April 14, 2011

Provost gives Faculty Senate wide-ranging report on issues from budget to buildings

At its monthly meeting April 13, the Faculty Senate was given a progress report by Provost Kent Fuchs on a range of campus issues, from reaccreditation to the coming year's budget and the future of the Africana Studies and Research Center.

Speaking for about 45 minutes, Fuchs opened with news about the university's bid for reaccreditation. A recent visit by a team of peer evaluators was "phenomenally successful," he said.

There was also good news on the budget front. Two years ago, the university was faced with a structural deficit projected to grow to nearly $215 million by 2015 if the administration took no action. That structural deficit, he reported, will be nearly erased in fiscal 2012, beginning July 1. Fuchs also expressed concerns about the reductions in New York state funding and the General Purpose budget deficit.

He noted that work continues on the academic task forces he created in 2009 as part of the "reimagining Cornell" planning initiative. Progress is being made on the new budget model, and the Cornell Library has implemented many of its task force's decisions. Faculty and deans have made excellent progress with planning enhancements to economics and management sciences departments.

Fuchs also reported progress on implementation of the university's strategic plan and its seven initiatives. One of these, the Faculty Renewal Fund, is helping support searches for 115 new hires this year, compared with an average of 75 a year over the last decade, he said. Other initiatives include identification of and support for those departments, among them economics and Africana studies, close to being ranked among the world's top five.

Fuchs said he will continue to take input until June 1 on his two decisions regarding the Africana Studies and Research Center. In December he announced he would transfer administrative and academic oversight of the center from his office to the College of Arts and Sciences, effective July 1. He also announced in March that he would increase the investment in Africana studies by more than 50 percent over the next five years, to $3.5 million from $2.3 million, and would provide a one-time infusion of $2 million to recruit new faculty, support research and develop a new Ph.D. program. "I'm open, willing, to take input about either of those decisions," Fuchs said.

Fuchs also described the major academic facilities projects that are under way and being considered, including Gates Hall, Stocking Hall and Warren Hall.

New York City has become a critical part of Cornell's future, he said, particularly in light of the university's recent bid to create a new applied sciences and engineering research center and campus there.

In summary, he said the university has made significant progress during the past two years in addressing daunting challenges.

"I'm really optimistic," Fuchs said. "I look forward to working with you, your department chairs, the deans and the rest of the leadership as we finish off the hard work we have to do to look forward to exciting new initiatives."