In the past decade, several changes in the Samuel Curtis Johnson College of Business have sparked heated discussion among Cornellians, including the 2016 merger, Dyson’s low acceptance rates and declining MBA applications.
In an interview with The Sun, Dean Kevin Hallock addressed these concerns and spoke about new wellness initiatives he has implemented since he took on the role in December 2018.
In an effort to address the high-pressure social and academic environment present within business school settings, Hallock has created a series of initiatives dubbed “SC Johnson College Cares.” The first event, Run with Kevin, will take place this Thursday on Feb. 13 in Barton Hall.
“I’d like our college to be known for caring about wellness and student experience,” he said, “and I’d like that to translate into staff and faculty as well.”
The focus on wellness is especially relevant in the cultural context of business schools, where a rigorous recruiting schedule and selective pre-professional clubs hold significant influence. These clubs, such as business fraternities, have become a common way for students to pad their resumes and score a prestigious summer internship — but they’ve faced criticism for their exclusivity.
The Sun previously reported in 2017 that Phi Gamma Nu, one of Cornell’s four business-focused fraternities, accepted a scant 12.5 percent — equaling that of the University’s acceptance rate — of applicants.
“I worry about competitive [professional] organizations that don’t admit all students … there is a culture around it and it’s concerning,” Hallock said, echoing concerns among students that increased competition has come at a cost.
“I think it definitely adds a lot of stress and competition to the Dyson community,” said Rikki Chiba ’22, who believes that excessive exclusivity has negative impacts on student mental health.
Since becoming business dean last December, Hallock has aimed to foster greater ties between the Johnson Graduate School of Management, the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management and the School of Hotel Administration — whose contentious 2016 merger sparked protest among alumni and students at the time.
The hotel school’s unique cultural identity centered around hospitality education made the potential erosion of its individuality a point of concern for many in the community.
Elana Feinsmith ’89 described her immediate reaction to the merger as one of complete shock: “You’re diluting the top hotel education program in the world by bundling it in with the other business programs?”
Feinsmith is one of many Hotelies who have expressed apprehensions about the potential “cultural dilution” produced by the merger. She recalled a time when hotel students learned how to run small hotels and “needed to know how to do ‘hands on’ things like fix a toilet.”
“I think it would be nice, as a Hotelie, to keep the hospitality component,” Feinsmith said.
“When the college was formed in 2016, people were worried that things might change, Hallock said. “And things have changed — and some of that is good.”
He further pointed out that the merger has allowed the once-separate three schools to centralize career services, recruit faculty members more easily and generate higher visibility.
Hallock explained that the visibility resulting from the merger may also be the reason for the Dyson school’s strikingly low six percent acceptance rate — markedly lower than the College of Arts and Sciences’ 10 percent.
“Frankly, after the formation of the college, the number of applications to Dyson doubled in a single year,” Hallock said. “There’s been so much publicity around this, [because] some people didn’t know that Dyson and Hotel are accredited undergraduate business programs.”
However, this suggested visibility effect did not appear to apply to the hotel school. According to the Cornell Institutional Research & Planning, applications to the hotel school fell 10.2 percent in 2017 — the application cycle following the merger announcement. That year, the hotel school’s acceptance rate went up from 20.7 to 21.8 percent.
By contrast, in the year following the merger, Dyson received 4,366 applications and accepted only 2.9 percent of them — an admission rate lower than Harvard’s or Princeton’s.
Meanwhile, the MBA program housed in the SC Johnson Graduate School of Management is facing a declining number of applications. Hallock said that applications to Johnson’s 2-year residential MBA program “went down about 4 percent last year.”
However, when the annual time frame is expanded to cover a decade, applications to Cornell’s two-year MBA program have actually declined by a much greater amount — 44 percent, according to Poets & Quants.
A decline in applications is a common problem for MBA programs across the country, possibly exacerbated by trade tensions and student immigration policy changes under the Trump administration.
“International students on the margin may be less likely to come to the United States,” Hallock said.
Besides the changing geopolitical climate, Hallock discussed the larger economic backdrop behind the decrease in applications.
“Because the economy is so good, people are less likely to go back to school,” he said. “Now, when a recession hits—and we’ll have a recession eventually—that’s really good for Master’s Programs because the opportunity cost of your time is much lower. Maybe people who lost jobs or see lower earnings growth may go back to school.”
Despite the challenges that lie ahead for the SC Johnson College of Business, Hallock remains optimistic.
“The things that were difficult like bringing culture together, those are what attracted me to the role,” Hallock said. “If it were easy, it wouldn’t be interesting.”