Cornell University will not revisit its decision not to make the STEM designation in its one-year, two-year, and Tech MBA programs retroactive to include the Class of 2020, members of that class were told this week, despite an urgent appeal by graduates who face relocation to India this summer amid a surge in coronavirus cases and deaths in that country.
“The STEM designation is important because it grants international students 2 years of additional stay in the USA without having an employer to sponsor them for an H-1B Visa,” 2020 MBAs wrote to Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management Dean Mark Nelson and University President Martha Pollack on April 29. “Without this, 50+ of us will have to leave the USA in the next few months, many of whom secured a job recently or are jobless with 150k-200k dollars in student loans. This will have a strong negative impact on their careers and livelihoods. We have a very limited window to act, and In these unprecedented times, we urge you to please consider our request on an urgent basis.”
Poets&Quants wrote about Cornell’s decision in March. Contacting the school again in light of the situation in India and their graduates’ emergency appeal, P&Q was told Cornell will not reverse its decision, and that a statement by Dean Mark Nelson on the matter stands: “Following a lengthy and thorough process, we are pleased to be able to offer our residential MBA programs as STEM programs for the classes of 2021 and thereafter. Unfortunately, after a very careful review, the university concluded that we could not appropriately reclassify the degrees of students who graduated in 2020 or prior and grant STEM designation. We are working with students from the 2020 cohort to help them in what we know is a difficult employment and immigration context.”
OPT FOR CORNELL 2020 GRADS ENDS THIS SUMMER
India recently became the first country to report 400,000 Covid-19 cases in a single day. Cornell’s 2020 graduates who have not obtained H-1B visas through a lottery system are seeking the STEM designation of their degrees to qualify for 24 more months in the federal Optional Practical Training program, allowing them to stay in the U.S. and avoid returning to a Covid-19 hotspot.
Many business schools — including all of the top 25, and many more besides — have designated their MBA or other degree programs STEM because it appeals to the international students who comprise huge percentages of their student populations. Many have also made the move retroactive, including others based in New York State: Columbia Business School, the University of Rochester Simon Business School, and NYU Stern School of Business. Stanford Graduate School of Business, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business, and other top-ranked B-schools have made their entire MBA programs STEM while also making the move retroactive to include previous graduating classes.
Without STEM, Cornell 2020 graduates’ OPT runs out in July and August of this year.
But even amid the public health crisis in India, the home country for many of its students and graduates, Cornell has not budged in its position. Responding to the grads’ latest entreaty, Cornell President Pollack said by email that she conferred with Provost Michael Kotlikoff and “I know that he has considered this matter carefully in light of the recommendations of Cornell’s compliance office and our university’s specific situation. I’m sorry but his decision stands.
“I know this is disappointing. I encourage you to take advantage of every resource offered by Vice Provost (Wendy) Wolford and Dean Nelson, as I know they want to help in any way they can.”
A ‘BLATANT LACK OF SYMPATHY FOR US’
In separate emails to the students on Wednesday (May 5), Wolford and Nelson reiterated that Cornell’s decision is final. “I understand that the university’s decision is not what you hoped for,” Wolford writes, “but I am afraid that it is the final decision. I know the situation in India and globally with COVID is quite dire, and I am deeply sorry for the difficulty you are in. But, as we have said, we are not in a position to change your degree designations.”
Nelson writes: “I know this is frustrating, but it is important to understand that the decisions that have been made are final. The Provost and the President have final authority in this matter, and they have made their decision. I hope we can help in other ways and I stand ready to do so.”
The students tell P&Q they have requested a meeting with Cornell’s compliance office, saying the school’s references to it lack specifics.
“We did request such a meet previously with the Provost, which they didn’t address, so not sure if the request will be heard this time,” one MBA tells P&Q, adding that he and others have been surprised and disappointed by Cornell’s “blatant lack of sympathy for us, an institution that distinguishes itself on the basis of its international community.”
CORNELL 2020 GRADUATES’ LETTER TO PRESIDENT MARTHA POLLACK
Dear President Pollack,
I am writing to you on behalf of international graduates from Johnson’s class of 2020 regarding retroactive STEM MBA designation. We have been in touch with the Dean and the Office of Provost regarding this but things have not moved forward.
In case this matter has not come to you, a quick overview: Starting in 2018, several top MBA programs `reclassified’ their degrees to STEM or created a new STEM major for graduates who take a minimum number of STEM credits. Each of these schools also applied the STEM designations retroactively to previous graduate classes. The retroactive STEM was either applied to the entire program or to the graduates who satisfied the respective MBA program’s new criteria for the STEM major.
Johnson also received approval for a STEM MBA major in April 2020, for the class of 2021 onwards. However, this reclassification was not applied retroactively to the class of 2020 and we have been working with the authorities since then on this. We are only asking for retroactive STEM for 2020 graduates who satisfy the new STEM credit criteria.
Currently, every single peer University, except Cornell, has applied STEM MBA retroactively to the previous batches. (attachment 1)
All the New York-based universities have also applied STEM retroactively, including Rochester, NYU, and Columbia. One of the earlier counter-argument was that the rules for NY-based universities are different, but this is clearly not the case.
We reached out to the Registrar’s offices in other schools, and according to them the ‘retroactive’ action is entirely a school-level decision and did not require university approvals.
The Office of Provost has denied our retroactive request citing Compliance department’s concerns due to an “ongoing Federal audit”. However, we are unable to see how there is a compliance concern when this process is by the book and every peer University has been able to do this. Should an unrelated audit prevent us from doing what is legitimate and right? It appears that compliance is misinterpreting a ‘retroactive’ action as ‘reclassification’ of the program, something which Johnson has already achieved.
The STEM designation is important because it grants international students 2 years of additional stay in the USA without having an employer to sponsor them for an H1B Visa. Without this, 50+ of us will have to leave the USA in the next few months, many of whom secured a job recently or are jobless with 150k-200k dollars in student loans. This will have a strong negative impact on their careers and livelihoods. We have a very limited window to act, and In these unprecedented times, we urge you to please consider our request on an urgent basis.