Gathered between the statues of Cornell’s founders, the Cornell community and members from all over the country gathered on the Arts Quad for the inauguration of the University’s 14th president, Martha E. Pollack.
As she officially takes the helm, Pollack will be the fifth president to serve Cornell within the past 15 years.
Following the procession of attendees and several introductory remarks, Pollack began by framing her speech with the roots of the University, the founding principles of Ezra Cornell and A.D. White, that have guided the institution throughout the years.
“The vision that Cornell and White had is embodied in our founding principle: to be a place ‘where any person can find instruction in any study,’” Pollack said.
Building from this notion of inclusiveness in higher education, Pollack quoted Cornell historian Carl Becker who said in a speech that there is “no reason for the existence of Cornell, or of any university… except in so far as they serve to maintain and promote the humane and rational values which are essential to the preservation of democratic society.”
Pollack emphasized that to promote “humane and rational values,” it is important to “reject bigotry, hatred and fascism” and to “stand firmly on the side of democracy, human dignity and the wellbeing of the many.”
Creating an “additional dimension of distinctiveness” to Cornell is the upcoming opening of Cornell Tech in New York City, Pollack said.
“Even as we expand in New York City, we remain fully committed to our Ithaca campus,” Pollack said. “But extraordinary opportunities arise from our expansion in New York City.”
Quoting former Interim President Hunter Rawlings’ phrase, Pollack said “‘One Cornell’ we shall be, and we shall be stronger and more distinguished because of it.”
Amidst Cornell’s unique strengths, Pollack said she will lead Cornell to champion “educational verve” in an age in which “students have ready access to all the information they could ever need, right there on the cellphones that they’ve super-glued to their palms.”
Her efforts will include exploring “new technologies that include, but go beyond, making course material available online; technologies that allow students to chart more personalized paths through individual courses and through entire curricula; [and] technologies that provide early warnings to faculty about students who are struggling,” Pollack added.
Pollack explained that this method of education will lead to an “interlinked triad of civic responsibilities that universities must satisfy” — truth, freedom of speech and a “future in which all groups are included in the conversation.”
“When faced with speech that is obnoxious, offensive, even hateful, we must remember … that so often it is the powerful majorities who suppresses the speech of the less powerful,” Pollack said.
However, Pollack also acknowledged that “this does not mean that there are no limits to speech.”
“Persistent harassment that targets an individual, or behavior that reasonably is deemed to disrupt university activities is also unacceptable,” Pollack said. “The lines are messy, and debate about them is an appropriate and healthy activity for our universities.”
Pollack concluded her speech by returning Ezra Cornell and A.D. White’s vision of a “university bold in its ideals and fervent in its commitment to them.”
“Together, we will take satisfaction in doing what universities like ours were created for: promoting humane and rational values, and thereby not simply preserving but also enriching democratic society, intellectually and morally.”
Preceding Pollack’s speech a member of Cayuga Nation, Karl Hill, began the inauguration by reading a thanksgiving speech — “Words Before All Else” — in both Cayuga and English.
Centered around the theme of gratitude and unity, the speech focused on the phrase “now our minds are one,” as Hill thanked Pollack for acknowledging the history between Cayuga Nation and Cornell.
Following Hill, Robert Harrison ’76, chair of board of trustees, introduced the four past Cornell presidents — Jeffrey Lehman ’77, Hunter Rawlings III, Frank Rhodes and David Skorton — in attendance who “personify this university.” Harrison also acknowledged Elizabeth Garrett’s absence that he said is “keenly felt today even amidst our celebration and ceremony.”
“President Garrett was an infectiously optimistic and decisive leader whose term sadly ended after only eight months,” Harrison said. “We should always remember her energy, passion, pride and ambition for Cornell’s future.”
Pollack’s inauguration marks the sixth president in Cornell’s history with ties to University of Michigan. Her former colleague at Michigan and current president of Dartmouth College Philip J. Hanlon described Pollack’s qualities as leader — most recently provost — at U.M. as he anticipates her presidency at Cornell.
Recalling their time spent together as colleagues, Hanlon lauded Pollack’s “genuine care and concern for people” as qualities that set her apart at Michigan. Hanlon said the goal of his speech was to “reaffirm [Cornell’s] choice of Martha Pollack as your next president.”
“You have gained a fierce and tireless advocate for the mission of Cornell and for those who are committed to advancing it,” he said. “You have gained a visionary leader, one who will route out the best that your university has to offer.”