Julia Nagel/Sun Senior Photographer

President Martha Pollack served as the 14th president of Cornell.

May 9, 2024

BREAKING: President Pollack to Retire After Seven Years of Leadership

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President Martha Pollack announced that she will retire from her position on June 30, in an email sent to the Cornell community on Thursday, May 9.

Provost Michael Kotlikoff will serve as interim president for a two-year term beginning on July 1, 2024, according to a follow-up email sent by Kraig Kayser MBA ’84, chair of the Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees will establish a committee to select the University’s 15th president six to nine months before Kotlikoff’s term ends.

Pollack acknowledged that there “will be lots of speculation about [her] decision” and emphasized that she independently decided to retire from her role after “extensive reflection.”

Pollack’s retirement follows a year of campus controversies spurred from the Israel-Hamas war, including Prof. Russell Rickford, history, saying that he was “exhilarated” by Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel and Patrick Dai ’24 posting antisemitic threats.

Throughout the year, the Coalition for Mutual Liberation — a pro-Palestine coalition of over 40 on and off-campus organizations — occupied Day Hall, held die-ins in libraries and other campus buildings and established an encampment on the Arts Quad. Demonstrators urged the University to divest from weapons manufacturers, advocate for a ceasefire in Gaza, acknowledge Islamophobia on campus and cease educational ties with Israeli institutions.

The administration has condemned the disruptive nature of demonstrations, labeled some of the organization’s language as antisemitic and arrested and suspended demonstrators.

Pollack acknowledged the “enormous pain” felt by community members due to world turmoil and local tensions, including for Jewish and Israeli students and Arab, Palestinian and Muslim students. She acknowledged that the next Cornell administration will have to continue to address antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of bigotry, while protecting free expression, but asserted that the next leaders will work from a “solid foundation.”

“We have been vigilant in working to ensure the safety and well-being of all members of our community from all backgrounds, work I’ve been dedicated to long before the events of the past year,” Pollack wrote.

However, Muslim students have previously expressed to The Sun concerns about a lack of an administrative response to concerns about online threats and intimidation on campus. This includes how several derogatory messages toward Muslim students were posted on Greekrank on Oct. 29, in addition to antisemitic threats, but the University addressed only the antisemitic posts in an Oct. 29 press release.

The academic year has seen some university presidents, including Claudine Gay of Harvard University and Liz Magill of the University of Pennsylvania, step down amid backlash for their response to antisemitism on campus.

In January, former trustee Jon Lindseth ’56 published an open letter urging Pollack and Kotlikoff’s resignation, citing the University’s failure to appropriately address antisemitism on campus amid a “misguided commitment” to diversity, equity and inclusion. However, the Board of Trustees unanimously voted in support of Pollack’s leadership in response to the letter.

This approval for Pollack has sustained into the announcement of her retirement. As of Thursday morning, the Board of Trustees appointed Pollack as president emerita, an honorary title given to a retired leader, effective July 1, 2024.

“On a personal level, all my fellow trustees and I have enjoyed working with President Pollack and have valued her intelligence, integrity, candor and warmth,” Kayser wrote.

Pollack also emphasized her success with furthering her initial goals for her leadership — “enhancing Cornell’s academic distinction, our educational verve and the fulfillment of our civic responsibility.” 

Pollack oversaw the creation of the Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy, the establishment of COVID-19 pandemic policies and the allocation of increased financial aid, among many other accomplishments.

Pollack considered retiring over the past academic year but chose not to announce the decision earlier due to unforeseen circumstances, according to her email.

“Indeed, I began deliberating about this last fall, and made the decision over the December break; but three times, as I was ready to act on it, I had to pause because of events on our and/or on other campuses,” Pollack wrote. 

The Sun was scheduled to interview Pollack — along with Kotlikoff, Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi and Vice President for University Relations Joel Malina — on Friday, May 10. However, the interview was postponed until after Aug. 1, according to an email from Rebecca Valli, senior director of Cornell Media Relations.

The email was sent less than a half hour after Pollack announced her retirement, despite the interview having been coordinated since April 18.

Update, 5/9, 4:40 p.m.: This article has been updated to include more information about President Martha Pollack’s leadership and retirement.