Alumni are threatening to pull the University’s endowment funding if the Board of Trustees votes to approve the proposed College of Business at the end of this week. (David Navadeh / Sun Staff Photographer)

Alumni are threatening to pull the University’s endowment funding if the Board of Trustees votes to approve the proposed College of Business at the end of this week. (David Navadeh / Sun Staff Photographer)

January 24, 2016

Alumni Threaten to Pull Donations Over Proposed College of Business

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Alumni are threatening to pull the University’s endowment funding if the Board of Trustees votes to approve the proposed College of Business at the end of this week.

Plans for the College of Business — which were announced Dec. 14 — would merge programs from the School of Hotel Administration, the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management and the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management.

“Within the new College of Business, the distinctive nature and excellence of each school, brought together with the other accredited business schools to take advantage of integration for the benefit of students and faculty, will be the defining feature of the business program at Cornell,” President Elizabeth Garrett said in a Dec. 21 statement.

While the administration hopes that the Board of Trustees will decide to formally recognize the new college, many alumni and faculty members have voiced concerns over the proposed college’s funding and structure.

Faculty Senate Votes to Table 

Just two days after the proposed College of Business was first announced, the Faculty Senate unanimously passed a resolution requesting that the Board of Trustees table the proposal.

“Resolved, that the University Trustees table the consideration of the creation of the College of Business until the Faculty Senate can deliberate on the proposal,” the full resolution states.

In a Jan. 4 letter to the Faculty Senate in response to the resolution, President Elizabeth Garrett said the “only pending action” regarding the College of Business is a request for the Board of Trustees to formally recognize a new administrative unit.

“Provost [Michael] Kotlikoff and I determined that it was important first to engage the Board of Trustees on this initial question of organizational structure, and, once that decision is reached, to engage deeply with all the involved constituencies, especially faculty, as key educational decisions are reached collegially,” Garrett wrote.

‘We Don’t Know How the College is Going to Operate Yet’

Although the Board of Trustees will vote on whether to approve the proposed College of Business next week, how the college will function remains largely unknown.

“We don’t know how the college is going to operate yet,” said Prof. Ronald Ehrenberg, industrial and labor relations. “We are led to believe from what the provost said that all arrangements about the college will have to be discussed by the faculty of the three units and some agreement will come.”

The upcoming Board of Trustees vote will concern only whether to create a new administrative unit for the College of Business and does not address how the proposed college would be funded.

As part of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management receives state funding. However, the School of Hotel Administration and Johnson School of Graduate Management are privately funded.

If these different funding sources are all used to fund the College of Business, the deans of each individual program may lose budgetary authority, according to Ehrenberg. Individual programs within the three merged schools may need approval of all three schools to spend reserves or allocate endowments to professors, Ehrenberg said.

Ehrenberg’s concerns about the mixing of state and private funding will become relevant if the Board of Trustees approves the proposition for the College of Business.

“Over the next several months, the deans and directors of the three schools and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences will work with faculty to develop the academic process that will be critical to achieve our aims of faculty integration and individual school identity,” Garrett said.

Many alumni have also expressed a desire to table this issue in order to further develop the details of the new college before its creation is put to a vote by the Board of Trustees.

Funding Questions

Some faculty and alumni are asking to table the proposal in part because there is little information available about how the new college will be funded, including changes to the budgets of the three previously independent programs.

“It appears that [in the new college] the dean of the Hotel School and who will become the dean of the Dyson program are going to lose budgetary authority. Without it, they’re not really in control of their own destiny,” said Erik Hansen ’71, who with his wife Vanessa Hansen endowed a scholarship to the School of Hotel Administration in 1994.

Garrett stressed that the formation of the College of Business would not affect the money alumni provide to each individual school.

“All gifts designated for a particular school, including scholarships, will stay so designated, and future gifts can be similarly designated,” Garrett said.

After expressing his concerns about the proposed College of Business, Hansen received a personal phone call from Garrett. However, Hansen said he does not feel reassured and plans to write Cornell University out of his will altogether if the merger is approved by the Board of Trustees.

“I’m not happy at all,” Hansen said. “If the school ends up no longer an endowed college, than my wife and I plan to take the University out of our will. We’re not going to do anything precipitously here. We want to make sure that our hard work is used in a way that we think is appropriate and will do some good.”

If Hansen does not exclude Cornell from his estate plan, his gift will have accumulated up to an eight-figure dollar amount and would be used to cover scholarships. Hansen has informed the University that he and his wife plan to donate their money elsewhere if the proposed College of Business is approved.

The University declined to comment on alumni’s decisions and threats to retract donations from endowments.

‘There Were No Courtesy Calls’

Hansen is not the only alumni to express surprise and concern about the proposed plans for the College of Business.

“The alumni learned of this when the article came out,” said Ari Cantor ’05, referring to a Dec. 14 story published in The Sun about the College of Business. “There was no pre-announcement. There were no courtesy calls given out.”

Cantor is part of an email chain group that he said began between over 100 alumni from several colleges, including the School of Hotel Administration and the Dyson School. Members span from the Class of 1953 to the Class of 2007.

“When the alumni learned about this, a number called the administration office at Day Hall to get more color on the proposed merger,” Cantor said. “Many of them did not receive a call back or received very limited answers that were vague at best.”

In the chain email, alumni expressed their concerns, including that this merger would end the industry-specific character of the Hotel School.

“As a successful alumnus, what is the impetus for me to recommend this new school to my children when they can choose from hundreds of other business schools like it?” Federico Castellucci III ‘07 commented in the email chain. “The Hotel School has always been known as a unique program that is one of a kind.”

Because the Board of Trustees meeting is closed to the public, alumni have been sending emails to the dean of the Hotel School as well as the office of alumni affairs to express their dissatisfaction, according to Cantor. He and other alumni are hoping this will allow their voices to be heard.

“Why would you combine three schools, and waste time, money, and resources in Ithaca, to boost the performance of one?” Cantor said.

Alumni from the School of Hotel Administration also said they were worried that the Johnson School’s lower ranking — 16th in Bloomberg Business — could bring down the other schools.

“Why not relocate the Johnson School, which is the program that seems to have the lowest ranking of the three, to Manhattan to the new Long Island City Tech Campus?” Cantor said. “It is a hub for finance with Wall Street, biotechnology research with the Weill College, and the tech sector with Google, Pinterest, Facebook, etc. Think of the marketing potential for executive education, working MBA candidates, and the recruitment of faculty.”

Alumni also created a Facebook page called “Keep Cornell Hotel School Independent” on Dec. 17, and it has since garnered over 700 likes. Elaine Liang ’14 used the page to promote a petition created along with other alumni, urging the Board of Trustees to vote down the college. The petition had about 500 signatures.

“The inclusion of SHA in the College of Business is bewildering,” the petition stated. “While SHA markets its curriculum as a business program, all of its core classes have a heavy focus on the hospitality industry. Therefore, it is unclear as to how future generations of students at SHA can benefit from a generic business program offered by the College of Business.”

Garrett and Kotlikoff also addressed some of the alumni and faculty concerns in a Dec. 21 statement.

“We expect that the new College of Business will elevate Cornell as a leading university in the study of business at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and each school will maintain its unique identity and mission,” the statement said.

23 thoughts on “Alumni Threaten to Pull Donations Over Proposed College of Business

  1. I withdraw any future financial support of my beloved Hotel School if it is to be part of the Business Scool. This is a real slap in the face to the hotel and restaurant industries. I will no longer recommend young potential leaders of the hospitality business to Cornell Business Scool.
    What a shameful act led by our new president of the university.

  2. So, can anybody point to one thing the Garrett administration has done properly since she took the helm? It seems as if every major decision is almost strategically bad in terms of timing, messaging, and the decisions themselves. She is either getting horrible advice from Trustees or other CU leadership, or she is plowing forward with her own plans and ignoring the growing fury among faculty, staff, students and alumni….both of which are not encouraging when thinking about where the road ahead will lead us.

  3. Dear concerned SHA Alumni, Faculty, Students and Friends:
    Like many of you I have pondered our university administration’s announcement to merge SHA, the Dyson School and Johnson School into a new College of Business. The outpouring of concern expressed by many stands as strong testimony as to who we are as a community. Throughout recent weeks many have so beautifully described the strength and uniqueness of the CHS community. I will not try to duplicate those sentiments here, but I do want to say that I believe and amplify those sentiments.
    There are many justifiable reasons for concern, both about the merger and the process. Furthermore, it is reasonable for various stakeholders to make those concerns known to the administration. But that being said, it is not our role to manage the university and I hope we do not take an angry mob-like mentality regarding this change.
    I pose to you that President Garrett is an intelligent woman with a strong background in administrative law and change within non-profit organizations. She is surrounded by others who are equally talented. Furthermore, President Garrett and her team are privy to sensitive information that we are not. At some point we need to trust that President Garrett and her team are acting with the best interests of the university in mind – as previously noted they have information that we do not.
    Many of us would have liked to have seen a transparent vetting process rather that the “shock and awe” technique used to announce the administration’s plan for a new College of Business. I suggest that President Garrett and her team have reasons for this approach that will become apparent over time. As someone who has spent much of his career in academia I can say that organizational change in universities tends to move VERY slowly. I have no insider information, so it is inappropriate for me to publicly speculate what the administration’s reasons might be for choosing shock and awe tactics. But, with a little thought most of us can imagine very good reasons to expedite change rather than have it stretch out over years, decades or maybe never.
    Change is necessary, but oftentimes difficult — particularly when there are so many passionate stakeholders. While some might suggest storming the castle walls and impaling President Garrett’s head on a stake, I don’t see how that will make the institution better. At this point we need to make our concerns known, but trust that the administration has the best interests of the SHA and the university in mind. I would like to add that I sincerely hope they also factor in the best interests of the SHA faculty as they move forward. I implore all of us to continue to do what we can to strengthen our community while giving the university administration time to implement their plan.
    ~Bob Nelson ’83

    • When an attempt is made to slip a proposal of this magnitude “under the radar” with an announcement on the last day of classes, it’s pretty hard to trust this administration going forward. They are “privy to sensitive information” the rest of us are not? If this were such a wonderful concept, it could be exposed to daylight without fear of shriveling.

    • Nice whitewashing of the nonsense the Garret administration is doing to Cornell. I have no reason to trust Garrett or any of her flunkies. Trust is EARNED. Name something she’s done to merit the trust needed for something of this magnitude?

      If they wanted this to happen, they shouldn’t have tried to slip it in unnoticed. They should have been transparent from the first step.

      But Garrett didn’t, which make this entire proposal stink like Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos. Then again both of them were/are Trustees of Cornell. Maybe they were her mentors….

  4. The School of Hotel Administration has been an asset to Cornell University and has brought the university universal acclaim throughout the world’s hospitality industry. The alumni of the SHA have been some of the biggest donors to Cornell University. I wonder if SHA alumnus Chuck Feeney would have donated $35o+ million to Cornell if he knew then what the Garrett administration is planning to do?

    Cornell University can put be on your DO NOT CALL list the next time your are looking for donations.

  5. As I’ve told President Garrett in a recent letter, SHA has been styled as a business school with a hospitality focus. It is not, rather SHA is a school of Hospitality leadership. The proposed structure threatens the hotel school’s worldwide reputation of excellence and that focus on building leaders for the industry–one of the largest in the world.

    From my father’s time as a Hotelie to mine, SHA grew its curriculum and produced skilled managers who could function in most any operating business. From my time to my daughter’s class (2017), SHA leaders have allowed the course offerings to weaken. It’s time for SHA to be nurtured and strengthened, which can occur only as a free-standing portion of the university. Let Dysn and Johnson combine and keep SHA out of that combination.

  6. Cornell’s Hotel School has always been the world’s premiere source of hospitality education. Any well-read person has heard of it, whether engaged in or outside of the field. Why bury it from sight within some lusterless “business” school without preeminent students, faculty, alumni and benefactors who wish to see it’s way forward — ever upward?

  7. The manner in which this has been sprung in an apparent attempt to deliver a prefixed solution to support other lower ranked schools of business without consideration of the support and respect given to the Cornell Hotel School both internationally & nationally, will likely now result , if passed as proposed, in the lowering of both expectations of as well as support to CHS by those who provide the impetus, and funding, to its current highest status among our industry’s schools and Worlwide success. Vale CHS, it was more than nice to have known you. AMP ’97, MPS ’86.

  8. Bob Nelson raises the possibility that the administration is privy to some sensitive information that makes the whole thing become logical. Presumably that sensitive information is the desire of some donor to make a major naming gift for the College of Business. Naturally, this donation would have to far exceed the naming donations made by Dyson and Johnson. Perhaps Cornell’s Development office have poached Harvard Medical School’s rumored billion-dollar donor, and we will now have the Trump College of Business.

  9. I, like many other Cornell School of Hotel Administration (SHA) alumni are deeply concerned about the plan to merge the SHA program along with others into a new College of Business.
    First of all: SHA is the premier program for hospitality education nationally and internationally with a world wide reputation for excellence and industry leadership. Linking it to generic business programs of lesser stature in the academic world will only serve to lower hospitality industry expectations and of course SHA’s world wide reputation. SHA is unique in that its curriculum, to include accounting and finance, is specifically geared for the hospitality industry which, of course, is one of the largest industries in the world.
    Secondly: SHA is privately funded mainly from tuition, endowments and donations. I am not a conspiracy person by nature, however, on the surface it appears that the real purpose of the integration is to take advantage of the SHA endowments and donations for other than SHA use. If this is the intent, albeit despicable, it can easily be done by functional realignment of business and financial related courses under other members of the College of Business with the appropriate supporting dollars from SHA.
    Lastly: The timing of the announcement of the plan to combine SHA with other schools under the “College of Business” is suspect to slipping the plan “under the radar” to avoid controversy. Fortunately, the SHA alumni have an excellent communication net.
    In conclusion: The School of Hotel Administration has been an important asset for the hospitality industry and Cornell University. The plan being put forward can have catastrophic consequences to the program and its financial well being if implemented.
    John Ontko
    Cornell University School of Hotel Administration
    Class of 69′

    • It’s beyond arrogant. It’s offensive. And speaks to the lack of planning, and the slapdash way this entire undertaking has been introduced.

  10. ‘We Don’t Know How the College is Going to Operate Yet’

    As an Ivy League educated alumnus, I am forced to conclude the administration is either dealing in half truths or incompetent. Which is it?

    Look, there may be terrific reasons for going down this path. It’s easy to imagine tremendous academic and cost synergies alike, particularly given how small the schools are standing on their own.

    However, this announcement shows little understanding of brand value, and is a public relations nightmare for recruiters and alumni. Certainly the schools could be integrated administratively in some well formed fashion while still maintaining their independent, globally recognized and well storied brands.

    Perhaps the administration would benefit from auditing some of their own marketing, public relations and strategy courses as we alumni did!

  11. While many of these remarks justifiably laud SHA, the Dyson School has become equally impressive. In the few years since its founding, Dyson has achieved remarkable status and recognition as one of the very best undergraduate business education schools in the country. What a shame to take 2 jewels and combine them in any way whatsoever under the umbrella and management of a floundering graduate business school. Dyson and SHA have focus. They have purpose. They have clear missions. They are widely respected. They enjoy enormous support – both emotional and financial. They are each well-managed. Kluging SHA, Dyson, and Johnson will dilute and destroy all of those quailties, subordinating them to something that sounds as if it came from some kind of inept management study that emphasizes organization over impact, design over results. Grade? F

  12. Like the School/College of Architecture! Alumni rose up and the school was saved. My division of science education is gone. Who will train the teachers to teach the best and brightest?
    Rebel to preserve this world renowned school! Otherwise this is the beginning of a slippery slope. I am sad to see everything “money driven”.

  13. Why put two highly respected undergraduate programs under a second tier business school with a dean who has nothing particularly good to say about Cornell or Ithaca? Also, the message released was both insulting and absurd. The Dyson school is an undergraduate business school generally similar to Wharton. It does not have a mainstream agricultural focus anymore. The SHA is at the absolute top of its industry. Johnson is a second tier school with no direction and that seems focused on giving Cornell Degrees away overseas. The trustees are elected by alums. Can they be impeached?

  14. There is a group of foreign incestors with ponzi like intentions, they just want hte school to have their names on them, then they get one in and send 100,000 people because one person left the country and now his family and close friends want to come here and enjoy what he has at the cost of our own professionalism and nationalism. Think twice, they are rolling dice you must not see, because they do not want you to determine what the drivers behind this really are after. Remember a student in Eygpt made one comment and all the renegade students did things with him and his friends, then they ousted the President over a murderous dictator with little or no expereince at anything but terror and killing. When they finished thousand were killed, and now the man has been tried and is to be executed. But what is more threateneing is that the school repretation and affiliations with governmnets are exposed and that makes this espoinage. I suggest you pull out before all your parents property and stocks are stolen and used for the next buildings they wish to build because nobody has the money and they dis-regard the power and sovereignity of New York State. What are they high on spike?

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