In her second State of the University speech, President Martha E. Pollack announced to an audience of 675 trustees, University Council members and other audience members that she has “no hesitancy in saying that the state of Cornell University is strong.”
Pollack’s speech was given as part of the Trustee-Council Joint Annual Meeting in Statler Hall on Friday. In his introduction, Robert S. Harrison ’76, chairman of the Board of Trustees, praised Pollack for handling disturbing incidents on and off campus, reforming Greek life and elevating innovative classroom technologies.
Harrison related how Pollack sang along with alumni and the Cornell Glee Club at events “as if she was one of them,” and said that Pollack “has become a red-blooded, full-throated Cornellian.”
Pollack began her remarks by quoting Prof. Morris Bishop 1913 M.A. 1914 Ph.D. ’26, who was the University historian and a professor from 1921 to 1960. In an essay, Bishop wrote that Cornell is considered a “part neither of the aristocratic tradition of the original colonies nor the educational democracy of the great West.”
Pollack mentioned a newspaper that Bishop once wrote about, which “had listed, as places of intellectual pretensions and as essentially American colleges, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and perhaps Cornell.”
“Perhaps Cornell! It has always been the fate of our University to be Perhaps Cornell!” Bishop wrote.
In her address, Pollack sought to counter this opinion. “As I describe to you this morning the state of the University, I’m sure you’ll see that today, Cornell is not ‘perhaps’ anything,” she said.
Pollack ran through statistics about the Class of 2022 and noted that while application numbers are increasing and thus admittance rates are decreasing, yield percentages are increasing, which means that students are not just adding Cornell to their list, according to Pollack.
“Students aren’t saying, ‘Perhaps I’ll go to Cornell.’ They’re applying in droves, and when we admit them, they’re saying, “‘Cornell, yes!’” Pollack said.
Pollack also described how professors, as well as government agencies, non-governmental organizations and industry, are “saying yes to Cornell.” The University has gained 173 new professors across the Ithaca, Weill Cornell Medicine and Cornell Tech campuses. The University sponsored-research has also increased by 10 percent to $700 million, with a 175 percent increase from industrial sources.
The president continued by emphasizing the importance of alumni, who “have never said ‘perhaps Cornell.’”
“Over the past year or so, I’ve met Cornell alumni across the country and around the globe,” she said. “Everywhere I went … I met people like you who are deeply proud of their Cornell education and all the ways it has enriched their lives.”
She mentioned that donations helped create the newly constructed Tang Welcome Center and will go towards constructing a new building for the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future at Weill.
“Last year we received $512 million in new gifts and commitments, with alumni and friends strengthening our Annual Funds by $44.4 million, a 6.5 percent increase over fiscal year 2017,” she said.
Despite the prosperity, Pollack also listed problems that still need addressing, such as mental health, which has been a concern throughout Pollack’s first year-and-a-half as president. She said the University has expanded mental health resources in the face of increasing demand and plans to “conduct a comprehensive evaluation of student mental health needs and our approaches.”
Pollack also stated that the University has been working very hard to keep costs down for families by reining in administrative expenses while maintaining the quality of education.
“For most students with financial aid, the net cost of a Cornell education is actually lower than it was a decade ago and even, in many cases, two decades ago,” she said.
The president concluded by returning to Bishop’s essay. “‘Perhaps it is important that we should not be grouped as a member of any Big Four or Big Twelve. As the qualities in the seed persist and fructify, it may be that foreign observers hunting the essentially American college will specify Cornell University. And perhaps Harvard, Yale, and Princeton,’” she quoted.