Since joining the faculty of University of Michigan Ann Arbor in 2000, Cornell President-elect Martha Pollack has inspired respect and praise from her colleagues, who say her innovative spirit and emphasis on collaboration will steer Cornell in new directions.
Prof. Michael Wellman, computer science, University of Michigan, said he has known Pollack for 25 years as a fellow researcher in the field of artificial intelligence. For Wellman, Pollack’s most important legacy at Michigan is her academic innovation.
Wellman said he came to understand Pollack’s leadership ability when, as associate chair of computer science and engineering, she reorganized the university’s electrical engineering and computer science department.
“Martha went to great lengths to understand the core issues at stake for the various constituency groups, and found a solution that advanced the objective of restructuring this department,” he said. “In fact, the new structure has worked extremely well, and these areas are thriving at the University of Michigan.”
University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel elaborated on Pollack’s legacy of innovation, discussing her role in creating the Humanities Collaboratory, an initiative that encourages “collaborative, team-based” humanities research and communication among students. Schlissel called the collaboratory “an outstanding and innovative approach to address the persistent challenge of demonstrating the relevance of humanities scholarship.”
He added that he has worked closely with Pollack for over two years, during her tenure as the university’s provost.
“Her help was invaluable since I began my presidency here at the University of Michigan in July of 2014,” he said. “I rely heavily on her good counsel, understanding of U-M’s culture and knowledge of the faculty.”
Schlissel said that Pollack’s most notable characteristic was her commitment to ethics and integrity.
“In any given situation, she starts with the question, ‘What is the right thing to do?’” he said. He also emphasized Pollack’s organizational talent and ability as a leader.
“Provost Pollack is on a first-name basis with a significant portion of our faculty and staff — and she knows and appreciates their talents,” he said. “She has a very special ability to understand both the institutional data and the more humanistic aspects of the academic programs she leads.”
Schlissel added that Pollack has remained humble, despite her abilities, which he said helps her work well with colleagues.
“She is collaborative and inspiring and is adept at creating great teams around her,” he said. “At the same time, she is humble and authentic and works hard to build trust, and these qualities help her work closely with faculty from all disciplines.”
Pollack also worked closely with students at Michigan to implement institutional changes, according to Dave Schafer, president of the university’s student government. Schafer commended Pollack’s thoughtful nature and open-mindedness in engaging with students.
“We have a wonderful relationship with the provost,” he said. “We meet monthly to discuss issues of concern with students.”
A major concern of undergraduates was the price of tuition, which many students struggled to afford, according to Schafer.
“We had requested greater student involvement in the budget process, which culminates with the setting of the university tuition,” he said.
Pollack responded by creating the Student Budget Advisory Committee, which Schafer said allows students to have input in determining the university’s budget.
“She was very open and receptive,” he said. “It goes to show how willing to hear out students the provost-soon-to-be-president is. If she approaches the job with the same level of care and attention and commitment and passion that she did with her job at the University of Michigan, then Cornell is going to be in wonderful hands.”
Schlissel said that while he is disappointed Pollack will be departing Michigan, he is confident that Cornell had chosen the right woman for the job.
“President-elect Pollack is an outstanding choice,” he said. “She wants the very best for students and relishes working with faculty and staff to help drive excellence. She will spend time listening first to fully assess the needs of everyone in the Cornell community before pointing your great institution in new directions.”