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Why was AEM sold on the cheap?

One of the ongoing topics of Cornell conversation over the last couple of months has been the relatively cheap naming of AEM as the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management in the New York State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University. (Yep, it's a mouthful, not unlike JOHNSON...)

Quite simply, a lot of Cornellians were left scratching their head as to why a business school cost only $25MM to name. There have apparently been recent, high level talks for the 'naming' of both the Hotel School and the ILR School -- each would require gifts over $100MM dollars. For reference, Notre Dame's business school, Mendoza, was named with a $35MM gift ten years ago, and Cornell's Johnson School was named with a $20 MM gift in 1984, or close to $50 MM in 2010 dollars.

So on one hand, the price of the Dyson naming might reflect a relative cheapening of the Cornell brand. On the other hand, it might have reflected a friendly discount given the Dyson family's already significant investments in the University.

But I prefer a third explanation: it was sold on the cheap because there was ongoing concern that AEM would be re-imagined out of the Ag School. I've already documented hints that both Skorton and Fuchs wanted to move AEM out of CALS. And securing the Dyson money as soon as possible provided a guarantee to Susan Henry and the rest of the Ag School's administration that AEM would stay in their precious Ag School. At least for now...

The other trend that the Dyson School naming reflects is that alumni, and not the administration, are able to exert considerable control over their giving. In the past I know the administration has been eager to steer big gifts to their self-selected 'priorities'. But apparently the marching orders coming out of Day Hall this year are to encourage alumni to give in the areas where they want to give. This tactic is perhaps an attempt to boost the aggregate numbers for the capital campaign.

Oh, and one other semi-related note: Dyson will remain a 'school' in name only for the time being -- from what I've heard there's no plan to implement a separate Dyson admissions committee from the Ag School proper. Of course, hockey and lacrosse players need not be concerned.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on October 14, 2010 (#)

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