With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing, Cornell reopened for the fall 2020 semester with public health as its primary consideration.
After months of planning, including epidemiological studies and development of a high-volume testing lab, the campus reopened with a hybrid approach to a residential semester (with in-person, online, and hybrid teaching modalities), an extensive surveillance testing program, and a revised academic calendar allowing students to return home for Thanksgiving to finish the semester remotely. The reopening plan proved highly successful, thanks to tremendous efforts behind the scenes. Details on campus protocols and current data on COVID testing results on campus can be found at covid.cornell.edu.
Across the disciplines, Cornell supports educational innovations based on a range of new technologies and evidence-based approaches. These initiatives are advancing both undergraduate and graduate education, as well as external education programs.
Our Center for Teaching Innovation supports faculty in exploring and employing new methods and technologies. Through the Active Learning Initiative, we are transforming courses, especially large introductory ones, to give students a more active role in their education, with demonstrable results in greater student engagement and learning. Through Engaged Cornell, we support community-engaged learning—courses in which students collaborate with community groups to address societal issues. We are constantly assessing educational outcomes, notably through the emerging field of Discipline-Based Educational Research, in which faculty analyze teaching and learning from the perspective of an individual field of study.
External education is also a key area of innovation. In 2020 Cornell integrated eCornell, its online learning platform, and other external education programs into a new unit under the provost’s leadership. We are expanding online and blended learning programs, attracting new groups such as lifelong learners, while continuing to provide executive education, professional certificates, and other distance learning opportunities. This new initiative supports faculty in developing learning experiences that broaden the reach of the university to new audiences.
Broad-based Research Collaborations
Cornell addresses challenging large-scale issues through multidisciplinary research, building on the university’s extraordinary breadth of expertise and longstanding culture of collaboration. Much of this work crosses campus boundaries, bringing together researchers from Ithaca, Weill Cornell Medicine, and Cornell Tech to develop new solutions to global problems.
Through the Radical Collaboration initiative, we are recruiting faculty in strategic areas, broadly defined to bridge traditional disciplines as well as our Ithaca and New York City campuses. A notable example is the Cornell Initiative for Digital Agriculture, which addresses crucial global issues of agriculture and food systems by developing digital tools for real-time decision-making.
Other research programs also build on collaborations across the Ithaca and New York City campuses. Through the Friedman Center for Nutrition and Inflammation, for example, researchers from Ithaca and Weill Cornell Medicine study the interactions among diet, the immune system, and the microbiome to better understand the development of disease.
Weill Cornell’s educational programs are matched by its extensive research endeavors, with centers and institutes focused on Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, geriatric psychiatry, computational biomedicine, stem cells, children’s health, and many other areas. Both the Ithaca and Weill Cornell campuses are experiencing significant growth in external research funding, particularly from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (including the National Institutes of Health).
Social Sciences and Public Policy
Aiming to elevate Cornell’s excellence in public policy and foster collaborations among the core social science disciplines, Cornell is implementing several related initiatives that will create new opportunities for students and faculty.
A new cross-college School of Public Policy, scheduled to open in fall 2021, will launch with faculty from the Departments of Policy Analysis and Management (College of Human Ecology) and Government (College of Arts and Sciences), with faculty from other areas to be included later. The school will include the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs’ Master of Public Administration program and will also launch a new Master of Public Policy. Natural areas of strength for the School of Public Policy, building on current faculty expertise, include health policy, international and domestic policy, and sustainability, with a clear mission of public engagement.
Uniting strong programs across our schools and colleges, Cornell is also establishing new cross-college “super-departments” in psychology and sociology. In both cases, participating faculty will be drawn from departments of the Colleges of Arts and Sciences and of Human Ecology, and possibly from other colleges in the future. Further, the super-department in economics will expand to include economists from policy analysis and management.
The School of Public Policy and super-departments will work with the Cornell Center for Social Sciences, which accelerates, enhances, and amplifies social science research at Cornell by supporting grants and fellowships, facilitating collaboration, and providing necessary research infrastructure.
Cornell in New York City
Cornell’s dynamic presence in New York City continues to grow. Cornell Tech, Weill Cornell Medicine, and other programs in the city are flourishing and offer a range of opportunities for Ithaca-based students and faculty.
Cornell Tech, providing world-class research and graduate education on technology and its societal impact, with an emphasis on entrepreneurship, is generating both startup companies and deep technical research and development. The urban location facilitates partnerships with industry, government agencies, and nonprofits, with a focus on societal and economic impact in New York City and well beyond. Cornell Tech’s partnership with the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is manifested in the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute, which hosts the Runway Postdocs program as well as three research hubs and associated degree programs.
Cornell Tech’s new Urban Tech initiative is putting AI, data science, and robotics technologies to work on major urban issues. Public Interest Tech, another new initiative, takes on challenges that are beyond the focus of the commercial world. Cornell Tech partners with local institutions such as Weill Cornell Medicine on its Immersive Health initiative, which seeks to use technology to change our approach to human health, lower health care costs, and increase access. Investments in outreach include partnerships with K-12 public schools and Break Through Tech, a national initiative started in partnership with CUNY, which supports women and other underrepresented groups pursuing tech education and careers.
Campus development is now in phase 2, which by December 2028 is expected to include construction of another academic building, increases in the number of students and faculty, and significant investments in programmatic offerings.
The university’s other major NYC campus, Weill Cornell Medicine, has trained physicians and researchers for well over a century and today offers multiple graduate degrees in addition to the M.D. Its faculty collaborate frequently with Cornell researchers in Ithaca, particularly in the Colleges of Veterinary Medicine and Engineering.
Cornell has also expanded its footprint in NYC with a cross-disciplinary hub for Ithaca and NYC faculty, staff, and students at 51st St. and Lexington Avenue, in the historic GE building. It hosts extensive space for ILR programs, plus several others, including a Human Ecology program for students interested in health careers, the Systems Engineering Program, and the NYC programs of Engaged Cornell.
The New York City campuses and programs contribute to an expanded range of opportunities for faculty and students in Ithaca as well as in the city. For undergraduates, the Milstein Program in Technology and Humanity combines a liberal arts education in Ithaca with summers at Cornell Tech, with exposure to cutting-edge technology and industry. Graduate programs bridging our campuses include the Johnson Cornell Tech MBA; the LLM in Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship; and the Executive MBA/MS in Healthcare Leadership. For students at Weill Cornell Medicine, options for areas of concentration include Healthcare Analytics and Digital and Mobile Health, both involving faculty from Cornell Tech as well as WCM.
A Culture of Belonging
Building on Cornell’s longstanding commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, new initiatives promote a genuine sense of belonging for all members of the Cornell community as well as greater understanding of diversity in an interconnected world.
President Pollack in 2020 announced a range of new initiatives to promote racial justice, including programs to further educate students, faculty, and staff and to support diversity and inclusion on campus. These efforts complement multiple previously launched initiatives designed to shape a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable community and to educate students to understand these dynamics in the larger world.
An example of an ongoing student-focused initiative is the Intergroup Dialogue Project, a required part of first-year orientation that teaches communication and collaboration across social, cultural, and power differences. Resources for faculty include an online course on teaching in a diverse environment, and mandatory bias training for faculty search committees. The Inclusive Excellence Network of programs engages staff in action-oriented discussions, self-reflection, and productive discourse on diversity and inclusion topics. Faculty and staff also have access to colleague network groups for diverse populations, including racial/ethnic minorities, differently abled, young professionals, LGBT, and veterans.
Campus Climate and Core Values
President Pollack has made it a priority to clarify our community’s shared values, protect freedom of speech, and promote vigorous and respectful debate on differing political and social views.
To reaffirm the university’s core values in a contentious era, Cornell’s leadership worked with stakeholders across our campuses to identify and describe those values. The resulting statement of Core Values—purposeful discovery, free and open inquiry and expression, a community of belonging, exploration across boundaries, changing lives through public engagement, and respect for the natural environment—is a foundation for future actions and a guide for decision making.
These values are demonstrated in a number of recent programs and actions. Examples include the Peter ’69 and Marilyn ’69 Coors Conversation Series with Law School faculty, a revised and clarified Consensual Relations Policy governing faculty-student relations, a student-focused conflict resolution program using techniques such as mediation and restorative justice, and extensive reforms to Greek life designed to prevent hazing and other dangerous and unlawful activities. Currently in process is a modernization of the Campus Code of Conduct, with the aim of making it clearer, less punitive, and more educational, and also narrowing its focus to student conduct only.
Cornell’s approach to sustainability is holistic, spanning our campus operations, research, and teaching, and the university is a recognized leader in sustainability among institutions of higher education.
On campus, guided by the Climate Action Plan, the university continues to work toward the goal of carbon neutrality by 2035. Campus sustainability efforts target transportation, buildings, dining, materials management, and other areas, and the campus is a living laboratory in which to study and demonstrate new solutions. In 2020 the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) awarded Cornell its highest sustainability rating, STARS platinum, making Cornell the first Ivy League university, and only the sixth university in the world, to achieve this status. Also in 2020, Cornell instituted a moratorium on new private investments focused on fossil fuels and committed to growing its investments in alternative energy technologies.
Sustainability-related research takes place in every Cornell college, drawing on the university’s strengths in engineering, agriculture, animal science, earth and atmospheric sciences, and many other fields. A recent grant of $7.2 million from the U.S. Department of Energy is funding research into the feasibility of Earth Source Heat, a geothermal system proposed to heat much of our campus. Sustainability is also one of the key areas supported by the provost’s Radical Collaborations initiative, recruiting faculty with broad expertise for interdisciplinary research.
For students, Cornell offers more than 800 courses focused on or related to sustainability, as well as sustainability-related clubs and resources for action.