The Board of Trustees’ decision to approve the controversial College of Business, despite fervid backlash from both alumni benefactors and students, feels rushed given the lack of alumni and student input into the final decision. Following the Board’s approval of the college Saturday, President Elizabeth Garrett and Provost Michael Kotlikoff wrote that the approval of the plans for the College of Business “marks the beginning of an inclusive and crucial process.” The mindset behind this sentiment highlights the precise problem that the University did not start widespread discussion on a major change to the fundamental structure of Cornell until after the decision was approved.
The lead up to the approval of the College of Business stirred a great deal of criticism among many Cornellians due to the surprising nature of the decision to consolidate resources. Following the announcement of the plans for the College of Business during exams period, many expressed legitimate concerns, which were exemplified by a letter penned by megadonor Charles Feeney ’56, which read, “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.” In addition, the administration decided to approve a move for a school — that prides itself on the ideals of shared governance — that the University Assembly, the Student Assembly and the Faculty Senate wanted to table. The decision to hold a forum after approving the college reads like a reactionary move made to roll over the tide of negative press facing the University’s post-announcement, rather than a genuine attempt to listen to the concerns of the community at large.
While Cornell is an institution that ranks in the top 20 beneficiaries of philanthropy in higher education in large part due to generous donations from alumni, the decision to move forward with the plans for the College of Business without community input alienates a significant number of alumni. These benefactors, at the end of the day, are among the most critical reasons Cornell remains one of the top academic institutions of higher education in the world, especially since the University has a much smaller endowment compared to peer institutions. The alienation of notable financial benefactors to the University, as a result, has the potential to significantly affect Cornell’s endowment in the long-term, with many threatening to pull donations from the University. Garrett and Kotlikoff write that the questions and concerns regarding the decision will be “addressed going forward,” when in actuality, they should have already been answered before this decision was made.
Although the decision to move forward with the College of Business is likely finalized, the University should not ignore those seeking more transparency and explanation from the administration. Cornell needs genuine input from its alumni and student base for the College of Business to become a successful venture for our community.