Friday’s State of the University address was an opportunity for President Pollack to redefine the University’s priorities, briefing the Statler Hall audience on the changes her administration has enacted since last year’s speech — a year that saw both scandals and lawsuits regarding admissions at Ivy League schools.
“It’s not enough to admit a diverse class, we must also support them,” Pollack told the crowd, which featured members of the board of trustees, the council, alumni and the public.
A main focus of this support was Cornell’s mental health resources, long a point of contention among students and advocacy groups.
“Cornell Health has developed a number of initiatives, including telehealth programs connecting Weill Cornell specialists with the Ithaca campus and a revamped mental health service that significantly expands both access and flexibility,” Pollack said. “Concurrently, we are conducting a campus-wide mental health review, with both internal and external assessments.”
These changes were meaningful for some alumni, who described personal experiences with what they saw as Cornell’s failure to appropriately address mental health issues.
“One area where [Cornell has] fallen short for decades, maybe even longer, is mental health,” said Mary Jones ’78. “I saw this when I was a resident advisor and the resources were inadequate, I saw it when my son was here and the resources were inadequate, I see it now with my daughter, who is a senior.”
Jones was optimistic about University initiatives to reduce wait times.
Another alumna and life member of the council, Angela DeSilva ’78, also had personal reasons for desiring mental health reform. Her son attended Cornell University, but due to treatment necessary for his bipolar disorder, he took three medical leaves before graduating in August 2019, she said.
“I think the University could do more to educate people and I think the University could do more with the larger societal problem, which is [to] stop stigmatizing this stuff so much,” DeSilva said.
Pollack also mentioned one of the University’s largest renovation projects — the North Campus Expansion Project — as an additional stress reliever for students.
“The expansion will take a great deal of stress off our students, who will be guaranteed housing through their sophomore years,” Pollack told meeting members.
In addition to the health of the students, many Cornell students are advocating for the health of the environment, in Ithaca and around the world.
Pollack promised that the North Campus Expansion buildings would be “net carbon zero ready, to accommodate future carbon zero technologies,” including rooftop solar panels.
This environmental sustainability goal was part of Pollack’s goal of civic responsibility, which she said included the need to both “educate global citizens and be a good institutional citizen.”
She described Cornell’s ongoing work in diversity and inclusion, including efforts to make a Cornell education more affordable, both at Cornell’s Ithaca Campus and Weill Cornell Medical School — which this year announced its plan for debt-free education.
“Last year, we awarded $257 million in grants [to students], and we also saw the lowest percentage increase in undergraduate tuition in decades,” she said.
Pollack’s goal of expanding education accessibility includes advocating for international students.
“They [international students] contribute immensely to our community foundation, so it is incumbent on us to do what we can to keep the doors open to them.”
Pollack and other New York university presidents recently filed amicus briefs, contacted members of the New York State Assembly and Congressional delegation, and wrote op-ed articles regarding accessibility for international students.
Pollack also raised a glass to Entrepreneurship at Cornell’s success in supporting new start-ups and the rising stacks of grant money from the National Institute of Health and the state of New York, and shout-outs also went to several faculty members who won distinguished accolades in the past year, including multiple recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers.