Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

President Martha E. Pollack speaks in annual address to staff.

October 23, 2020

Cornell to Continue Improving Staff Diversity, COVID Testing Accessibility, President Pollack Says in Annual Staff Address

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On Tuesday’s annual President’s Address to the Staff, President Martha E. Pollack dove into pressing issues, ranging from COVID-19 testing for staff and immunizations to the status of pay and benefits freezes.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, one of the biggest concerns for the Employee Assembly was the financial state of the University. Brandon Fortenberry, the director of catering, asked Pollack if there would be a reassessment of the financial impacts to the University to see if it would be able to return pay and retirement funds back to their previous levels.

Pollack responded that she recently had a meeting where the plan was discussed. “We are committed, we have no interest in keeping benefits or salary reductions a day longer than we have to,” Pollack said.

Pollack was also asked about what Cornell is doing to mitigate the growing infection rate in the Ithaca community, including if there were plans to have testing accessible to employees working off campus and their families, as well as helping local school districts with ongoing testing.

“We are just trying to figure out what we can do,” Pollack said, in regards to assisting with local school districts. “We of course want to partner with the community as much as we can.”

Mary Opperman, vice president and chief human resources officer, also shared the possibility of future ad hoc testing to employees being made available. The University hopes it can implement such testing for employees once students begin to depart campus in November.

Another point of concern addressed in the meeting was how Cornell plans to increase the hiring and retention of BIPOC staff and faculty.

Pollack said committees have been created to review the hiring process and procedures. Opperman added that the pandemic has complicated hiring, as the University instituted a hiring freeze in March.

“We are committed to looking deep inside of the way we do things to see if there are processes or procedures that need to be improved,” Opperman said.

Pollack was also asked about how working remotely will alter the way operations are run during non-COVID times.

According to Opperman, a vast majority of employees are looking forward to keeping remote working in their lives, so the University is looking to make remote work a permanent option once the pandemic ends.

Pollack urged the Cornell community to take caution in returning home for Thanksgiving and to refrain from any nonessential traveling as cases continue to climb in the Southern Tier region.

“I know it’s hard, but I’m asking you to make one more sacrifice, because we got to get through this, and we want to keep everybody employed, and we want to keep our students in classes,” Pollack said.

Beyond COVID-19 measures and hiring practices, Pollack also thanked the staff that helped advance the campus reactivation plan, as there are 7,485 staff across Cornell’s Ithaca and New York City campuses.

“There are not enough words for me to express my gratitude for all of you and for the work all of you have done over the last seven months to get us to the point we’re at now,” Pollack said.

To show appreciation, Pollack announced the University will add an extra day to staff’s winter break, which will now take place from Dec. 23 to Jan. 4. However, she acknowledged there will be employees who will need to work during the break –– an issue that Cornell will address with increased pay.

“You will of course receive premium pay or the equivalent number of days to use at another time,” Pollack said.

In her address, Pollack added that the Cornell community is what has given her hope during the pandemic.

“When Cornell succeeds where others have not, that to me is a beacon of hope,” Pollack said.  “And that is something that all of us are a part of, living that example, saying look what’s possible, when you value knowledge, look what’s possible when you value truth, and look what’s possible when you take care of each other.”