Cornell Students, Faculty, and Alumni Outraged by… Proposed College of Business

Alumni threaten to pull donations because of administrative reorganization, not because of Constitution shredding

From the "Keep Cornell Hotel School Independent" Facebook page

Of all the things, the collective ire of Cornell students, faculty, and the all-important alumni-donor base has zeroed in on University President Elizabeth Garrett’s proposal of a new College of Business.

According to a announcement sent out by Provost Michael Kotlikoff in early December, the College of Business would be an administrative unit comprised of a merger of the already-existing Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, the School of Hotel Administration, and the Johnson Graduate School of Management. Its formation would require a vote of approval by Cornell’s Board of Trustees, who are set to vote next week.

“Each school will maintain its unique identity and mission, while its already strong stature, scope and impact will be markedly enhanced by its combination with faculty, curricular offerings and programs in a cohesive College of Business,” Joel Malina, vice president for university relations, said in a statement.

Kotlikoff outlined other benefits of the new College of Business: cross-disciplinary learning and collaboration among students and faculty, more effective administrative and academic structures, and a “stronger and unified center” to enhance corporate recruiting.

Though the announcement came in the midst of finals testing last semester, many students, faculty, and alumni were quick to voice their opposition. The Cornell Sun reported that just two days after the announcement, the Faculty Senate unanimously passed a resolution asking the Board of Trustees the table the proposal. On Tuesday the University Assembly (UA) passed a similar resolution. On Facebook, alumni and students created a page called “Keep Cornell Hotel School Independent”.

The opposition quickly morphed into outrage, as the Sun reported on Sunday that many alumni, most seeming to be of the Hotel School, were threatening to decrease or even pull all donations to the University because of the proposed College of Business.

One alum, Erick Hansen ’71, who with his wife endowed a scholarship at the Hotel School in 1994, told the Sun he would write Cornell out of his will should the College of Business be approved. The Sun reported the amount of his gift would be in the realm of eight-figures and would go toward scholarships.

Most of the opposition is coming from Hotel School students and alumni, who seem to fear a loss of the special, hospitality industry-specific focus of the school should it come under the purview of a more generic business school.

The proposal is also being criticized for its lack of operational details, with Garrett and the administration saying these details would only be hashed out after the Board of Trustees votes to approve.

However, the harshest criticism has come down on the administration for the timing and manner of the original announcement on Dec. 14. The announcement, in the form of a university-wide email, came in the midst of finals week and without any prior input from student, faculty, or alumni groups. Alumni seemed especially miffed, with one recent alum telling the Sun there were “no courtesy calls” ahead of the announcement.

Gabriel Kaufman ’17, student representative on the UA, told the Sun, “The only time intervening between the announcement of the proposed college in December and and the expected approval of the Board of Trustees this upcoming weekend was during winter break, which is not exactly a conducive time to solicit input from students.”

The lack of operational details (or at least, lack of public operational details) is concerning, as there is a world of difference between an idea that seems good and one that is achievable and turns out good. Surely though, Garrett and Co. must have something to present to the Board of Trustees next week to gain their approval.

Whatever the case, the lack of transparency behind the announcement and its the proposal’s drafting has deeply upset many of those in the Cornell community. And if we’ve learned anything lately, “transparency” has become a buzzword since the student health fee debacle of last spring semester; closely aligned is the buzz-phrase “restoring confidence in the shared-governance system” (confidence as of late has hovered at around 0%).

The most striking aspect of this entire story, which will surely continue to develop next week with more and more melodrama, is that of all the things that have happened at Cornell recently—just this past fall semester—it is this, the proposed College of Business, that has alarmed and infuriated the alumni-donor to such an extent they are now threatening to pull donations to the University.

The point here is not to say the perturbed alumni should not pull their donations—they are free to do with their money as they so see fit. The point is to call into question why this particular issue has roused their spirits to such a degree, and not that Cornell administrators were caught on video shredding the U.S. Constitution because it is “triggering”, Cornell administrators kicked reporters from Fox News off campus despite not doing so toward reporters from any other media outlet, Cornell professors saying hiring Republicans would decrease faculty quality, President Garrett saying government should regulate speech to ‘serve a compelling state interest’, or the ILR School hanging posters depicting the GOP as “Jihadi John”.

There has been a lot more wrong at Cornell lately than the proposed College of Business.

1 Comment on Cornell Students, Faculty, and Alumni Outraged by… Proposed College of Business

  1. David Breznick // January 27, 2016 at 8:59 pm //

    Perhaps the purpose is merely to distract.

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