Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Sage Hall is home to the SC Johnson Graduate School of Management, one of the three schools that are now part of the SC Johnson College of Business.

January 31, 2018

EDITORIAL | What is Cornell Hiding About its Business Dean’s Departure?

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For two years, all Cornell could talk about was the College of Business.

So why is the administration so tight-lipped following the sudden departure of Soumitra Dutta, the college’s dean, on Tuesday?

Dutta, who had served as the dean and public face of the controversial SC Johnson College of Business since its launch in 2016, resigned yesterday without explanation. A University spokesman declined to comment because Cornell “does not comment on private personnel matters,” and in an email to colleagues, Joe Lyons ’98, executive director of leadership gifts, communications and donor engagement, said that “no further comment will be coming.”

The college Dutta led is integral to the University’s plan for the 21st century, and Cornell’s lack of transparency is unacceptable.

Endowed by the single largest donation to Cornell’s Ithaca campus, housed in the $25-million state-of-the-art Breazzano Family Center, built to catapult the Johnson name into the ranks of Wharton, Sloan, Kellogg and Haas — and yet, not a whisper about why its founding dean has made such an unceremonious exit.

We encourage any administrators, faculty, staff or students with information regarding Dutta’s departure to contact The Sun. Assistant news editor Girisha Arora is reachable at [email protected] and securely on the Signal app at 607-697-3615; city editor Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs is reachable at [email protected] and on WhatsApp and Signal at 315-730-8907.

If the College of Business is to be successful, it must be accountable. Dutta oversaw about 200 faculty members and over 3,000 students, both in Ithaca and at Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island in New York. They deserve to know why he left.

Moreover, Cornell owes answers to the entire faculty, student body, Cornell staff and all others who have been affected by the creation of the College of Business.

The University’s insistence that it uniformly does “not comment on private personnel matters,” and its further plea to staff to refrain from commenting or speculating is confounding.

In previous years, administrators and faculty members have spoken far more extensively on personnel matters; such was the case with the resignation of Prof. Grant Farred, Africana studies and English, from the Africana Studies faculty search committee in 2011; the arrest of a former ILR administrator for the theft of over $360,000 worth of equipment; and the University’s civil suit against former head football coach Richard Kent Austin in 2017.

What spurred today’s ruling of radio silence?

Furthermore, where is Dutta in all of this? Provost Michael Kotlikoff’s brief statement did not include any message from the outgoing dean, and when reached for comment, Dutta’s wife, Prof. Lourdes Casanova, business, told The Sun that she and her husband “cannot say anything.” Students from the College of Business have the right to hear directly and candidly from their (now former) dean.

The College of Business is still in its infancy. Its creation was rife with contention, drawing criticism from faculty, undergraduates, graduate students, alumni and this paper’s editorial page. We had hoped the University had learned from the confusion and frustration it caused two years ago, but Dutta’s departure — and the University’s handling of it — shows that our hope has been misplaced.

If the University wants to regain the trust of its students, faculty, staff, alumni and patrons, it must immediately and comprehensively explain the circumstances of Dutta’s exit. Anything less will not suffice.