Almost 150 hotel students descended on Willard Straight Hall Tuesday evening to voice their concerns about the new College of Business at an open forum led by Provost Michael Kotlikoff.
Many of the students, who first gathered outside Statler Auditorium before walking to the forum, had previously opposed the creation of the business college. However, with the Board of Trustees’ authorization of the new college, some hotel students said they now hoped the hotel school would retain its core elements under a new umbrella college.
“This is not a protest or a march. This is simply a sign of solidarity amongst hotelies moving forward, because the College of Business is already a done deal,” said David Outlaw ’17, one of the organizers of the march. “We want to make sure that the hotel school is taken care of moving forward, that we’re not sacrificing that camaraderie and the close-knit network that we have as hotelies, both as students and alumni alike.”
The group was led out by Colton Haney ’17, one of the event’s organizers, who spoke to the crowd about their goal of showing the administration how much hotel students and alumni valued the school’s distinct character.
“We are here to maintain the integrity of our school regardless of what college you put us in, what group you put us under,” Haney said. “We will always and forever be the School of Hotel Administration.”
After the students entered Willard Straight Hall, Provost Michael Kotlikoff gave a 30 minute presentation on what the new College of Business would look like to the full audience. He tried to alleviate student and alumni concerns by saying that the merged schools would maintain their unique identities.
“Critically, part of this plan is not just to bring [the three schools] together into one college but also to maintain the identity and focus of those schools,” Kotlikoff said. “That’s important because as people hear about this, the first thing they think about is the school’s identity is going away.”
He continued by saying that while many students and alumni called the administration’s actions in creating the College of Business as unilateral, the administration decided that they first needed to “get this rolling” before allowing people to help plan and shape the college.
“That’s a very inclusive community-oriented effort to say let’s engage, let’s solve this problem,” Kotlikoff said in an interview with The Sun after the open forum. “We had to get past this issue of ‘are we going to do it or not’ and that’s what we tried to do and I think that’s very sensitive to the community.”
While many hotel students opposed the integration of the hotel school into the College of Business, Kotlikoff said he had also spoken with many hotel students who were excited by the opportunities that a business school could offer them.
“I’ve heard students who say that they’re deeply engaged in the hospitality industry and they want that hospitality focus, but they also want the most rigorous and advanced business opportunities,” Kotlikoff said. “The ability to access that across this University is an advantage to most students.”
At the forum, Gordon Sander ’72, former artist in residence at Risley Residential College, said the way the administration announced the College of Business revealed a lack of transparency that is reminiscent of Cornell in the 1960s.
“The way that you have gone about this really looks terrible to the outside world and to the larger Cornell community,” he said to administrators present. “Basically it reminds me of the way the administration used to work back in the 1960s when the administration decided for one reason or another that something was good for Cornell, then presented it fait accompli. It reminds me of the worst aspects of the old days.”
Many students also expressed concerns that their voices would not be heard as plans for the College of Business progress.
“Much of the dissent, at least speaking from a hotelie perspective, was the fact that there wasn’t a lot of discussion and it seemed like the student voice was not heard,” Haney said. “How can we ensure the student voice will be heard?”
Kotlikoff responded by highlighting the student committees that will inform the development of the College of Business.
“We have to make sure that these committees operate with transparency to the student bodies from which they come,” he said. “All of this will be an open clear process.”
Many students also voiced concerns that the unique aspects of the individual schools would be compromised with the merger of the School of Hotel Administration, the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management and Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management.
“One of the things that a lot of kids in the agriculture programs are concerned about is that every time there’s a reorganization the [agriculture] part of the [agriculture] school gets smaller,” said Ben Young ’16.
Soumitra Dutta, current dean of the Johnson graduate school and future dean of the College of Business said that its creation was decided with considerations for the future.
“What we strongly believe is that we have to do our best to preserve the strengths [of the individual schools] and at the same time look to the future,” he said. “The College of Business by necessity cannot become generic.”
After the forum, hotel student Ian Kimmel ’16 called Kotlikoff’s message contradictory.
“Essentially all I heard at this meeting was both, ‘We’re doing a new thing and everything’s going to get better,’ and at the same time, ‘Nothing’s going to change,’” Kimmel said. “You can’t do both.”
Although some students said they left the meeting feeling uneasy, Kotlikoff said he believed that the open forum was valuable as the administration provided some information that hadn’t been provided before. While Kotlikoff said he did hear “a lot of fears,” he wanted to assure students and alumni that the administration was working hard to address their concerns.
“The only thing I can say is that everybody understands [those fears] and everybody is focused on those,” Kotlikoff said. “The passion of people for their school is something we also hear from alums and is something we have to preserve and we intend to preserve.”
Still, he added, that he was not surprised by the the reaction students and alumni have had since the announcement of the business college plans.
“There’s a reason why this [College of Business] has been proposed many times and not implemented and that’s because these things are very difficult,” he said. “They’re deeply concerning to people. It’s hard to get people to look forward and not backward and change is difficult.”