With less than four months left before the start of her term, Cornell President-elect Martha Pollack’s colleagues from the University of Michigan praised her strategies to promote diversity and mediate tensions on campus as the University’s provost.
Pollack championed a vision of inclusion as a provost and promoted diversity and equity, according to Prof. Bogdan Epureanu, mechanical engineering, University of Michigan. He advised Pollack as a member of the university’s Academic Affairs Advisory Committee.
Epureanu said that Pollack helped create a “diverse, equitable and inclusive environment” on campus and that under her leadership the university invested in “outstanding underrepresented minority students.”
Pollack took action at moments where inclusion was compromised at Michigan. Last fall, posters with anti-black, anti-LGBTQ and anti-Muslim messages were found around campus buildings, according to The Michigan Daily.
In response, Pollack organized an event that allowed faculty to stand together with students in a large public space called the Diag in order to oppose the posters, according to The Daily.
“When the hate posters got put up, I was pretty upset like the rest of campus! It was shocking to see that,” said Sinduja Kilaru, a student at the university, who added that although she liked Pollack’s message, she wished more had been done.
While denouncing hate speech and reinforcing the message of diversity and inclusion, Pollack still encouraged conversation and ensured that opposing views were not being suppressed, according to Prof. Michael Wellman, computer science and engineering, University of Michigan.
“She’s always made clear that the mission of the University is to have conversations and to listen to even views that we don’t like,” Wellman said. “We should expect that there are going to be more challenges like this over the years at a university, and so I think it’s very important to have very steady and clear-thinking leaders like Martha.”
Her commitment to fostering an equitable environment extended to gender inclusion. Pollack responded to a petition from a student group, called “Wolverines for Pronouns,” for allowing students to designate their pronouns in their university records, including applications and class rosters.
After receiving the petition, Pollack formed a committee whose task was to implement the petition, according to Prof. Robin Queen, linguistics, University of Michigan, a member of the committee.
Queen said the committee met over the summer to determine the best way to allow the option for students to designate their pronouns.
“She had a very clear vision and she understood the issues involved,” Queen said. “I thought she thought in a very forward way for taking lots of constituencies into account but especially being driven by students. She’s just a really good leader.”
Ultimately Pollack and E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, University of Michigan, announced in October that students would be allowed to designate their pronouns on the university register and those pronouns would be placed on class rosters.
“Asking about and correctly using someone’s designated pronoun is one of the most basic ways to show your respect for their identity and to cultivate an environment that respects all gender identities,” Pollack and Harper said in the email announcing the decision.
Queen added that Pollack led other numerous initiatives as provost, involving topics like sustainability, diversity, equity and financial stability.
“She certainly put great leaders in place to run diversity initiatives for the whole institution,” Queen added. “She’s just very steadfast and clear on how important diversity is for learning, for being in a society.”