College community confused, concerned over demotion of business school dean

Former Dean of the School of Business Denise Rotondo (pictured above) was fired from her post as dean and received a position as professor of management before the spring 2018 semester began. The lack of explanation from the administration has raised concerns over the reasoning and perceived disorganization of the move. (Courtesy of the Livingston County News)

Former Dean of the School of Business Denise Rotondo was removed from her position in early January. 

The decision and competing rumors about why Rotondo left have caused consternation among members of the college community. 

The college demoted Rotondo to professor of management and President Denise Battles sent an email notifying all staff on Jan. 12. According to a video lecture in one of professor of accounting Harry Howe’s classes, Rotondo was removed on Jan. 3. 

Media Relations Director David Irwin, speaking on behalf of Battles and the college, attributed the decision to the view that Rotondo’s vision did not correspond with the college’s vision. 

“It was deemed to be in the best interest of the college and the School of Business to advance the academic mission and the strategic priorities,” Irwin said. 

Irwin did not provide a further explanation, citing concerns over maintaining confidentiality on personnel matters. 

In Howe’s video lecture, he used the dean’s demotion as a case study in his classroom and alleges that the firing was a failure of management. 

“The president fired our dean,” Howe said in the video. “There was no warning, no explanation and, for more than a week, no external communication. When that communication did come, a lot of people found it strange and inadequate.” 

Howe’s lecture more specifically alleges that Battles did not properly consult various stakeholders, including Provost Stacey Robertson, the Business Advisory Council and members of the School of Business faculty. 

Robertson confirmed via email that she was consulted, although neither she nor Irwin spoke on how much consultation there was. Irwin also said that only Battles and Robertson were a part of the decision-making process. 

Associate professor of finance Michael Schinski will serve as the acting director of the School of Business for the rest of the spring 2018 semester, according to Schinski. The college will conduct a national search for Rotondo’s permanent replacement for the 2019-20 academic year, according to Interim Associate Provost for Personnel and Diversity Keneth Kallio. 

“The idea is that we’re trying to get an acting director leading the school in the short run,” Kallio said. “The faculty at the School of Business clearly should be involved in how we go forward next year. They clearly want to be involved, we want them to be involved, so this could take some time to set a plan for next year … it would be very very difficult to start a search for a new dean this year.”  

In his video, Howe connects the decision to remove Rotondo to the Vice President for College Advancement K. Johnson Bowles, who he alleges was in the room when the dean was fired, although Howe claims he was not involved with the decision-making process. Irwin denied that Bowles was consulted on the decision and Bowles declined to comment beyond the college’s official statements on the matter. 

Kallio similarly indicated that he believed Bowles to be a part of the decision-making process, although Kallio was also not directly involved.  

As dean, Rotondo was considered a “management/confidential” personnel, according to president of Geneseo’s chapter of United University Professionals Wes Kennison. In that role, Rotondo signed a contract separate from the main union, allowing the president to decide to remove her without intervention by the union, Kennison said. 

The decision to demote Rotondo has caused some members of the School of Business to criticize the college for not communicating their reasoning or handling the situation better. The Lamron also reached out to more than a dozen members of the School of Business and most declined to comment on the record. 

Economics major senior Jonathan Drabek created a petition asking the college to provide an explanation for the demotion, which has received 488 signatures as of publication. 

“This really is affecting the School of Business,” Drabek said. “It’s really making it difficult to start up the semester. Professors are taking up entire class times to go over the issue. It basically completely disrupted the first week of classes, and I think it will continue to be disruptive.” 

Retired Distinguished Service professor of economics Daniel Strang similarly characterized the decision to remove Rotondo as inexplicable. 

“I was surprised and disappointed when I learned during the past week that Dean Rotondo was removed,” Strang said via email. “Based upon my assessment of Dean Rotondo as a superb administrator prior to my retirement, I am at a loss to understand the grounds for the dismissal.”

Since the demotion was announced, the provost spent time meeting with School of Business faculty individually and as a group to field concerns and assess their opinions, according to Kallio. In one group meeting, the provost declined to provide the reasoning for the removal for the time being, according to Lockhart Professor of Finance Anthony Gu. 

Gu sees the decision to demote Rotondo less as a concern and more as a chance to improve the School of Business. 

“I believe it is an opportunity for the School of Business to make progress, to improve and also we can work together to make the school a better place to learn and to work,” Gu said. “Specifically, [we can establish] a friendly, fair, honest, inclusive and transparent place. We will follow the governance and the policies so that everybody will be happy and more productive.”

Schinski, in preparation for his role as acting director, viewed the current situation similarly.

“I’m looking forward,” Schinski said. “I’m not going to get too bogged down in what other people may be trying to look into."


Editor-in-chief Annie Renaud contributed reporting to this article.