The dean and public face of Cornell University’s business college since its launch, Soumitra Dutta, abruptly resigned on Tuesday, and neither the University nor Dutta have offered any reason for his hasty departure.
Provost Michael Kotlikoff said in an email to business college students and employees that he had accepted Dutta’s resignation, effective immediately. Kotlikoff gave no reason for the sudden resignation of the business college’s first ever dean. A University spokesman, John Carberry, would not elaborate except to say that Cornell “does not comment on private personnel matters.”
Dutta did not respond to an email, and his wife declined to comment at the front door of the couple’s Cayuga Heights home on Tuesday evening.
“I’m sorry but we cannot say anything,” Dutta’s wife, Lourdes Casanova, a senior lecturer at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, told The Sun around 7 p.m.
L. Joseph Thomas, dean of the SC Johnson Graduate School from 2007 to 2012, will take over Dutta’s role on an interim basis as Cornell searches for a permanent dean, Kotlikoff said.
Dutta, 54, had given no indication that he was planning to resign from his role as dean of the SC Johnson College of Business, which since July of 2016 has housed the School of Hotel Administration, the Johnson Graduate School of Management and the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. He oversaw about 200 faculty members and 3,100 students in the position.
Dutta is listed as a keynote speaker for an information technology conference in India in February, and in an interview with Cornell’s official media service in July, spoke of his goals for the year ahead and mentioned a seminar he was putting together for 2018.
“We still have a lot more that we can do together, in all three schools combined,” he said at the time, adding that there “is a lot more to be done, but it’s all exciting, good stuff.”
As of Wednesday morning, the reason for Dutta’s unexpected exit remained a closely-guarded secret.
Kotlikoff’s curt announcement will be “the only statement on the transition and no further comment will be coming,” one alumni official said in an email to colleagues.
“Staff should not comment or speculate beyond the statement below,” Joe Lyons ’98, executive director of leadership gifts, communications and donor engagement, said in the email.
Kotlikoff said he is looking forward to working with Interim Dean Thomas and members of the college to “build upon the college’s many accomplishments to date to the ongoing benefit of current and future students and the college’s business partners around the world.”
The business college “has achieved so much in the past year,” Kotlikoff said, “and I am confident that it will continue to thrive.”
Born in India, Dutta graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi in 1985. He studied artificial intelligence at UC Berkeley, where he earned a Ph.D. in computer science in 1990, according to his curriculum vitae, which was posted on a Cornell website until Cornell removed his profile on Tuesday.
Cornell hired Dutta in 2012 to lead the Johnson Graduate School as its 11th dean, and then-president David Skorton said at the time that Dutta was a “natural fit” with expertise in emerging media and “extensive experience on the international stage.”
When Cornell sparked controversy in December of 2015 by proposing that three schools be merged under one business college, Kotlikoff said Dutta would be its founding dean, naming him as the leader of an institution that many said they did not want to exist.
After months of student and faculty unrest, Dutta sought to quell concerns in 2016 in what the Financial Times called a “charm offensive.” Dutta argued that merging the three schools would boost each of their national rankings and allow for students to enroll in a broader range of courses, and he maintained that he would protect each school’s unique identity.
Dutta largely worked from behind the scenes to persuade students and alumni, but last year’s $150 million donation from H. Fisk Johnson ’79 — the largest Cornell’s Ithaca campus had ever received — made a splash and brought support for the merged programs as it also attached Johnson’s name to the college.
At the time, Dutta said Johnson’s “extraordinary gift” would expand the college’s learning and research opportunities and “support our mission to realize the full potential of Cornell’s business programs.”
While at Cornell, Dutta also oversaw the Cornell Tech MBA program at Cornell’s campus on Roosevelt Island, which enrolled 53 students in the Class of 2017.
Dutta is widely published — his CV is 30 pages long — and he has held many jobs in multiple countries over more than three decades while remaining on dozens of boards.
From 1989 to 2012, he served as an administrator and professor in various roles at INSEAD in France, a leading international business school that also has campuses in the United Arab Emirates and Singapore. He also worked briefly as a visiting researcher at General Electric in Schenectady in 1990.
Dutta also says on his CV, which most recently updated this month, that he has been invited to attend the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, for more than 10 years. He co-edits a frequently-cited innovation report each year and serves on the boards of Sodexo, Dassault Systemes and Tower Learning Solutions, which is a subsidiary of Cornell.
Dutta has received $1.65 million in research grants and gifts since 2012, according to the CV, and is currently chair of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, which says on its website that it is the world’s largest business education alliance.