Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor

Attendees enter Kennedy Hall for President Martha Pollack’s State of the University address on Oct. 14, 2022. Student protesters stood outside the hall entrance to advocate for free TCAT service for students.

October 18, 2022

President Martha Pollack Highlights “To Do The Greatest Good” Campaign at State of the University Address, Students Demonstrate Outside

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On Oct. 13, President Martha Pollack delivered her second State of the University Address this year at the 72nd Trustee-Council Annual Meeting in Call Auditorium in Kennedy Hall. In the speech, which highlighted expansions across the University’s three campuses, Pollack reiterated the importance of the University’s To Do The Greatest Good fundraising campaign, which aims to raise $5 billion over the next five years.

Following remarks by Kraig H. Kayser, MBA ’84, chair of the Cornell Board of Trustees, and Arturo Carrillo ’96, MEng ’97, chair of the Cornell University Council, Pollack began her speech noting that this was her second State of the University address this year. The previous TCAM was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic from October 2021 to March 2022.

In her address, Pollack thanked the assembled trustees and alumni in the audience for their contributions to the University’s “To Do The Greatest Good” campaign, which was launched last fall, emphasizing the campaign’s mission to harness the “transformative capacity of higher education.” 

“Leading institutions like ours need to set our sights even higher, we’re going to find a way to a sustainable future with the innovations and the leadership and the civil society that meet all of the challenges we face,” Pollack said.

The address also noted the rapid changes taking place both on the University’s Ithaca campus and Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island in New York City. Pollack announced that the University would break ground on the new Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science building while Cornell Tech is moving to phase two of construction with plans to expand its student body from 500 today to 2,000 in twenty years. 

Pollack also ran through statistics of the new Class of 2026, who hail from 67 countries with over 19% identifying as the first generation in their family to attend college, and thanked the audience for their support towards the new class. 

“They are just some of the students whose life-changing Cornell education we are supporting through our philanthropic campaign with its ambitious goals of increasing socioeconomic diversity in our student body,” Pollack said. 

Though Pollack’s speech highlighted the campaign’s goal to foster student success and support socioeconomic diversity on campus, as trustees, faculty and alumni filed into Kennedy Hall, they walked past a silent demonstration by students involved with the Basic Needs Coalition.

Students assembled outside the doors of Kennedy Hall, holding signs with slogans such as “Do Better Cornell” and “Any Person Any Study — Only If You Have Money”. They also attempted to hand out flyers to audience members as they passed which listed the demands of the campaign such as establishing a centrally located, physical Basic Needs Center and overhauling the financial aid system. 

Cornell University Police officers were present outside the hall during the demonstration. A video, posted by Do Better Cornell on Instagram, shows CUPD officers directing demonstrators to move away from the building entrance. 

One of the students at the demonstration, who wished to remain anonymous, said that while the Basic Needs Coalition had already brought their demands to University administration officials, the aims of the campaign required institutional change which is why they sought the attention of the Board of Trustees.

“A lot of these meetings and events were highlighting Cornell student accomplishments…but the way we saw this was showing a full picture of what goes on at Cornell and showing that in all these so-called success stories, there’s also students that are struggling,” the student said. 

Among the other students demonstrating was John Monkovic ’24. In an email to The Sun, Monkovic said that it was important to bring the campaign’s demands to the trustees given their influence on the University. 

“I think it’s important that people identify who actually runs the university: the 64 trustees dominated by an undemocratically appointed, unaccountable ‘who’s who’ of the ruling financial class.” Monkovic said. 

Monkovic also recounted a particular reaction from an audience member to the demonstrating students. 

“I found it to be an educational experience on Friday to witness live and in-person as a trustee, or otherwise donor-alumnus, responded to student pleas about systemic food and housing insecurity with ‘They’re hiring at the Statler right now, why don’t you just get a job?’” Monkovic wrote. 

The student who wished to remain anonymous noted that some trustees and audience members expressed support and concern for the movement. They noted that it seemed as though many of the trustees and alumni were unaware of issues like food and housing insecurity on campus.

“I think it was important for us to show that a lot of them do actually want to support students, but a lot of their investment does not actually come to us directly,” the student said.