Katrien de Waard/Sun Staff Photographer

President Pollack addresses the Student Assembly on last week's emergency alerts at their Nov. 18 meeting.

November 21, 2021

Pollack Met by ‘Do Better Cornell’ Protestors at Student Assembly Meeting

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President Martha Pollack and Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi made an appearance at last Thursday’s Student Assembly meeting in the wake of two emergency threats that rocked campus on Nov. 7 and 9

Pollack and Lombardi arrived at around 5 p.m., 15 minutes into the meeting, to make brief remarks before the S.A., followed by a Q&A session with representatives. 

The two administrators were met by members of Do Better Cornell, an organization advocating for the University to improve diversity, equity and inclusion on campus, according to their website. Recently, Do Better Cornell released a list of demands for the University to address their “lack of action” during the emergency events, including setting clear standards for professors on enforcement of deadlines and attendance and improving emergency communications from the University. 

A group of approximately a dozen protestors, dressed in black, entered the Willard Straight Hall memorial room shortly after Pollack and Lombardi’s arrival. They carried signs bearing slogans such as “My mental health matters,” “Do Better Cornell” and “no more business as usual.” Protestors remained quiet in the back of the room for the duration of Pollack and Lombardi’s address before leaving once the rest of the meeting continued. Then, the meeting carried on as usual. Do Better Cornell did not respond to requests for comment on the protest.

During their remarks, Pollack and Lombardi discussed the University’s response to last week’s emergency threats, addressing student concerns over the University’s unclear communications during the shelter-in-place orders. 

“The situation was evolving off-campus. It was under the purview of the sheriff and the Ithaca police department, not the Cornell Police Department,” Pollack said., regarding Tuesday’s shelter-in-place “We were taking direction from them and it was changing again and again…we’re reviewing everything and we’re thinking about how we can be clearer in our messaging.” 

Lombardi explained that the University is considering ways to improve emergency communications moving forward, including having more frequent emergency notifications. 

Pollack also addressed concerns about the delay between the events and the release of a final police report. 

“[These events] didn’t just involve us,” she said. “For the first one, we had to bring in more resources from all over the region.”

State and local police, in addition to campus authorities, were involved in both the sweep of campus following the bomb threat on Nov. 7 and the search in Cayuga Heights for the armed suspect on Nov. 9, which delayed University communications.

“The last thing we want to do is rush to share information that turns out to be incorrect and therefore can unintentionally cause greater distress, greater confusion or even physical harm” Pollack said. 

Several representatives also addressed issues of insufficient access to University mental health resources, particularly during emergency situations. Lombardi explained that the University plans to use last year’s survey on mental health to improve mental health care and involve more students in the process. 

“We do want to engage more students,” Lombardi said. “​​Students completely shaped the report and findings about what we need to do … We will really take that on our shoulders and make sure that those things happen.”

Following remarks on the lockdowns, Pollack discussed the University’s endowment, which experienced a 41.9 percent return this fiscal year. Pollack cited several factors for its success, including a robust market and rigorous risk monitoring and rebalancing system, which allowed the University to diversify its portfolio and mitigate investment risk.  

Pollack and Lombardi addressed questions posed to them about the North Campus Residential Expansion. Lombardi explained that the University is currently operating on a 20-year timeline to renovate existing North Campus dormitories, in addition to constructing new ones. The expansion plan will accommodate the addition of 650 students to each graduating class going forward.

Lombardi also spoke on the discrepancies between housing facilities in the old and new dorms on North Campus. He said that the University intends to keep dorm rates the same across campus regardless of quality or location to avoid. He stated potential dangers of changing this system.

“If you do that,” he said, “we’ll begin to see a socioeconomic stratification among students that doesn’t feel great.”

S.A. representative Henry Wade ’23, minority students liaison at-large, addressed the University’s plan to waive the at least one summer saving requirement which requires many lower income students on financial aid to contribute to the cost of their education through summer employment or their own savings. The University waived the requirement during the summer of 2020 because CARES Act funding covered the costs, which Pollack said were roughly $3,000 per student. 

Moving forward, Pollack expressed hope that the University’s new fundraising campaign, “To Do the Greatest Good”  which in part, aims to raise $500 million in undergraduate financial aid, will help cover costs and allow students to pursue internships and academic opportunities they would otherwise not be able to take advantage of. 

Pollack said that the University plans to increase the number of students on financial aid by 1,000 students per year and to cut student debt by 25 percent. Pollack concluded her remarks by expressing her excitement for the new fundraising and expansion goals. 

“I actually think [Cornell] can be the model of a leading research university in the 21st century precisely because of our commitment to human diversity — any person — and intellectual diversity — any study,” Pollack said. 

Madeline Rosenberg ’23 contributed reporting.