Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Soumitra Dutta’s unexpected resignation from the College of Business, which he led since 2016, has baffled Cornellians as the University refuses to give a reason for the sudden move.

February 2, 2018

Following Unexplained Resignation, Former Business Dean to Stay at Cornell as Professor

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Soumitra Dutta, who resigned suddenly and without explanation this week from his role as dean of Cornell’s SC Johnson College of Business, isn’t going anywhere.

A Cornell official confirmed on Thursday that Dutta will stay at the business college as a full professor of management, even as campus officials refused for a third day to give any reason for Dutta’s abrupt resignation on Tuesday.

“He remains a member of the Johnson School faculty,” Joel Malina, vice president for university relations, said in a statement to The Sun.

Dutta has never taught a course at Cornell, according to the courses of study archive. Cornell hired Dutta in 2012 to lead the SC Johnson Graduate School of Management, which later aligned under the business college umbrella along with the School of Hotel Administration and the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.

A senior vice president for SC Johnson said in a statement to The Sun on Friday morning that H. Fisk Johnson ’79 — the CEO and chairman of SC Johnson who has five degrees from Cornell and whose $150 million donation permanently affixed his name to the business college — had no part in Dutta’s resignation.

“These are University decisions and Fisk was not involved,” Kelly M. Semrau, senior vice president for global corporate affairs, communication and sustainability at SC Johnson, said in a statement.

Dutta’s unexpected resignation from the College of Business, which he led since its opening in July of 2016, has baffled students, faculty, alumni, staff and donors. Cornell employees and alumni have privately aired frustrations regarding the University’s handling of the incident and speculated about what could have led Dutta to resign as dean but remain as a professor.

Many Cornell employees and alumni have refused to speak to The Sun on the record, saying they fear retaliation from the University.

Provost Michael Kotlikoff

Provost Michael Kotlikoff

Provost Michael Kotlikoff, in his email to business college members announcing Dutta’s resignation, referenced “the college’s many accomplishments to date” but did not thank Dutta or acknowledge the founding dean by name except to say that he had offered his resignation.

“The college has achieved so much in the past year, and I am confident that it will continue to thrive,” Kotlikoff said.

Lynn Perry Wooten, dean of the the Dyson School, said in an email to colleagues on Wednesday that she was thankful for the departing dean’s “leadership and the foundation he has helped build for the College,” but did not indicate what had led to his resignation.

Cornell’s confirmation of Dutta’s continuing role at the University comes a day after The Sun reported, citing an alumnus briefed on the conversations, that Dutta had said he expected to remain on the faculty. Dutta’s online business college profile and his LinkedIn account were recently updated to indicate his role as a professor of management in the business college.

Dutta traveled in recent weeks and gave no public indication that he was considering resigning from the dean post. Kotlikoff’s announcement stunned faculty in the business college and even staff in Dutta’s own office.

“It was a surprise to us,” said one woman working in the Statler Hall office.

Dutta met with business leaders on the West Coast in January and provided an update on the College of Business to alumni at Fairmont San Francisco, a luxury hotel, in the evening on Jan. 18. That same day, he ate with Alumni Affairs administrators at the historic Palace Hotel in San Francisco, according to a picture posted on Facebook.

Soumitra Dutta dined with Cornell Alumni Affairs officials at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco on Jan. 18, according to a Facebook post.

Cornell Hotel Society — Northern California Chapter via Facebook

Soumitra Dutta, front right, with Cornell Alumni Affairs officials at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco on Jan. 18, according to a Facebook post.

A week later, on Jan. 25, Dutta represented the College of Business at an event in New York, and he is listed as a keynote speaker at an information technology conference in India, where he was born, in late February.

He told the Cornell Chronicle, which is run by the University, last July that there was “a lot more to be done” within the business college.

Prior to joining Cornell, Dutta served as a professor and in several administrative roles at INSEAD, a leading business school based in France, from 1989 to 2012. He also spent about three months as a visiting researcher at General Electric in Schenectady in 1990, an experience he touted in a video shortly after he was announced as dean of the Johnson Graduate School.

In the spring of 2013, Dutta, then the Johnson Graduate School dean, said in a cover story Q&A with Ezra Magazine, which is run by University Relations, that he was learning to pace himself and “balance multiple roles” of dean, researcher and family man.

“It’s very important to balance my personal health and family life with the professional side, because the professional side can be all-consuming,” he said. “These are big jobs and big opportunities, and they will take 100 percent of the time if you give 100 percent. And the challenge appears to be to balance it so that you don’t damage your health or your personal life.”

Dutta said that, as dean, “to some degree, you never leave” the office, but that he was trying to find time to relax and walk around Cayuga Heights, enjoy nature and get back to his hobby of painting.

Moving from France to Ithaca was surprisingly easy, he said in the 2013 interview, in part because of his new fondness for a popular Northeast supermarket.

“The community in Ithaca has made the move easier,” he said, “and the fact that we have Wegmans also made the food side much easier.

In August of 2015, Dutta was among dozens of business school deans who met at the White House and discussed how to create more opportunities for women in business at an event hosted by the White House Council on Women and Girls.

“It is imperative that we provide educational experiences that effectively encourage and promote women in business,” Dutta said at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle, which is run by University Relations.

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.

Michael Wenye Li / Sun Assistant 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.

After Dutta’s four years leading the graduate school, Cornell selected him to be the first ever dean of the College of Business. He continued to make headlines as dean by co-editing the Global Innovation Index, an annual report co-sponsored by the U.N.’s World Intellectual Property Organization that ranks countries based on the quality of their universities, scientific publications and more.

In January of 2016, Dutta attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a conference attended by economists, politicians, business leaders and celebrities. Dutta has attended the forum more than a dozen times, putting him in an elite group known as the Davos Circle.

Dutta assumed the dean role in the summer of 2016, as Cornell selected him to be the first ever dean of the College of Business, managing roughly 200 faculty members and about 3,100 students, about half of whom are undergraduates.

But on Tuesday, Jan. 30, Kotlikoff’s brief bulletin landed in business college employees’ inboxes. The provost’s email did not include a statement from Dutta, and the former dean has not publicly said a word since his resignation or responded to requests for comment.

“I’m sorry but we cannot say anything,” said Lourdes Casanova, a senior lecturer at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management and Dutta’s wife, when she was reached at the couple’s Cayuga Heights home on Tuesday evening.

Asked on Thursday if the University was still declining to comment on all matters related to Dutta’s resignation, the deputy director of media relations, Rebecca Valli, said by email: “correct: nothing new to share.”