In its second in-person meeting of the semester, the University Assembly heard from President Martha Pollack, who addressed the body last Tuesday on issues ranging from University finances to wages to mental health. The assembly also heard a presentation from Prof. Ashleigh Newman ’06, an assistant clinical professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine, on recent proposals to construct new indoor swimming facilities.
Pollack discussed the University’s recent philanthropic efforts. She credited the generosity of Cornell alumni and friends, and the work of the University’s Alumni Affairs and Development staff, with the first six months of this year being the best in Cornell’s history in terms of philanthropy.
“We raised the highest amount of funding ever in Cornell’s history, 528 million dollars overall, which brings us up to a total of about three billion dollars towards our five billion dollar goal,” Pollack said. “This will help us address a range of important priorities, including … the goal of making undergraduate education more affordable.”
During her remarks, Pollack also discussed student health and wellness. She mentioned that recreational facilities and other in-person wellness programs, like Student Hope, have returned to campus for the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic, also mentioning issues of access and affordability.
While Cornell’s fitness centers are currently restricted to those who pay membership fees, a new feature of the access fund offers access grants to those who can not afford memberships.
Pollack also commented on the state of Cornell’s swimming pools in the wake of a recent Faculty Senate resolution calling for a new indoor swimming pool on campus. Pollack acknowledged the expensive maintenance challenges with the current pools, but she stated that the University is working on a “creative approach” to funding projects for their repair.
When discussing wages and increases for the next fiscal year, Pollack asserted that funding a natatorium would require diverting funds from other areas. Pollack also claimed that the University’s biggest challenge every year is appropriately compensating faculty and staff while restraining tuition growth. She commented on economic uncertainty and inflation.
“I know there is a lot of concern about inflation and high prices,” Pollack said. “We will do the very best we can to raise salaries as much as we can while remaining true to the long term fiscal responsibilities that we have as a University.”
After her presentation, Pollack responded to questions posed by assembly members, including Executive Vice Chair Jacob Feit ’22, who asked Pollack about how Cornell’s expanding student population has impacted access to housing. Feit expressed concerns over lack of four-year housing options that are especially for low-income and middle-class students who are unable to keep up with increasing housing prices.
“We don’t have the money right now to build dormitories for juniors and seniors,” Pollack said in response. “Part of the reason for building the two thousand extra beds was we thought it would put pressure on the housing market to drive down costs.”
Joel Malina, vice president for University Relations, was also present at the meeting, adding that off-campus housing prices relate to more complex financial decisions that are difficult to regulate. However, Malina also said that the University has the ability to shape the local housing market through “external forces” and has made good progress.
Newman pointed out that both pools do not meet Federal accessibility standards and guidelines, and they lack sufficient bathrooms and showers for male-identifying, female-identifying and gender non-comforming persons.
Throughout the University’s history, pools have been used by students, faculty, staff and retirees for open swimming as well as by several sports teams and physical education courses for structured programs.
Newman pointed to a supply and demand imbalance: While there is huge demand for pool time, Cornell does not have the space or the hours in the day to grant the access that the community wants. Over the past two years, pool closures have increased and even forced Cornell athletes to swim on occasion at nearby Ithaca College.
According to Newman, the damaged Teagle Hall roof, which contains dangerous asbestos material, is in need of a replacement that would likely require 10 months of work and millions of dollars.
Newman also said that these new fixes come after the University spent 750 thousand dollars in 2020 on “palliative measures” to fix the pool, including the insertion of wooden support beams underneath.
“All that could be done was done at this point to try to prolong the life of the pool,” Newman said.
Newman said she feared that the University could be left without a pool entirely for at least seven years, since the current pool’s approximate life expectancy extends only until 2025, and the process of fundraising, designing and building a new natatorium could take up to 10 years.
“[A pool is] not just a luxury item that we would like to have,” said Newman. “It would actually solve the supply and demand issue that we have at Cornell.”