“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 Since 1982, Feeney’s gifts and commitments to Cornell through Atlantic, originally made anonymously, have totaled nearly $1 billion, according to the University.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.
John S. Dyson