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Who would be a business-school dean? It is a question many professors ask themselves as they watch the funding crisis compound the problems of academic shortages, student debt and corporate disillusionment. But for one dean these concerns have been sidelined by a far more exciting project.
Soumitra Dutta became dean of the Johnson school at Cornell University in July 2012, six months after New York major Michael Bloomberg announced that Cornell University and its partner Technion, the Israeli Institute of Technology, had won the bid to set up a high-tech university in downtown New York. Cornell Tech, as it is known, will develop computer science, engineering, entrepreneurship and business in the heart of the city.
“I look at the New York project as a gift,” says the quietly spoken professor happily. “It’s about creating companies and creating jobs, so the business school has a key role.”
It is also about securing a New York location. Ithaca, Cornell’s home town, is “10 square miles of paradise”, says Prof Dutta, but concedes that “getting in and out is a challenge”.
Cornell Tech has been given half of Roosevelt island, 12 acres of prime Manhattan real estate opposite the UN building. Prof Dutta’s excitement is understandable, as it unites all his professional interests. An engineer by training, he has spent most of his life in business school, where he teaches the impact of technology on business.
Cornell Tech’s official opening date is in 2017 but it is already generating interest from students, professors and institutions eager to collaborate.
“New York is a unique global city,” says Prof Dutta, and with Cornell’s Ivy League reputation, he believes it is a winning combination. The project will enable the dean and his Cornell colleagues to build the type of programmes that other business schools dream of, blending teaching from different disciplines. “My own sense is that a big part of Cornell Tech is about freeing us to work together. It’s about how we can make effective connections,” he says.
The different university departments are collaborating on curriculum design and teaching appointments and there are plans for MBA students to mentor undergraduate engineers. On campus, there will be no individual offices or departmental silos.
The dean has become experienced at working with other departments as there are four schools at Cornell that teach business: the Johnson graduate school, the undergraduate business school, the school of hospitality and the school of industrial and labour relations. Indeed, Cornell has one of the largest business student intakes in the US.
Back in Ithaca, Prof Dutta’s plans for the Johnson school are focused on expanding the school’s Executive MBA – an MBA for working managers – a videoconferencing-based programme Johnson runs with Queen’s University in Canada. He intends to expand the synchronous service in South America.
The joint programme is one of four that leads to the MBA – there is a weekend programme, the two-year full-time degree and a one-year programme, which enrols between 55 and 60 students a year.
“A lot of growth will happen in the one-year and EMBA formats,” adds Prof Dutta. “We don’t see the two-year MBA growing significantly.”
Perhaps surprisingly, in spite of his 23 years teaching at Insead, which runs the biggest one-year MBA programme in the world, Prof Dutta is not a great defender of the shorter programmes. “With the one-year format you don’t have the luxury of time to do things outside the classroom. A lot of leadership development happens there.”