After presiding over a tumultuous year that twice put into question the financial stability of international students, the vice provost for international affairs, Laura Spitz, is resigning from her office to join the law faculty at the University of New Mexico.
On March 20, Prof. Wendy Wolford, the Robert A. and Ruth E. Polson Professor of Global Development, will succeed Spitz, the international affairs associate dean and senior lecturer for law.
Wolford declined to clarify whether she would back any initiatives that depart from her predecessor’s policy.
“I am still getting familiar with the position — I don’t actually take over for another month — so I will be developing a strategy in the coming weeks,” she said.
The leadership transition comes at a sensitive time for international students as the International Student Union and the Student Assembly attempt to secure emergency financial aid for international students in “extenuating circumstances” through alumni donations.
Christopher Schott, S.A. international students liaison at-large, predicted that the transition will not impact the drive to establish this financial aid program.
“I don’t think [the financial aid initiative] will be affected,” Schott told The Sun. “We’re not working with Laura on that really, it’s more Financial Aid and Alumni Affairs.”
Assuming office on Dec. 1 2015, Spitz presided over a turbulent time for international students, especially for those from less wealthy upbringings.
In February 2017, internal documents were leaked to The Sun that indicated the University was considering admitting more international students not in need of financial aid. Cornell reacted to the leak by charging the student whistleblower with violating the Student Code of Conduct, before a highly anticipated University Hearing Board ruling cleared him of charges.
Then, in August, a week before the beginning of classes this fall, international students were blindsided by the University’s notification that they would no longer be eligible to participate in Federal Work Study jobs for the upcoming semester and beyond.
As Spitz defended defunding FWS jobs in a packed S.A. meeting, she was interrupted by the surprise announcement that President Martha E. Pollack had reversed the change.
As it turned out, Spitz was actually working behind the scenes to reinstate funding, despite her public stance in support of the defunding. Nevertheless, the duality of Spitz’s position damaged her relationship with international student leaders.
“How do I know exactly what her position is on any issues if she was the most public defender of defunding this program, when privately she was working [to keep it]?” Schott told The Sun after Pollack’s announcement.
Since August, however, international students and Spitz seem to have made amends. Schott told The Sun that, over the past months, he and Spitz have built up a “strong relationship.”
“Laura is convening monthly meetings of an international committee with representation from all major international student constitutiencies, [sic]” Schott said. “We hope to continue this proactive cooperation with the administration, and continue tackling important issues for international students at Cornell.”
Schott hopes to maintain the same lines of communication between students and administration built during Spitz’s tenure with the new provost.
“We definitely hope that all these recurring meetings remain in place. We’ve already met some of the other new leadership in [the International Students and Scholars Office] and the new Global Learning Cornell Office,” Schott said. “They all seemed very enthusiastic about building on our current relationship with the administration.”
Echoing Schott’s sentiments, Wolford expressed the desire to maintain the productive relationship between international students and administration built by her predecessor.
“International students are a very important part of our campus and I look forward to continuing Laura’s work with them over the next several years,” Wolford said. “I’m still making the transition into the position and so I hope to meet with students and faculty soon.”
Spitz had not immediately responded to The Sun’s request for comment at the time of publication.