Nov. 6, 2009

Provost releases strategic planning task force reports

Provost Kent Fuchs issued the following message to the Cornell community Nov. 6:

This past spring, as part of the University's strategic planning efforts, we created 20 task forces to think deeply and creatively on how to reduce costs and enhance the University's academic excellence. These included task forces within each college, along with ones covering the Library, the Graduate School, Student and Academic Services, student enrollment and several cross-cutting areas. The membership of these task forces broadly reflected the faculty and other relevant constituents. The membership and charge for each of the task forces is available on the University strategic planning web site.

The task force reports were submitted to the Provost office in October. They have been reviewed and discussed, on a preliminary basis, by deans, senior administrators, President Skorton and myself. Now, as we consider what actions we might decide to take, I want to continue the conversations that began within each task force by making the substance of these reports available more broadly to the Cornell community.

Summaries of the 20 reports are available electronically. The full, broader reports are available for review (9 a.m. to 3 p.m.) in the Dean of Faculty office, 315 Day Hall. The reports were written with the understanding that they would have limited distribution, and thus I am requesting that the reports not be duplicated or distributed electronically.

There are several key thoughts to bear in mind as you review the various reports. First, the task forces were asked to do two things. The most pressing undertaking was to explore various means for responding to the budget challenges facing the University. However, the task forces were also asked to look beyond such fiscal considerations to help reimagine, on a broad and fundamental level, what Cornell should strive to become in the years that lie ahead. In these reports, you will see both efforts. Some proposals are directed to the imperative the University faces to function effectively in an era of reduced resources. Other proposals, however, suggest ways in which our efforts can be refocused to enhance our core academic priorities.

Second, although all task forces were charged with responding to the dual challenges just noted, the units were left with considerable discretion as to structure, membership and internal processes of their task forces. The resulting variance is evident in the reports. Some reports, for example, reflect the strong participation of the unit's leadership in shaping options and recommendations. Other task forces operated more autonomously, and hence their reports do not necessarily reflect the views or conclusions of those ultimately charged with making decisions on such recommendations.

Third, the issues discussed in the reports vary widely -- from broad university-level subjects to much more single school-specific ideas. The location of any given proposal on this spectrum will be a key factor in defining the appropriate scope and location of the conversation going forward. Those ideas that have a broad impact on multiple units or on general aspects of our academic mission will necessarily invite, and indeed require, a dialogue at a commensurate level. Proceeding down the spectrum one sees proposals that should be resolved internally at the appropriate unit level. In short, the mere inclusion of an idea or suggestion in a report does not necessarily mean that discussion should occur at the university level or that decisions should be made by the central administration. It is important to identify the proper locus for discussion and decision making for each specific idea or recommendation.

I have decided that the Provost's Office should manage the discussion regarding six of the reports, due to their broad university level issues. They are: (1) Student Enrollment, (2) Libraries, (3) Social Sciences, (4) Management Sciences, (5) Life Sciences, and (6) Budget Model.

I invite all members of the Cornell community to participate with me in public discussions on these six reports, as follows:

The panels will provide an opportunity for clarification of ideas presented in the six reports as well as a forum for providing input. In addition, your input on the content of these reports may be sent to me directly at provost@cornell.edu or more broadly to the strategic planning mailbox reimaginingcornell@cornell.edu. The relevant deans and unit leaders will organize opportunities for discussion and input on the other fourteen unit-level reports. The schedule for discussion of those reports will be posted as they are developed on the web site: http://www.cornell.edu/reimagining. Input on these unit-specific task force reports should be sent directly to the leader of the unit but you are free to also copy me if it is appropriate.

We expect that some decisions on the recommendations from the reports will be made in December. Other recommendations may require additional discussion, which we will resume with the start of the spring semester.

In addition to the 20 task force reports, I want to acknowledge the other two components of our planning. Our work to significantly reduce the cost of administrative operations by at least $90 million has completed its diagnostic phase, and we are about to begin work on implementation (see Cornell Chronicle story). We have also launched a process to create a strategic plan document that will provide a roadmap for advancing the institution and achieving our longer-term aspirations for Cornell (see Cornell Chronicle story).

The savings we are working to achieve in administrative operations combined with the important and innovative ideas from these 20 task force reports and the final strategic plan document will enable Cornell to address both the present economic challenges as well as to achieve our dreams for the future. I welcome your participation and input.