Cornell Paves Way For New B-School

Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University

Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University

Cornell University’s Board of Trustees today (Jan. 30) moved forward a controversial plan to merge three separate schools into a new, much larger College of Business that would launch during the 2016-17 academic year.

The plan would bring together Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management with the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management and the School of Hotel Administration. Together, the newly integrated business school would boast 145 research faculty and nearly 2,900 undergraduate, professional, and graduate students. Soumitra Dutta, the current dean of Johnson, will become dean of the College of Business.

The board’s approval of the plan comes only two days after the Student Assembly voted 20-0-3 to recommend that trustees delay its decision on the matter. The University Assembly also passed a resolution earlier in the week, following a December vote by the Faculty Senate asking trustees to reconsider the merger.

Soumitra Dutta, dean of Cornell's Johnson Graduate School of Management

Soumitra Dutta, dean of Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management


The decision also occurs after Cornell’s largest benefactor, Charles Feeney, whose gifts to the university total nearly $1 billion, urged the trustees to hold off on the plan. “I don’t believe a decision on the merger is appropriate at this time unless and until additional study of the potential outcomes have been carefully reviewed,” Feeney wrote in a letter to the board and President Elizabeth Garrett.

Some alumni have also threatened to pull money from Cornell’s endowment, criticizing the administration’s lack of consultation with stakeholders before their decision. They also faulted the university for the lack of information available on the funding and structure of the proposed college. Alumni, too, worry that while it’s possible for the Johnson School’s rankings to improve, the hotel school and the Dyson school rankings could suffer.

In a Saturday morning meeting, however, the trustees unanimously changed the university’s bylaws to allow the merger plan to proceed. The school said that the “academic processes, governance and other necessary elements of the new College will be determined over the next several months by faculty and leadership of the three schools, with input from alumni, student, and staff advisory committees.”


In an interview with Poets&Quants, Johnson Associate Dean Vishal Gaur believes that MBA students are generally in favor of the merger. “Students are excited by the news,” says Gaur, who notes that Bain & Co. had recommended the merger seven years ago in a study. “There is some concern on the part of the hospitality students, but the plan is viewed favorably by MBAs.” Among other things, he notes, the merger would allow students at each school to more easily take courses elsewhere and also permit the integration of the career management function. “The hotel school offers a real estate program and some MBAs take it, but it is hard,” he says. “It will be easier under the new system. We haven’t thought about integrating admissions. My intuition tells me that would be harder because the programs are so different.”

Still, the merger plan is occurring at a time when some students and alumni are concerned that the business school already has been distracted by the university’s expansion into New York with the build out of its Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island. Applications for Johnson’s two-year MBA program fell for the second year in a row to 1,690 in 2014–2015 from 1,858 in 2013–2014, after a disastrous drop of 21.1% a year earlier, the largest decline of any Top 50 MBA program in the U.S. The falloff boosted the school’s acceptance rate above 30% for the latest class, from only 22.1% only two years ago. In the past two years alone, applications are down 28.3% from 2,356 in 2013-2014.

Moreover, women in the latest entering MBA class fell to just 26%, one of the lowest percentages of any of Johnson’s peer schools. Gaur attributes the declines to upheaval in the school’s admissions office, largely caused by the move of its director of admissions to New York.  The problems cropped up when Christina Sneva left in July of 2014 to become senior director of enrollment management and student services at Cornell Tech. Three months later, Jenna Abbot, Johnson’s admissions and application manager, left for Cornell Tech as well.

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