January 29, 2016

Influential Donors Feeney ’56, Dyson ’65 Sound Off on Business College

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“I have always supported a strong and independent Hotel School with an equally strong and independent Dean at its helm,” wrote influential alumnus and top donor Charles Feeney ’56 in a letter to the Board of Trustees and President Elizabeth Garrett Thursday.

Both prominent alumni Feeney and John Dyson ’65 wrote letters to the Board of Trustees prior to the Saturday vote approving the proposed College of Business.

In a letter sent out to the Cornell community Saturday, Garrett described the purpose of the Board of Trustees decision for the merger.

“Today’s action by the Board of Trustees marks the beginning of an inclusive and crucial process that will more fully define the details of how the College of Business will be structured,” she said.

Feeney, a prominent Cornell alumnus and the University’s biggest donor, is the founding chairman of the nonprofit organization The Atlantic Philanthropies. Since 1982, Feeney’s gifts and commitments to Cornell through Atlantic, originally made anonymously, have totaled nearly $1 billion, according to the University.

In his letter to administrators, Feeney expressed his “deep concern” about the College of Business, which the Board of Trustees later approved on Saturday.

Feeney concluded that after noting the many negative reactions to the proposed new school — including votes by the University Assembly, Student Assembly and Faculty Senate to table plans for the school — the merger is not “appropriate at this time.”

“I don’t believe a decision on the merger is appropriate at this time unless and until additional study of the potential outcomes have been carefully reviewed,” Feeney wrote.

Feeney was only one of many dissenting alumni voices who called to halt plans for the new college’s development before its approval on Saturday. Many alumni have threatened to pull endowment funding to the University if the plans proceeded unchecked.

Dyson, the primary donor to the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management program, also expressed his concern in a letter to a member of the Board of Trustees.

“It defies logic and common sense to assert that the University [bylaws] should be changed before the merits of the proposal are fully vetted by all affected constituencies, including the affected schools, departments, faculty, employees, alumni and students,” Dyson said.

Because of his concerns, Dyson said he and his brother have been communicating with the school to arrange an agreement that keeps the school’s mission intact.

“I should note that the Provost and the Dean of CALS have reached agreement with me … that protects the essential features and mission of the Dyson School and CALS itself, should this bylaw change be adopted by the Board of Trustees,” Dyson wrote.

There has also been opposition to the creation of the College of Business in the form of a Facebook page entitled, “Keep Cornell Hotel School Independent,” which now has garnered almost 1,000 likes. The page promoted a petition urging the Board of Trustees to table their vote on the proposed merger.

Here is Feeney’s complete letter:

Dear President Garrett and members of the Board of Trustees,

My education experience at Cornell changed my life and contributed to my personal success. My first philanthropic grants were to Cornell, and my loyalty never wavered.

The School of hotel Administration has a special place in my heart and I am proud to be a part of a loyal alumni base that has always supported its Deans, Faculty, Staff, and Students in their pursuit of excellence.

Therefore, it is with deep concern that I have followed the overwhelmingly negative reactions to the proposed merger of the SHA into a new College of Business. I have always supported a strong and independent Hotel School with an equally strong and independent Dean at its helm.

I don’t believe a decision on the merger is appropriate at this time unless and until additional study of the potential outcomes have been carefully reviewed.


Charles “Chuck” Feeney


Here is Dyson’s complete letter:

Dear Trustee Pillsbury,

As a Trustee of 25 years active service, I was dismayed to learn by your e-mail that the Administration claims that it is “legally obligated to secure the approval of the Board of Trustees” to amend the University Bylaws to create the new College of Business before “BEGIN[NING] the design and implementation discussions,” and that this “necessity” somehow “delayed the open dialogue.” It defies logic and common sense to assert that the University By-Laws should be changed before the merits of the proposal are fully vetted by all affected constituencies, including the affected Schools, Departments, Faculty, Employees, Alumni and Students.

Nor do the By-laws require (much less contemplate) such a cart-before-the-horse approach. To the contrary, the Committee on Academic Affairs is charged with the responsibility “to advise the Board on educational policy and the academic programs of the University, . . . keep[] the Board informed and advised concerning the educational implications of . . . [r]ecommendations for establishing new programs and degrees, . . . [and] consider[] the role and responsibility of the University as the land grant institution for the State of New York.” Of course Dyson School as part of CALS serves this land grant role. Alternatively, a special committee could have been tasked with this consultation and careful study by the Board before recommending the amendment to the By-Laws.

Similarly, the University Faculty is charged with considering “questions of educational policy which concern more than one college, school or separate academic unit”; the University Faculty, colleges and school faculties also have “the right to present [their] views directly to the Board concerning any question which may arise.” Clearly, before a vote to amend the By-laws to create a new College incorporating three different schools is put to the Trustees, they should have the benefit of input from the Committee on Academic Affairs, the Faculty, and other affected constituencies.

This said, I should note that the Provost and the Dean of CALS have reached agreement with me on a Memorandum of Understanding that confirms the University’s commitments in the Letter Agreement with my brother Peter and me and that protects the essential features and mission of the Dyson School and CALS itself, should this by-law change be adopted by the Board of Trustees.

Yours truly,

John S. Dyson

  • Cornell Alumnus

    And I thought the era of arrogant, autocratic governance might be over. To paraphrase a saying, don’t love Cornell because it won’t love you back.

  • Thanks for sharing such a pleasant idea, article is pleasant, thats why i have read it entirely

  • Owen Snyder

    Agree wholeheartedly with Chuck Feeney.


  • Kevin

    Hotelie class of ’15 here. Contrary to this letter I think this move is a great move. It will help strengthen Cornell’s business programs as a whole including the hotel administration program and will help Cornell’s global and Ivy League image. I have not seen a single reason that people actually oppose it beyond simple nostalgia. I too loved going to Cornell for Hotel Administration and I still don’t see why this is a bad move.

  • J L Jacobson SHA’76

    The email distributed earlier today clearly shows the decision to move forward on the College of Business had already been made.’ and, the new Garrett administration has little, if any regard, for what alumni, students or faculty had been voicing. Today was a dark day for Cornell University. If I was Chuck Feeney, I would ask for my $1 BILLION to be returned.

  • Old Alum

    I think it is more that $1B. How could the administration not seriously consult the man who has made so much possible for Cornell (including the Tech Campus)? The new administration is enormously out-of-touch. What message does this send to the ultra high net worth donors that Cornell courts? Also, Feeney holds the title of “Presidential Counselor.” There is no living alum who has done more for Cornell than this man. Clearly there is a big problem in Day Hall.

  • hotelie grad 1979

    Well this person was a hotelie like me and a very successful entrepreneur and his giving to date represent around 17 percent of the total endowment. I would think the administration would open a dialogue w alumni for their thoughts especially if he and many other hotelies might change their contribution levels going foward

  • William West

    I just read this news while I am spending the night at what is most assuredly the worst Motel 6 on the planet. If my demise comes not from the untold germs living in the filth of this place, I fear that my life will be taken by one of the many seedy characters lurking in the parking lot. How wretched havens of squalor and debauchery like this continue to exist is well beyond my comprehension. Regardless of what is decided about the future of the Hotel School, I pray that Cornell continues to serve as a beacon of light to all the hospitality industry for ages to come.

  • John Leon, Hotel 71′

    As a Cornell Hotellie undergrad and a Hotel, Restaurant and Instutional Mgmt (HRIM) MBA graduate of Michigan State University I know from first hand experience what happens when schools are combined. In the case of MSU, in the mid 80’s the Dean of the College of Business redirected funds from the HRIM program including financial gifts and shared them with other Schools/Depts. within the Business College that had trobuble obtaining funds. This was done behind close dorrs and only until a whistle-blower made noise and the HRIM Alumni raised their voices did this stop, but a large amount of dollars were lost by the HRIM program up to that point in time. The Head of the HRIM program was forced to resign since he raised hell over this issue. I can see this happening at Cornell. This is just additional overbearance/control and micro management by the University. The University can forget about any future contributions from me!

  • Concerned alumni

    Seems ironic to me that a College of Business is disregarding the first rule of business – get the input and buy-in of your most influential shareholders. Mr. Feeney will be be the Carl Icahn of Cornell Alumni. Ms. Garrett should perhaps take some business classes herself.

  • Cornell Alum ’93

    He gave the money. Unless there were strings attached (and there might be), the university is free to do what they see fit with it and he is welcome to stop giving in the future. Likewise, if this ends up being a good thing, there could become several future donors who end up gifting way more, alone or collectively, than this one donor. No disrespect to this donor mentioned above. His generosity has been tremendous and we should all be grateful. But once the gift was made, unless there are strings attached (and there might be, I don’t know), the gift is complete and the receiver free to do as they see fit (though presumably with the receiver doing what they deem to be in the best interest of the organization). That’s implicit in the word “donation.” Don’t like it… then don’t donate.

    • Cornell Hotelie ’54

      Lots of us are planning not to.

      • Cornell Alum ’93

        @Cornell Hotelie ’54… I mean no disrespect in my comment but… If you’re class of 1954, that means you graduated over 61 years ago. If you were about 22 years old in 1954, then you must be about 83 years old now (give or take a year). If the current (2016) administration, based on real/current data that they deal with daily, thinks this is the right move for Cornell for future Cornellians, including people not even born yet… why so much animosity at age 83? What makes you think, so many years detached from having been a student at Cornell, that you know better than the administrators who are and have been there at the front lines day in and day out, now in 2016 and over the past several (and recent!) years. My time as a student at Cornell is long past. Your time as a student at Cornell is even longer past. It’s time to let the new generation do what they think is best for the next generation and generations beyond. Close up your wallet if you like. But, I think the animosity from anyone who has already graduated from Cornell is really not necessary. I love Cornell. I visit the campus at least once per year. My children love Ithaca and Cornell too. From year to year, we see tons of change. And, I trust that the change is overwhelmingly usually for the better.

  • Tangent

    Does any body know what this $1B donation paid for?

  • Cornell Hotelie ’54

    The tech campus in NYC. And I’m hoping that’s Chuck’s last donation to Cornell.

  • Trustee Watcher

    Wow — There’s a lot of misinformation and incomplete information out there in these comments. Let me try to round out the picture:

    (1) “Old Alum” commenting that the new Administration is “seriously out of touch.” Apparently, you expect a new management team to come in and automatically understand the enormous complexity of the University overnight. It literally takes years. There are a tremendous number of moving parts to this complicated machinery we call Cornell. There are few people on the 3rd floor of Day Hall today that have held their positions for more than 2 years — the CFO is one — and the University Counsel just announced is upcoming retirement (although his office is no longer in Day Hall).

    (2) Chuck Feeney is sadly not in great health — so the use/appropriateness of his name on this letter is being questioned. That being said, at the Board of Trustees meeting last Saturday in New York City, the President specifically said that she spoke with Mr. Feeney, his wife, and his daughter in the past week.

    (3) Here is a profile on Mr. Feeney: http://ezramagazine.cornell.edu/FALL14/cover.html

    (4) To John Leon ’71: The schools are not being combined. This is misinformation. They are not being merged either. A translucent shell (“an empty vessel” are the exact words used) is being created around the three schools and to the extent that anything substantive happens within the shell will be determined by proposals made by recently-formed student, faculty, and alumni committees. I think you can expect in the long-run that efficiencies will be found in such areas as information technologies, building management/maintenance, and human resources; but Admissions will be kept separate from each college AND everyone was crystal clear at last Saturday’s Trustee meeting that endowments unique to each school would not be touched.

  • Old Alum

    These are senior and seasoned academic administrators, and this was not a subtle decision. They have been on campus long enough to understand that the loyalty and good will of alumni/ae has been a significant factor in the university’s growth and improvement. Also, they are highly trained and educated professionals. The idea that there are substantial savings of administrative costs and economies of scale created by this combination is extremely difficult to believe, and it would be interesting to see the numbers that were discussed. For various alums of these three business-related schools, this particular business argument was difficult to understand.

    • Trustee Watcher

      I generally agree with ‘Old Alum’ above. In my earlier reply, I pointed some back office areas where cost efficiencies could be achieved in the medium-term. No financial data was discussed at the Trustee meetings; this appears to be mostly a strategic issue.

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