student financial aid (exacerbated by the recession), and an increasingly competitive environment for higher education throughout the world. This will require not only continued excellence at the department, college, and program level, but bold institutional initiatives that will allow us to realize the ambitious but achievable aspirations outlined in the strategic plan.
For this reason, the Strategic Planning Advisory Council (comprising eight distinguished faculty members from the Ithaca and Weill Cornell Medical College campuses) has suggested, and the University's leaders as well as the Board of Trustees have agreed, that we should focus on strong (or potentially strong) and strategically important academic programs, and that we should do so selectively within each disciplinary domain: humanities and arts; life sciences and agricultural sciences; physical sciences and engineering; social sciences; and professional schools. We must also promote greater connectivity among colleges, schools, and programs by developing new integrations and productive synergies—with the goal of making academic boundaries at Cornell as permeable as possible.
Wisely, the plan doesn't identify which areas to select, so as not to impinge on the prerogatives, priorities, expertise, and vision of individual faculty, department chairs, program leaders, and deans, but it does point out the need to come together as one community to achieve the goals we set for ourselves.
Our highest overall priority during the next five years is to enhance faculty excellence in anticipation of the substantial number of retirements mentioned above. We have a great opportunity and a great responsibility—with extraordinary talent available at all ranks, and, with many other institutions hiring at greatly reduced rates, the best market for faculty hiring in decades. Acting decisively and wisely now will give us a comparative advantage for generations to come.
During Reunion 2010, I announced the Cornell Faculty Renewal Fund: $100 million over five years to hire additional faculty. We hope that alumni and friends will help us raise half of that amount ($10 million per year or $50 million), and we will match it with another $50 million reallocated from internal sources.
Faculty renewal, combined with robust, need-based undergraduate financial aid, graduate/professional student support, staff excellence, and a diverse university community will allow us to enhance the distinction of Cornell. Financial realities have required difficult adjustments and a reorientation of the way we work and even the work we do, but by implementing our budgetary goals in the broader context of a focused strategic plan, I believe we are on the way to "One Cornell" that is even stronger than its individual parts. As always, I invite your thoughts and conversation as we approach our sesquicentennial.
— President David Skorton
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