President Martha Pollack and Vice President of Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi addressed the Student Assembly on Thursday, Sept. 28, providing updates on academics, construction, admissions and student welfare.
Pollack started her address by announcing the appointment of Prof. Jamila Michener, government, who also serves as the senior associate dean of public engagement at the Jeb. E. Brooks School of Public Policy, as the inaugural director of the new Center for Racial Justice and Equitable Features.
“This center, which has been a while in the making, is now going to launch, and it will connect and amplify the University’s research and scholarship around the issues of racial injustice and inequality and its work to develop more just and equitable public policy,” Pollack said.
On July 16, 2020, President Pollack wrote in a letter to the Cornell community that she had tasked Cornell’s Faculty Senate with establishing an Anti-Racism Center as a part of the larger Antiracism Initiative. The Faculty Senate passed Resolution 163, which supported the center and provided recommendations for the center’s functionality on April 31, 2021.
“[Digital Agriculture] is a multidisciplinary field focused on food and agriculture production systems and the use of digital tools to develop better and more sustainable farming practices,” Pollack said. “[ASL is] part of an expanded range of upper-level courses in the College of Arts and Sciences, including ASL linguistics and modern Deaf culture.”
Pollack also spoke about Cornell’s freedom of expression academic theme for the year, explaining that despite the increase of threats to free expression across the nation, the University remains committed to allowing students to freely express their opinions on campus while promoting diversity, equity and inclusion.
“Cornell remains verbally committed to diversity, equity and inclusion. In fact, diversity, equality and inclusion and free speech are two of our core values,” Pollack said.
With many buildings currently under construction at Cornell, Pollack emphasized the benefits of construction projects, including creating Atkinson Hall — which is being built on Tower Road east of Rice Hall.
“[Atkinson Hall] will become the home of the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability, the Department of Computational Biology [and] the Center for Cancer Biology in the Center for Immunology. It will also provide support to our campus-wide master’s in public health program,” Pollack said.
Pollack also reflected on the announcement of a new four-story, 135,000-square-foot building for the Cornell Bowers College of Computing and Information Science.
“The Ann S. Bowers College of Computer and Information Science will be given a new state-of-the-art academic building supported by a transformational gift from Ann Bowers, class of ’59. It’s going on the old baseball field [Hoy Field],” Pollack said. “At least half of our undergraduates now take at least one course in Bowers CIS, and this new building, amongst other things, is going to allow us to increase the number of CIS faculty by 40 to 50 percent in the next few years, while further advancing the stature of the department.”
The Cornell Chronicle wrote on May 4 that 76 percent of Cornell undergraduates complete at least one course in Bowers CIS — which encompasses computer science, information science and statistics and data science. Bowers CIS, the Chronicle said, has also seen a sixfold increase in enrollment across the past decade, with over 2,000 undergraduates majoring in its three departments.
According to the Chronicle, the new building is expected to open in 2025 and will include the college’s three departments in a single complex for the first time.
Pollack also elaborated on the restoration of McGraw Hall, one of the University’s oldest buildings, saying that the renovations to the building include restoring its structural stability, modernizing spaces and adding seminar and active learning classrooms.
Pollack addressed the Supreme Court’s “deeply disappointing” overturn of affirmative action by expressing Cornell’s commitment to ensuring that the University has a diverse student body while complying with the law by heavily focusing on recruiting and aiding students from under-resourced communities throughout the admissions process.
“We have changed our admissions policies. But at the same time, we remain committed to our core values, which include being a community of belonging, and we will do everything we can within the bounds of the law to honor this value,” Pollack said. “Last year, I created a task force on undergraduate admissions… [The] report was released earlier this month, and we are moving forward on implementing many of the recommendations.”
Pollack reflected that the University is moving forward on implementing many of the recommendations from the report, such as recruiting from schools that have not traditionally sent students to Cornell, increasing partnerships with organizations that support students from under-resourced communities, simplifying the process of transferring credits from community colleges, improving the financial aid process and considering the barriers students may have faced throughout life.
Pollack also elaborated on Cornell’s institutional responsibility to Indigenous communities, stating that the University is committed to developing initiatives to support Indigenous communities. For example, a staff member has been added to the Office of the Vice Provost for Enrollment who focuses on Indigenous student recruitment.
Noah Courtney ’24, undergraduate veterans association liaison, asked Pollack how the University will invest in accommodating more veterans in light of Cornell ranking as the number one school for veterans in the country in the 2024 Best National Universities rankings by the U.S. News and World Report.
“Every year when we put our budget together, we have priorities, and recruitment of and support for veterans has been a priority, and it will continue to be a priority,” Pollack said.
Lombardi also updated the S.A. on two different food insecurity programs for students — the Cornell Food Pantry and Swipe Out Hunger, an organization that allows students to donate one of their four bonus meal swipes each semester, for students on the Bear Traditional meal plan.
“[Swipe Out Hunger] is operational, and it is going. We have students who have applied for it and have been granted meals already for swipes,” Lombardi said. “[The Cornell Food Pantry] was an active topic of discussion last year, and let me say this year it has been quite busy. The volume and the usage of the pantry have just about doubled this fall so far compared to last fall at the same time… The good news is clearly people are aware of this resource and using it actively.”
Pollack also gave an update on Cornell Health and the various new services it has for University students, including receiving x-rays for students at the Ithaca campus from Weill Cornell Medicine radiologists, additional psychiatric support for medication management and the creation of a 24/7 self-care supply vending machine in the lobby, including items like COVID-19 antigen tests, thermometers, Plan B and condoms.
Pollack added that students can receive gynecological care through a telehealth referral service through Weill Cornell Medicine, as student concerns over Cornell refusing to hire an M.D. gynecologist mount up.
In the question-and-answer portion of the address, Pollack addressed the recent graduate student unionization work. On Thursday, Sept. 21, the S.A. passed Resolution 21: Solidarity with Cornell Graduate Students United, expressing support among undergraduates for graduate students unionization.
On Sept. 6, the Cornell Graduate Students Union held a card drive event to kick off its unionization efforts. Over 2,500 graduate workers have currently signed union cards, according to a CGSU Instagram post on Friday, Sept. 29, and CGSU has filed for a union election through the National Labor Relations Board.
“[Unionization] is a choice for every individual. We do encourage everyone to consider the question of unionization thoughtfully and carefully and [to] ask questions,” Pollack said. “The University is committed to engaging in a process that is respectful of the rights of all involved and is consistent with the requirements of the National Labor Relations Act.”
The NLRA was passed by Congress in 1935, encouraging collective bargaining and establishing the right for employees to join unions throughout the United States.
Upper-Level Housing Selection
Lombardi discussed the recent housing selection process for rising juniors and seniors, applauding the increase in the number of students provided rooms and reflecting on moving the selection process to September, compared to a previous spring semester timeline, despite student complaints about the process.
“This is brand new for us this year to have this process take place in the fall… What we heard from students prior to this change is that by [the spring semester], they needed to go find an off-campus apartment because they weren’t sure if they were going to get on-campus housing,” Lombardi said. “We had 1,864 students secure rooms in that process last week, so that’s really a positive… That’s about 650 people more [getting housing] than we have historically been able to provide to juniors and seniors on this campus.”’
Lombardi addressed the crash of the Cornell housing selection website while students were trying to choose their dorms for next year, which resulted in many students unable to secure on-campus housing.
“Some of you may be aware that on the first day of that general room selection, the website crashed. We use a third-party platform [StarRez] to manage our occupancy… so we apologize for that glitch that happened on that first day,” Lombardi said. “[Despite this, we are] very pleased that we are able to provide more housing to upper-level students.”
Following Cornell Dining receiving the 2023 Gold Medal for best residential facility food from the National Association of College and University Food Services for Toni Morrison Dining, Pollack reflected on the importance of having facilities that do not just have good food quality, but are also sustainable.
“[The award] reflects not just the quality of food and the space, but the efficiency and sustainability of operations. [Toni Morrison Dining has] everything from automated composting to centralized oil recovery and refill systems to a centralized water-cooled refrigeration system that shares rack compressor capacity,” Pollack said.
Pollack announced that due to concerns, particularly among student-athletes, of needing to have late-night hours in various dining halls, North Star Dining and Cook House are now open until 10:30 p.m., which has already been averaging 400 students served per night during extended hours. Last semester, North Star was open until 9:30 p.m. and Cook House until 9 p.m.
Regarding the announcement in August that Cornell will end its contract with Starbucks by June 2025, Pollack said that the University has sent a notice to the corporation and is initiating the process of finding another vendor to supply the University.
Pollack spoke about the recent update on operational and environmental sustainability and the steps Cornell is taking to reach its goal of carbon neutrality by 2035.
“We have a brand new agreement with Distributed Sun, a renewable energy developer, for a 110-megawatt solar voltaic project… about 94 miles from here. Once this is operational, it will generate 150,000 megawatt hours per year. And once we’ve done that, it will mean we have reached a critical milestone in our campus carbon neutrality goal. We will meet our campus electricity needs with 100 percent renewable energy,” Pollack said.
Matthew Kiviat ’27 is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].