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Cornell B-School Dean Abruptly Resigns

Soumitra Dutta, former dean of Cornell’s new SC Johnson College of Business

After leading a controversial merger of three Cornell schools into a new College of Business, Dean Soumitra Dutta abruptly resigned yesterday (Jan. 30). It was not immediately clear what caused his resignation less than two years after taking on the new job as head of the newly enlarged business school.

The terse announcement of Dutta’s resignation—in just two sentences by a university spokesperson—did not even include a boilerplate thank you or praise for what Dutta had accomplished in the job.

But both the president and provost of Cornell have turned over since Dutta arrived in July of 2012 as dean of the Johnson Graduate School of Management. President David J. Skorton departed in July of 2015 to become secretary of the Smithsonian. Provost W. Kent Fuchs left to become president of the University of Florida in January of 2015.  They had recruited and hired the India-born academic who had been a professor of business and technology for some 22 years at INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France. Though the Cornell Johnson post was his first job as dean, Dutta has served in various administrative roles at INSEAD, as head of external relations, executive education, and technology and e-learning.

But under a new president and provost, Dutta soon found himself having to bring together Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management with the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management and the School of Hotel Administration. The plan, hatched by the central administration and revealed in December of 2015, initially received an icy reception, particularly from faculty and alumni of the hotel school. The mashup effectively made the Cornell school rank third in terms of the size of its research faculty, behind Harvard Business School and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Once the merger was complete by 2016, Dutta become dean of the newly integrated business school that boasts 145 research faculty and nearly 2,900 undergraduate, professional, and graduate students.


Only a year ago, Dutta received the largest single gift to the university’s Ithaca, N.Y., campus, a $150 million pledge from H. Fisk Johnson for the new College of Business. He also helped to oversee the creation of a Cornell Tech MBA in New York City, an innovative one-year program that was started in Google’s building in New York and moved into Cornell’s new campus on Roosevelt Island last year. Poets&Quants named Cornell Tech its MBA Program of the Year in 2017.

Dutta began a one-year term in July as chair of the board of directors of AACSB International, the major accreditation agency for business schools. And just this week, Dutta had more cause to celebrate: The Johnson Graduate School Business jumped 10 spots to rank 17th from 27th a year earlier in the 2018 Financial Times global MBA ranking.

As an authority on new technology and on innovation policy, Dutta is the co-editor and author of two influential reports: the Global Information Technology Report, published by the World Economic Forum, and the Global Innovation Index, published by the World Intellectual Property Organization. Both reports are used extensively by governments worldwide for planning their technology and innovation strategies. As a prominent author, Dutta’s research includes more than 150 published articles and more than 60 case studies. His research has also been cited widely in the global media, and Dutta has been awarded over 8 million USD in research grants.

Cornell University Provost Michael Kotlikoff, who succeeded Fuchs in August of 2015, accepted Dutta’s resignation according to a message sent to members of the College of Business community late Tuesday afternoon. The resignation is “effective immediately.”


Joe Thomas will serve as interim dean

Joe Thomas, who served as dean of the Johnson Graduate School of Management from 2007-2012, “has agreed to serve as interim dean during the search for a permanent dean.”

“I look forward to working with Interim Dean Thomas and the entire faculty, staff and alumni of the Dyson School, the School of Hotel Administration and the Johnson School 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,” Kotlikoff said in his e-mail. “The college has achieved so much in the past year, and I am confident that it will continue to thrive.”

Dutta received a B. Tech. in electrical engineering and computer science from the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi; an MS in both business administration and computer science; and a PhD in computer science from the University of California, Berkeley.


About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.