Gift to establish S.C. Johnson College of Business at Cornell is just the latest in a legacy

Nearly a year after Cornell’s trustees approved a controversial College of Business plan, the university has announced a stunning $150 million gift from the Johnson family to endow the S.C. Johnson College of Business at Cornell University.

Cornell’s S. C. Johnson Graduate School of Management is based in Sage Hall. 14850 file photo.

Former Cornell trustee H. Fisk Johnson and S.C. Johnson are making what Cornell calls “a historic, transformative” gift to endow Cornell’s College of Business, and name it after the family whose name is already on Cornell’s graduate school of management and its art museum.

The gift maintains the Johnson name on the new Cornell College of Business that was to controversially “include Cornell’s three accredited business schools: the School of Hotel Administration (SHA), the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, and the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management.”

The idea isn’t an unusual one in the 21st century. Combining the three existing schools under a new umbrella could “realize the numerous benefits of integration, while maintaining and enhancing the individual strengths and special character of our stellar business programs,” as a statement from just over a year ago says. But students, staff, faculty, and alumni of the three separate programs, as well as others at Cornell, have all expressed concerns.

Cornell’s Beck Center and Statler Hall house the School of Hotel Administration. 14850 file photo.

Undergraduate students would still apply either to the School of Hotel Administration or the Dyson School, “which have different approaches to admissions and work to find the right students to fit their unique programs,” according to Cornell’s statement. The Johnson School’s graduate and executive education programs would retain their flavors, but “benefit from deep interaction with specialty areas of business currently located in other schools, such as real estate finance.”

Cornell’s statement last January says, “the College will preserve and enhance the distinct, long-standing and extraordinary focus and brands of our three existing business schools. Each school will maintain its own identity and mission, while their collective capabilities will be strengthened by bringing together faculty, curricular offerings, and programs within a cohesive College.”

$100 million of this weekend’s gift “will establish a foundational endowment for the College,” says an announcement from Cornell. “The remaining $50 million comes in the form of a current-use challenge grant that will leverage additional endowment support from others, bringing the total potential impact on the College’s endowment to $250 million and the total potential impact of the gift to $300 million.”

Cornell president Frank Rhodes and S.C. Johnson in 1984. Photo provided by Cornell.

It’s just the latest of a fifty-year history of generosity from the Johnson family. S.C. Johnson chairman and CEO H. Fisk Johnson’s grandfather, Cornell alum Herbert F. Johnson Jr., donated funds to Cornell in 1967 to build the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, which opened in 1973. Fisk and his three siblings all attended Cornell, according to a statement this weekend.

It was in 1984 that Samuel C. Johnson and Imogene Powers Johnson made a landmark $20 million donation to name the S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management, at the time, the largest ever from individuals to a business school, Cornell says. The Johnson School is now headquartered in a renovated Sage Hall on East Ave.

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