Cameron Pollack / Sun File Photo

University President, Martha E. Pollack, outlined four principles in her most recent announcement to the Cornell community regarding COVID-19.

April 8, 2020

President Pollack Highlights New Set of Principles for Pandemic Decision-Making

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After the first day of online classes, President Martha E. Pollack emailed the Cornell community, outlining a set of principles she and other senior administrators will use when making decisions concerning the pandemic.

“Good decisions are made when they are guided by clear principles,” Pollack wrote.

The four principles outlined in the email were: caring for students, safeguarding Cornell as a “world-class institution,” maintaining staff and “seeking new knowledge.”

While some staff still have to work on-campus, Pollack could not guarantee that there would be no furloughs or layoffs, but stressed that the welfare of employees would be important when making collective decisions about them in the future.

On March 30, Provost Michael Kotlikoff sent a letter to faculty and staff, saying that Cornell would freeze salaries for employees for the upcoming fiscal year, beginning July 1. Collectively bargained salary hikes and faculty promotion raises were excluded from the salary freeze. Hiring, travel, summer programs, discretionary spending and capital projects would also be significantly curtailed.

One of Cornell’s highest priorities is to ensure that students have sufficient financial resources as the economy worsens, according to the email. The University will also aim to offer personal and academic support during a crisis that has left few unaffected.

“Some of us have lost family members and friends; some have symptoms of the virus or confirmed diagnoses,” Pollack wrote. “Many are struggling with changes to financial and living situations. And all of us are worried: about our loved ones, about the economic consequences of this pandemic, about what will come next.”

In terms of safeguarding Cornell as an institution, Pollack reiterated that the University has survived wars, pandemics and economic downturns, but it has soldiered on. This is the first time in University history that in-person classes have been suspended for weeks — Cornell did not close its campus during the 1903 typhoid outbreak or the 1918 flu pandemic. Classes also continued during both World Wars.

“Cornell has endured the unprecedented before and will do so again,” Pollack wrote. “I believe deeply that, ultimately, we will emerge from this newest challenge even stronger.”

Pollack said that the University will have to navigate and learn new methods of working remotely, as outlined in the fourth principle — “seeking new knowledge.”

The commitment to learning these methods comes two days after Kotlikoff announced that the deadline to change courses to S/U grading would be extended until the last day of classes, May 12. While the Student Assembly previously voted for a universal S/U system, the Faculty Senate did not pass the proposal.

The Cornell president also applauded the efforts of both students and faculty in transitioning to online courses and carrying out “myriad tasks that are necessary to support our university.” In particular, Pollack expressed her gratitude for those at Weill Cornell Medicine who have been risking themselves to care for patients on the frontlines of the pandemic.

“The road ahead will not be smooth, and it will not be easy,” Pollack wrote. “There will inevitably be decisions we will have to make that will shortchange one or another of our principles. But we will do our utmost to honor them.”

The full text of the announcement can be read here.