Since stepping on campus, Martha Pollack has been tirelessly promoting a message of inclusiveness. Cornell’s second female president has made it clear that upholding the foundational motto of “any person..any study,” as well as promoting Interim President Hunter Rawlings’ vision of “One Cornell” amidst the University’s efforts to establish a lasting presence in New York City, is one of her goals.
As Cornell faces a pivotal moment with regards to its expansion within and beyond Ithaca, there are several issues that Pollack will have to address in her upcoming tenure. Recently, the restructuring of the Arts and Sciences curriculum and the underfunding for identity-based programs have gathered a lot of attention over the past few months. Furthermore, efforts by graduate students to unionize have begun again this semester, and there are six active Title IX cases against the university.
A Vision Centered on Diversity and Free Speech
Pollack, previously the provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Michigan, was identified by the Presidential Search Committee after President Elizabeth Garrett’s untimely death in March 2016. After a thorough evaluative process, the Committee decided to give Pollack tenured appointments in the computer science and information science departments.
The 14th President will be installed in a ceremony that will take place on the Arts Quad on Aug. 25. Prior to the ceremony there will be “A Festival of Scholarship” and an academic symposium titled “Universities and the Search for Truth,” on the evening of Aug. 24.
At her inauguration Pollack will make a speech to outline her vision as she takes the helm. In a previous interview with The Sun, Pollack explained her commitment to free speech, diversity and a true liberal arts education, all of which she believes are essential components of what she hopes to achieve at Cornell.
On several other occasions, Pollack reiterated her unwavering commitment to free speech and its importance at the University.
“As soon as you start suppressing speech, you open the question of who gets to decide … and we know, historically, that never goes well,” she said during a question-answer session with the Graduate and Professional Students Assembly in May.
At the same meeting, Pollack stressed Cornell’s need to “double down on our commitment to diversity.”
Following the events that occurred in Charlottesville earlier in August, Pollack released a statement calling white supremacist groups “antithetical to what this nation and Cornell stand for” and established that Cornell would “remain resolute in our commitment to addressing bigotry whenever it arises on our campuses or within our communities.”
A Legacy at University of Michigan
Pollack’s colleagues at the University of Michigan believe the former provost’s commitment to innovation and collaboration will leave her well poised to serve as Cornell’s president.
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. He believes she has developed a strong leadership ability over her years of experience in higher education.
Wellman said he came to understand Pollack’s drive 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.”
As chief academic officer and chief budget officer, Pollack was responsible for Michigan’s academic and administrative programs and institutions, serving a student population of over 43,000.
While President Pollack believes that her experience at Michigan will be invaluable, she has also emphasized several times that what she did as a provost at Michigan cannot be entirely replicated at Cornell.
“Obviously, all the experience I had is relevant. It’s made me who I am, it’s shaped my vision on higher ed. I bring certain views on things,” Pollack said during her interview with The Sun. “But I’m trying really very, very hard to take Cornell as Cornell and not say ‘okay we’re going to take these things from Michigan and roll them over.’ I think that would be a mistake.”
Cornell Tech and Future Expectations
In addition to serving as provost at University of Michigan, Pollack was a member of the Steering committee for the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute, a partnership between Cornell and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.
Most of Pollack’s research has been on artifical intelligence, including “automated planning, natural-language processing, temporal reasoning and constraint satisfaction,” according to the University.
Following Pollack’s appointment, Interim President Rawlings highlighted that these factors contributed to the Presidential Search Committee’s selection of Pollack.
“She will be a great president, and her hands-on knowledge of Cornell Tech will help to solidify the growing collaborations and synergies among Cornell’s upstate and downstate campuses,” he said.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Pollack’s husband Ken Gottschlich will have a faculty appointment. Also, a previous version misquoted Pollack as saying the events in Charlottsville were anti-ethical. She in fact said antithetical.