In a semesterly meeting with The Sun, President Martha E. Pollack shared her hopes for on-campus reform, reaffirmed her dedication to “transparency” in the investigation of Antonio Tsialas’s death and promised plans for increasing student socioeconomic diversity as she prepares to wrap up her fifth semester in Cornell’s highest office.
The roundtable interview also involved several other senior members of the administration, including Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi and Vice President of Campus Facilities Rick Burgess.
Over the past year and a half, Pollack’s office has implemented a series of sweeping mental health reforms in response to student and advocate concern. A major one, which went into effect this fall, promises same-day, 25-minute appointments to cut down on long wait times. This has already been a success, Lombardi said.
“The big thing we heard from students was access, access, access,” Lombardi said — students wanted to be able to “get in, and get in quickly.” This was in response to a system in which students reported routinely waiting weeks or months for their first appointment.
Now, the average wait time is 22 hours, according to Lombardi. After a 25-minute “problem-solving visit,” about a third of students don’t feel the need to schedule another appointment, he said. Another third continue the 25-minute visits, while the last third switch to the traditional 50-minute length.
Referrals to off-campus mental healthcare providers have also decreased from 17 percent to 3 percent, Lombardi said.
After the nation was rocked by a college admissions scandal during Pollack’s second year in office, Cornell quickly completed a “careful scan” of its admitted students, Pollack said — no inconsistencies were found among the admissions of all “incoming and second year” athletes.
The University has since updated its sports admission practices: coaches will now have to provide “quantitative” data showing the athlete’s sports prowess, rather than just a “qualitative” letter of assessment.
In addition to those “tightened up” screening measures, Pollack and Lombardi said they see admitting and supporting more socioeconomically diverse classes as a top priority. Initiatives to that effect include flipped classrooms to bridge experience gaps and food insecurity programs, including the freshly-opened food bank on campus.
In the wake of Weill Cornell’s new debt-free education initiative, Pollack said her “first focus” was reducing the financial burden on undergraduates.
Pollack also emphasized “transparency,” both in governance and in sharing information regarding a recent death that rocked the campus community.
VP Lombardi and Pollack reaffirmed their support of the Interfraternity and Panhellenic Council’s internal moves to temper Greek life events; Pollack said that she was committed to “transparency” on all levels of the University’s involvement. On Wednesday, Cornell spokesperson John Carberry confirmed that Cornell suspended Phi Kappa Psi — the fraternity whose house was the last place Tsialas was seen alive — on Nov. 8.
“We need to provide a safe environment and we’re not doing that,” Pollack said.
Administrators also reaffirmed Cornell’s ongoing initiative to build only LEED-certifiable structures in the name of sustainability. This, Burgess said, will assist Ithaca in meeting its Green New Deal goals.
Provost Kotlikoff said that “we really haven’t been sitting still” on sustainability issues, highlighting work towards carbon neutrality by 2035. Pollack said that the board of trustees was not planning to reconsider divestment from fossil fuels at this time.
The full transcript of the interview can be read here: