Last week, Accounting Professor Mark Nelson, became the 12th dean of Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management.
This staff change comes amidst a controversial merger of three of the university’s schools: Johnson, the School of Hotel Administration, and Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. Nelson will succeed Soumitra Dutta, who will become the dean of the new College of Business, which will launch in the 2016-17 school year. “Mark is not only ideally equipped to lead Johnson at this complicated and exciting time, but it is clear that he will contribute tremendously to the success of the College of Business, as well,” said Dutta of his successor. Nelson’s term will begin on July 1.
Despite resistance from the Student Assembly, the Faculty Senate, and many alumni and benefactors, Nelson believes that this merger will result in “significant opportunities” and increased cooperation among Cornell faculty and Students. The goal is to provide students with more opportunities to learn across disciplines and make it easier to attract talented faculty members whose teaching might otherwise extend across two schools. “I’m excited to help Johnson and the College of Business flourish,” Nelson said. “We’re all in this together for the long term, and by supporting each other and collaborating on teaching and research, we can do more collectively than any of us could do on our own.”
Many stakeholders, however, are not convinced this new structure will benefit everyone. Charles Feeney, founder of The Atlantic Philanthropies and Cornell’s largest benefactor (his gifts to the university amount to almost $1 billion), wrote a letter to the board of trustees encouraging them to hold off on plan until potential outcomes have been more carefully evaluated. Many other alumni even threatened to pull their support from Cornell’s endowment, claiming that the administration did not consult with all stakeholders before making this decision or provide them with the appropriate information on the structure and funding of the new college.
Either way, Nelson has his work cut out for him. MBA applications for Johnson’s two-year MBA program have dropped 28.3% in the past two years. This resulted in an acceptance rate of 30%, up from 22.1% two years ago, with the percentage of women entering the MBA class of 2018 at just 26%. “The critical challenge that I think everybody in MBA education faces is, we’re really competing for talent, and we’re competing hard,” Nelson said in an interview. “We’re going to work very hard to address these issues because […] it’s extremely important that we have an absolutely excellent class coming in the door and that it’s diverse as to gender and other aspects.” Of course, only time will tell if this merger benefits all parties and help to boost and diversify next year’s set of applicants.