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Students walk outside Cornell Health, where they receive mental and physical health services.

February 26, 2023

President Martha Pollack Expresses Lack of Support for Funding Permanent, On-Campus M.D. Gynecologist

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President Martha Pollack expressed that she did not support the Student Assembly’s Resolution 15 — which requests that the University supply funds for an M.D. gynecologist — in a Feb. 10 email to Valeria Valencia ’23, S.A. president and co-sponsor of Resolution 15, citing Cornell Health’s existing gynecologic health support.

The S.A. adopted the resolution on Nov. 17, conveying its approval to Pollack one month later. The University Assembly approved a very similar resolution, Resolution 2, on Nov. 29. On the same day as the S.A., the U.A. received a nearly-identical email response from Pollack.

According to Valencia, the Faculty Senate is currently voting on Resolution X — their version of this proposal — until March 2.

In the email to Valencia, Pollack wrote that Cornell Health’s primary care clinicians have been trained to treat most gynecologic issues, offer preventative measures and screening and conduct minimally-invasive clinical procedures, including intrauterine device insertion.

“The primary care clinicians within Cornell Health have a combined 50 years of experience in gynecology services, and it is within their scope of care to diagnose and treat the most common gynecological issues in the student population, including the majority of pelvic pain conditions,” Pollack wrote.

Pollack also stated that primary care clinicians may refer patients who require advanced specialty care or surgical intervention to gynecology providers in the larger Ithaca community, who are qualified to manage most chronic pelvic pain conditions. She noted that the local providers to which Cornell Health refers students partake in the Student Health Plan.

“Based on the advanced nature of those health concerns, it is best for those patients to be seen and treated at the specialist’s office,” Pollack wrote.

Many S.A. members expressed frustration with Pollack’s lack of support for funding to hire a gynecologist for Cornell Health. Veronica Lewis ’25, vice president of external affairs and School of Hotel Administration representative for the S.A., said she was shocked by the statement, adding that she believes it depicts a systemic issue with Cornell’s bureaucracy.

“I think that [Pollack’s lack of support] shows how archaic the leadership is, because we have both faculty and students in full support of [funding a gynecologist on campus], something that honestly should have been implemented over a decade ago, [yet] Pollack is [not supporting the resolution],” Lewis said. “I think we should rethink who is making decisions and who was allowed to implement those decisions.”

Pedro Da Silveira ’25, vice president of internal operations and College of Engineering representative for the S.A., echoed Lewis’s sentiment, noting his surprise at Pollack’s refusal of Resolution 15 since, he said, the University generally aims to present an image of equality and progress.

“The University administration likes doing constructive things that make them look good,” Da Silveira said. “So, it doesn’t make any sense for them to drag their feet on directly improving and protecting women’s health on campus… especially when everyone is showing broad support for this.”

However, Amisha Chowdhury ’23, student advocate of the S.A. and co-sponsor of Resolution 15, wrote in a statement to The Sun that Pollack’s email did not surprise her, because she has noticed a pattern in Cornell administration’s shutting down students’ requests for more resources and support. 

Chowdhury particularly referred to the University’s failure to address student organizers’ requests for more support for first-generation and low-income students and resources for reproductive healthcare, consent training and diversity and inclusion initiatives.

“This past year alone, student organizers have voiced our concerns to administration for various campus issues,” Chowdhury wrote. “Administration is well aware of the issues students face on campus, yet they continue to fail to address student concerns.”

When the Basic Needs Coalition advocated for a basic needs center at Cornell at an Oct. 6 S.A. meeting, Pollack said that Cornell currently provides adequate resources for low-income and minority students.

Although Valencia expressed disappointment that Resolution 15 did not receive the support the S.A. expected it would, she also recognized that the University may possibly lack adequate funding to support a permanent M.D. gynecologist.

“I believe that President Pollack’s lack of support for this resolution, despite it being passed by both the S.A. and the U.A., comes from the fact that Cornell Health might not have the resources to hire an M.D. gynecologist,” Valencia wrote in a statement to The Sun.

Still, Valencia stated that the S.A. remains hopeful that an M.D. gynecologist will be implemented in the near future.

On the other hand, Chowdhury said she believes that political will, rather than funding issues, drove Pollack’s disapproval.

“Cornell University has an endowment of over $9.8 billion dollars and there are various ways to find external grants and secure funding,” Chowdhury wrote. “The University simply does not see this issue as a priority.”

Claire Ting ’25, School of Industrial and Labor Relations representative for the S.A., also expressed disappointment. In a statement to The Sun, she wrote that Pollack failed to acknowledge the structural barriers that prevent students from accessing adequate outsourced care.

“Though specialist referrals are available by primary care physicians on campus, there are still a number of structural barriers — reliable transport to off-campus sites, health insurance coverage, adjacent financial concerns, etc. — that prevents students from accessing this care,” Ting wrote. “I find it concerning that the President did not fully respond to these structural barriers, as they were a primary driver for why an on-site M.D. gynecologist was needed to begin with.”

Valencia pointed out that low-income students face greater structural obstacles to healthcare access.

“We shared student testimonials of having to travel as far as Rochester or other areas in Upstate New York to get the care they needed and how inaccessible this is for low-income students,” Valencia wrote. “Having an in-house M.D. gynecologist at Cornell Health would have helped to diminish the inequities present in our healthcare system and within Cornell itself.”

Lewis said she believes Cornell has faced a persistent equity problem regarding the treatment of women, regardless of Cornell’s having challenged gender norms in the past. She added that Cornell Health’s inability to sufficiently support women’s reproductive health care represents a gendered disparity.

“I think that [leaders] like to [emphasize] that [Cornell] was the first Ivy League institution to allow women and that’s wonderful, and that was revolutionary at the time,” Lewis said. “But it’s not just about [women] having a seat at the table. It’s about [women] being treated the same as well.”

The University refused to provide further comment when requested by The Sun.