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CSAP SPECIAL EVENT
Higher education is under attack. The growing chorus of criticism includes concerns about free speech, a lack of ideological diversity, admissions approaches that favor certain specified social categories, the rampant rise in tuition and costs, and research programs that appear to be out of touch with the concerns and interests of the broader public. Part of the explanation for the rising levels of distrust of higher education lies in the growing rates of social polarization in American society. We are a nation divided by geography, income, race, religion and political allegiances. Like other public institutions in American life, higher education is viewed through an increasingly partisan lens that casts elite colleges and universities as being on the side of cosmopolitan, liberal, urban, professional elites and allied interests. Elite institutions are not only subject to the forces of social polarization, they also contribute to them. Understanding the relationship between social polarization and higher education is important not only to the future well being of colleges and universities, but also to the ongoing contributions that this sector makes to American democracy.
Gretchen Ritter ‘83 joined Cornell in August 2013 as the Harold Tanner Dean of Arts and Sciences and professor of government. A third-generation Cornellian, she is the College’s first female dean. She previously served as vice provost and professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin. She has also taught at MIT, Princeton and Harvard.
Dean Ritter received her B.A. in government from Cornell and a Ph.D. in political science from MIT. She has written numerous articles and essays, authored “The Constitution as Social Design: Gender and Civic Membership in the American Constitutional Order” and “Goldbugs and Greenbacks: The Antimonopoly Tradition and the Politics of Finance in America, 1865–1896,” and co-edited “Democratization in America: A Comparative and Historical Perspective.”
In recent years, her research has taken two tracks. She continues her work on the history of women’s Constitutional rights as well as studies on contemporary issues concerning democracy and citizenship in American politics. In the context of her administrative roles at UT Austin and Cornell, Dean Ritter has contributed to research on efforts to reduce college achievement gaps that include intervention strategies and the exploration of new learning models in higher education.
At Cornell, Dean Ritter has emphasized a renewed commitment to undergraduate education that embraces engaged learning models and incorporates emerging technologies and experiential learning. Large-scale course redesign efforts are already underway in physics and biology. She has also prioritized efforts to improve both external and internal communications, and she has overseen the most successful annual fund in the history of the College of Arts & Sciences.
She is the recipient of several fellowships and awards, including a National Endowment for Humanities Fellowship, the Radcliffe Research Partnership Award, a Liberal Arts Fellowship at Harvard Law School and an Outstanding Administrators Award from the Academic Counselors Association.
universities as being on the side of cosmopolitan, liberal, urban, professional elites and allied interests. Elite institutions are not only subject to the forces of social polarization, they also contribute to them. Understanding the relationship between social polarization and higher education is important not only to the future well being of colleges and universities, but also to the ongoing contributions that this sector makes to American democracy.