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End Note

Reimagining CALS: A Plan for Strategic Growth

By Jan Nyrop, Senior Associate Dean and Professor of Entomology; and Barbara Knuth*, (then) Senior Associate Dean, Professor of Natural Resources


In October 2009, the leadership of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences submitted a plan to Provost Kent Fuchs to strategically position the college for future growth and address changes in the sources and levels of revenue. The plan was developed with the assistance of an advisory committee consisting of department chairs, faculty members, administrative staff, and college deans, and was designed to help achieve four broad goals:

  • Align CALS programs and activities to reflect changes in revenue levels and sources;
  • Adapt undergraduate and graduate curricula to be more interdisciplinary, better coordinated, and more responsive to changing student and societal needs;
  • Promote research that is interdisciplinary and integrated from discovery to application, and meets dual objectives of disciplinary excellence and mission-oriented impact; and
  • Refine extension and outreach activities to be most responsive and effective to stakeholders.

Provost Kent Fuchs reviewed the plan in late 2009 and directed the college to proceed with the following elements:

  • Reduce the number of academic departments, beginning with the merger of the four sibling departments in Ithaca and Geneva, to a number comparable to peer colleges;
  • Collaborate with the College of Engineering to recommend a future structure and vision for environmental sciences at Cornell, including careful consideration of departments and programs across the university that focus on environmental issues and the impact of such a reorganization on related departments and schools;
  • Develop the concept of a plant sciences cluster, with the expectation that the college will transition to a simpler and more coherent organization of the plant sciences; and
  • With input from the Provost’s Office, conduct an analysis of the future evolution of the Department of Applied Economics and Management (AEM). When completed, CALS and AEM will participate in a broader university-wide planning effort for management sciences.

The mergers of Ithaca- and Geneva-based departments in horticulture, food science, entomology, and plant pathology and plant-microbe biology are nearing completion. The college leadership is reviewing recommendations regarding the overall programmatic, governance, and structural aspects of the merged departments with the intent to formalize the mergers this July 1.

A committee with representation from CALS, the College of Engineering, and the College of Arts and Sciences is planning for the future of environmental sciences. Goals are to: (1) position Cornell to be a leader in research, teaching, and extension/outreach in the areas of environmental sciences, coupled with natural-human systems problems and understanding of complex environmental systems; (2) improve environmental literacy in Cornell students and society generally; (3) inform policy decisions for addressing environmental issues at multiple spatial and temporal scales; and (4) integrate appropriate programs to achieve these outcomes.

Planning in the plant sciences is underway to promote and maintain the preeminence of the plant sciences at Cornell through coordinated strategic planning, evolution of the undergraduate curriculum, and stronger research and extension collaborations. A committee of CALS faculty members and department chairs is developing recommendations that focus on functional relationships among the plant science departments to: (1) evolve the plant sciences curriculum to improve the visibility and coherence for prospective students, to provide students with a coordinated curriculum that is based on common foundational experiences and specialization as students progress through their educational program, and to deploy teaching and advising resources more wisely; and (2) enable strategic planning across existing departments so that faculty hiring, program support, teaching, and other resource-allocation decisions can be better coordinated.

The Department of Applied Economics and Management is also considering its evolution, paying special attention to the integration of undergraduate business and management education within the foundational areas of food and agricultural economics, environmental and resource economics, international and development economics, and business. A detailed plan for improving the quality and impact of management sciences and business education and scholarship at Cornell will be developed with the Johnson Graduate School of Management and the School of Hotel Administration.

We are confident that strategic change will enable CALS to continue to be the preeminent land grant institution. Changes to the college’s educational, research, and extension programs will allow CALS faculty, students, and staff to effectively develop the knowledge, technology, and human capacity to address the most challenging issues facing society related to the environment, agriculture, food and energy systems, and community and economic development.

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*Barbara Knuth has been named vice provost, effective April 1, and dean of the Cornell Graduate School, effective July 1, 2010.