LIZ EVERETT KRISBERG: Good morning. And welcome back to the hill for Reunion 2017. Welcome, also, to those who can't be with us here in Bailey Hall, but are joining us remotely from around the world and listening via Livestream.
My name is Liz Everett Krisberg, class of 1997 and Cornell trustee. And I am thrilled to be back in Ithaca with my classmates and with all of you celebrating our reunions.
Though I'm here celebrating my 20th reunion, I did a little calculation this morning and realized that this is, in fact, my 14th reunion weekend. I was told not to wear my rhenium button up here, because it might interfere with the noise. But what I could be wearing is 14 different reunions, many from my parents, class of '65 and '66 reunion as a member of the Kids Club, and four reunions as an undergraduate reunion clerk, one of those very hardworking current students who are staffing your class headquarters at all hours.
And you guys obviously all get it. But I do want to just take this opportunity to say that of all of the jobs I've held in my life, being a reunion class clerk remains one of the best, because of the alumni that I got to meet and engage with. So I really encourage you this weekend to spend a couple of minutes connecting with those class clerks. Because I promise you, they will make you very impressed for the future of Cornell.
Before we begin our program, I want to acknowledge some very special guests who are here with us today. For 40 years, President Emeritus Frank Rhodes and his wife Rosa Rhodes have graced the Cornell community with their warmth and wisdom. President Rhodes will always be my first Cornell president. But for all of us, they remain some of Cornell's greatest ambassadors.
Frank and Rosa, Thank you for your devoted service to this institution we all love so well.
Also here with us this weekend is Peter Meinig, class of 1961 and Chair Emeritus of the Board of Trustees, and his wife Nancy Meinig, who's celebrating her 55th reunion with the class of '62.
Pete and Nancy have also served Cornell for decades. And among their many contributions, they and their family made a landmark gift a few years ago that allowed us to establish the Nancy E. And Peter C. Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering at Cornell. Pete and Nancy, thanks for all you do for Cornell.
And now on to our program. Some of you have been lucky to have met Martha Pollack, Cornell's 14th president, at events around campus this weekend or elsewhere since she took office just 55 days ago. She sent off Cornell's newest alumni class at the 149th commencement just two weeks ago. And she took her first selfie there with over 25,000 people at Schoellkopf. It's actually a pretty good picture for as quick as she took it.
She also presided over a senior convocation featuring Vice President Joe Biden and a very special Cornell ice cream, Big Red, White, and Biden, which was commissioned by the senior class and is still available up at the Dairy Bar. I had some yesterday. It's very good.
Because this is her first Cornell reunion, though, we thought you would appreciate the chance to learn a little bit more about Martha and her impressions of Cornell so far. I have a feeling you're going to leave this conversation pretty impressed for Cornell's future too.
To guide the conversation, we're pleased to have with us Joel Malina, Cornell's Vice President for University Relations. Joe coordinates Cornell's internal and external communications functions as well as Cornell's relationships with federal, state, and local policymakers and stakeholders.
President Pollack, on behalf of all of the reunion classes celebrating our fifth to 80th reunions this year, we warmly welcome you to your first Cornell reunion. And we look forward to your many years of leadership as Cornell's 14th president. Please join me in welcoming President Martha Pollack and Vice President Joel Malina.
JOEL MALINA: Good morning, everyone. It is such a pleasure to welcome all of you, our alumni, your guests back to campus. I also want to acknowledge that in addition to those of you here in Bailey Hall, we have some overflow space in Call Auditorium and then numerous alumni who are following this event via Livestream. So welcome to the entirety of the Cornell family for what I'm confident will be a fun and enlightening conversation.
Liz, thank you very much for those introductory remarks. And as Liz mentioned, Martha is just shy of eight weeks on the job. But it's been a very busy eight weeks for her, including a number of individual meetings with alumni in DC and New York City and elsewhere. She's also had a chance to meet with a number of our college advisory groups and volunteer leadership groups.
So I know this is, as your first reunion, an opportunity to get to know even more alumni. And from looking at your calendar, I know this has been a very busy 48 hours. And I know today will be busy as well.
But as all of you are no doubt curious, let's learn more about Martha as well as her first impressions of Cornell. So we're going to have a little bit of a conversation. And then we'll have time for some of your questions. So keep that in mind as to what you'd like to ask toward the end of our time together.
So with that, welcome--
MARTHA POLLACK: Thanks, Joel.
JOEL MALINA: --President Pollack. Let's start with a little bit about your background. Your most recent position was as provost at the University of Michigan. Can you give us a bit of an outline of your field, your education, how you made the transition into academic administration.
MARTHA POLLACK: Sure, sure. Well, I started college, I decided to go to an Ivy League college with a real commitment to teaching in a small town that's very snowy. Unfortunately, it was a small town where people wear green, not red.
JOEL MALINA: Aren't we supposed to [HISSING] at that point? [HISSING]
MARTHA POLLACK: But what that did was give me a real appreciation for how special such small towns are and what you get out of being in a small college town. A college town where most of the community is interested in scholarship and research and learning and teaching.
While I was there, I did a self-designed major. I majored in linguistics, and along the way, took as many math courses as a math major. And when I got out of college, I decided to take a few years off and work, and then went back to graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania in computer science.
Now, you ask, how did you get from linguistics to computer science? Well I studied artificial intelligence. And I focused on natural language processing.
So that was the beginning of my academic career in graduate school. I then spent six years in California at a not for profit research lab called SRI International, then joined the faculty of the University of Pittsburgh, and then in 2000 moved to the University of Michigan, all as professors of computer science all along the way.
JOEL MALINA: Great. Well given that this is reunions, and many of you are hearkening back to your times as undergraduates, maybe Martha, you can talk a bit about your experience as an undergraduate and how those experiences influenced your academic and professional aspirations.
MARTHA POLLACK: Sure. Let me point to a specific incident that happened when I was a freshman. I was 17 years old. I was sort of first generation. My dad had gotten a business degree at night at City College after the kids were born.
But I was first generation on a residential campus. I was female when Dartmouth was 3 to 1 male. In many ways, I didn't belong there. But I was having a good time. I was enjoying my studies, I had planned to major in math or maybe one of the physical sciences.
And then I took my anthropology course to meet a distributive requirement. And I loved it. Just loved it.
And I walked into the office of the head instructor. And I said, Professor Alverson, I think I want to do a dual major in math and anthropology.
Now, you know, math and anthropology. He could have laughed. He could have just signed my form. But he didn't do either of those things. He engaged me in a conversation.
And we talked for a while. And then he said, OK, I think I get it. So you think very formally, like a mathematician, but you're interested in people. Yeah, yeah, that's it.
He said, OK, I have an idea. Why don't you major in linguistics? Because what's more human than language and communication, but it's a very formal discipline.
And I said, wow. I'd like to explore. That sounds interesting. And he says, there's just one problem. We don't have a linguistics department here.
But don't worry. I'll help you do a self-designed major.
Now, in that moment, in that moment, what did Professor Alverson do? I mean, he found me my major, which then became my field of study, eventually, natural language processing and computer science. He taught me about interdisciplinarity, which I didn't know about.
He taught me that when what you want doesn't exist, you make it up. You just have to find a more senior person to help you. Seriously! And he taught me that I could be taken seriously as a scholar, that this crazy idea I had about studying math and anthropology wasn't so crazy.
He changed my life. And I think that was the moment at which I realized I want to be an academic. Because I can now go, if I become an academic, and work with students and change their lives.
JOEL MALINA: And is this professor still living? Have you been in touch with him?
MARTHA POLLACK: He is still living. He is still living. He retired a few years ago.
And I have to tell you, when you're in an academic position, you get this award and this prize and that award. The thing I am the most proud of in my academic career is about-- must have been about seven or eight years ago, I got email from Professor Alverson. They were having a retirement party for him. And he was going to invite back one student for each decade of his teaching. And even though I wasn't an anthropologist, I represented my decade. And--
JOEL MALINA: That's great.
MARTHA POLLACK: --that was really meaningful to me.
JOEL MALINA: Well, absolutely.
Here's a chance to plug Martha's inauguration on August 25th. If he's not already on the invite list, we should get--
MARTHA POLLACK: He is on the invite list. And I'm trying to get him to come.
JOEL MALINA: --that would be great. You mentioned your specific research field as artificial intelligence. At the risk of using language that might confuse many of us, maybe you can talk a bit about that research. What it is you were focusing on. How it applies to all of our lives.
MARTHA POLLACK: Yeah, and it's been a research career that has spanned the time in which artificial intelligence has changed quite a lot. And so perhaps not surprisingly, my interests shifted over time.
As I say, I started working in natural language processing. And that's pretty easy to understand. You want to be able to talk to computers in English or German or Swahili or Japanese or what have you, not just in FORTRAN or LISP for Ruby on Rails or whatever. I worked on that for a while.
How's our interpreter doing with Ruby on Rails, you [INAUDIBLE]
But here's the thing about language. If you want to understand language, you have to understand what people are doing. So if we're at a restaurant and I say to you, can you reach the salt and you say yes, I get annoyed with you, right? That's a request. So how do you figure all that out? Well there's a whole theory that says, well, you understand what I might be trying to do. I'm not trying to figure out how long your arm is. I'm trying to figure out I want some salt.
And so if you're going to understand language, you need to understand people's plans. So that moved me into the field of automated planning. How do you get computers to design plans to achieve goals? That led to some very technical work, which I won't talk about. It was pretty fascinating-- on constraint and satisfaction and constraint optimization.
And then in sort of the mid '90s, I thought, OK, all this foundational algorithmic work is fine and fun, but I want to do something more immediately practical. And I met a neuropsychologist. And we started working together on assistive technology for people with cognitive impairment.
So for example-- there were multiple things we did, but I'll just tell you one. What he said to me was, sometimes when a patient comes into the clinic and I have them try to do an activity to see how they're functioning, sometimes they perform really, really well. And their spouse or partner says, but you know at home, they're really struggling. And sometimes quite the opposite. And what's going on?
Well, in the first case, sometimes the patients have practiced. They know what the neuropsychologist is going to ask them. And they practice. And in other cases, they have the equivalent of white coat hypertension. So they're just nervous. At home they're doing OK.
So what we did-- we did this in a lab, but you could do it in a house-- we built a little kitchen and we put sensors all over it. And then we put a bracelet with a reader on the patient. And we had them do something like make a cup of coffee. And then we could map from the activities they performed to a well-designed plan and we could begin to assess their performance.
So it was great fun. We were making real progress. And then I moved into administration and I haven't had much time for it. But other people have picked it up.
JOEL MALINA: And so now the big question, why Cornell? Why--
MARTHA POLLACK: Why Cornell?
JOEL MALINA: --this position at this time in your career?
MARTHA POLLACK: Well, everybody in this room knows why Cornell. I'm serious.
No, really, it's an extraordinary university. And I'll tell you, when I was provost at Michigan-- the provost role at Michigan is one where, for whatever reason, over the past, oh, more than 30 years, almost every provost has rolled into some sort of presidential position. So I'd get a lot of phone calls from headhunters. And I said, no. No not interested. Like what I'm doing. Love Michigan. Great university.
And then the headhunter called about Cornell. And what struck me off the bat was something about Cornell that, frankly, is also true of Michigan-- and I don't think it's an accident that like Frank Rhodes and like four other previous Cornell presidents, so six of the 14 have come from Michigan, there's a very important similarity and it's this.
What somebody on the search committee said to me was, this is an Ivy League school with a Big Ten heart. We're unique in being an Ivy League university that's land-grant university. So it means you combine in this incredible way world class academics, a strong commitment to liberal arts, with a deep instinct for outreach and making a difference in the world.
Beyond that, what I came to learn were two other things. One, it's a school with a deep, abiding commitment to diversity from day one. I mean, the statements that the founders made about being committed to diversity were extraordinary in 1865.
Now, we haven't always gotten it right. Issues of inclusiveness and diversity are societal issues. And they're difficult. But it's in our DNA to commit to them.
And then finally, I think we're at this extraordinarily exciting moment with the opening of the Cornell Tech campus.
So as I say, I understand from having been an undergraduate in Hanover, and even from my eight weeks in Ithaca, how magical Ithaca is. It will always be the heart and soul of this university.
But now if you couple that with the opportunities of having a real foothold in New York City, a place where Cornell has always been for 100 years, but is now expanding, I think the opportunities are endless. So to me, there was just no other choice but to say yes and go on the interviews and keep my fingers crossed.
JOEL MALINA: Great. We at Cornell have this wonderful mission of teaching, research, and engagement. I want to touch a little bit on those starting with our teaching mission. How do you think Cornell can and should deliver on its educational promise now as well as going into the future?
MARTHA POLLACK: Yeah. Well, what I'm seeing already is a lot of innovation, teaching innovation, which I think is great. It goes all the way from the classics department, where Professor Michael Fontaine is teaching Latin as a living language, to Cornell Tech, where they are building this studio experience where master students, as part of their education, are working directly with companies and building startups.
Across the campus, I see innovation. I see engaged learning, hands-on learning. We see that in Engaged Cornell. I think we need to do more of that. And I do think we need to build more on the use of technology, not to replace people. I told you my story of Professor Alverson, right? You're not going to replace that one-on-one relationship.
But I think you can do things like use the data we get from students to understand what kind of teaching works, to understand what paths through the curriculum work, to personalize the classroom experiences. And I think we need to do more there.
JOEL MALINA: Now, when you're in the classroom, how do you describe your teaching style?
MARTHA POLLACK: My teaching. I tell a lot of jokes. No, I mean, seriously.
So I teach computer science. When I was provost, I actually, for a few years, taught a course on finance in higher ed. But mostly I teach computer science.
And the course I love the best is the discrete math course. This is the course for sophomores where we sort of teach them the math they need to be a computer scientist. I find the material to be completely fascinating. But you can imagine that some people find structural induction and set theory and stuff to be a little dry. Oh, come on, it's fascinating stuff.
So I do try to tell jokes. And more than that, I try to engage them directly in the learning.
So let me give you just one example. The Monty Hall problem. How many people know the Monty Hall problem? All right.
So the Monty Hall problem has to do with-- I'm not going to tell you the answer. You're going to have to go out and Google the answer.
But you're a contestant on "The Price is Right?" "Let's Make a Deal."
JOEL MALINA: "Let's Make a Deal."
MARTHA POLLACK: "Let's Make a Deal." You're a contestant on "Let's Make a Deal." And you know that there's a car behind one door and a goat behind the other two. You say, I want Door A. And Monty Hall opens Door B and shows you a goat.
And the question is, should you stick with Door A if he gives you the chance or go to Door C? And there was a huge debate on this. Huge debate in the popular press a few years ago.
So what I did in my classroom was I divided the class in half and we simulated it. We did it, like, 20 times each. And half the class had to vote for C and the other class had to stick with A. And you could prove the result, which is a little bit counter-intuitive. So I try to get them engaged, so that the lessons stick.
JOEL MALINA: Great. Let's turn to the topic of research. From your own area of expertise, AI, how do you think artificial intelligence will impact research, education, and what we are referring to as knowledge workers?
MARTHA POLLACK: So here's what it's not going to do. It's not going to replace faculty members. It's just not going to replace faculty members. And not just because I don't want it to replace faculty members.
I mean, again, how many of you are aware you are today, because you had something equivalent to my Alverson experience? My guess is almost all of you, right? We're not going to replace that.
But I think there are many, many, many ways in which we can use intelligent technology to help students. There are systems that exist that collect experiences from students and lump them together by type.
So there's a system I've seen where a student can say, I'm taking Chem 101 and I want to get a A-minus. And the system will say, how much do you study? And the student will say, three hours a week. I work really hard. And the system will say, well, do you know that most of the students who get an A-minus study 10 hours a week?
And it turns out that this was actually very effective. You can demonstrate that if I were to say that as the professor, it would be kind of off-putting. But if it's just a comparison with peers, you get a different sense.
There are technologies that can sort of help students diagnose where their errors are and point them to the right problems to do extra problem sets on. So I think it's going to complement and supplement what we do as individual instructors.
JOEL MALINA: Great. I want to go back to what you briefly said about Cornell Tech. As you know, and hopefully all of you are aware, next month the Cornell Tech campus is beginning its move from its temporary location in Chelsea to this fabulous new first stage of our Roosevelt Island campus. Talk a bit about the new opportunities that this campus will provide in terms of curriculum, the interaction between New York City and Ithaca for students, for our faculty.
MARTHA POLLACK: Yeah. Look, I think it's a game-changer. So again, let me let me reiterate, Ithaca is the heart and soul of this university. We are not turning our back on Ithaca. We are not turning our back on the liberal arts. We cannot be a great university unless we have the very best liberal arts programs that we have, along with the panoply of professional programs.
At the same time, it's a little bit like my answer about AI. I think that the complementary and supplementary advantages we get from being on Roosevelt Island, from having this stronger foothold in Manhattan are game-changers.
Were going to be preparing graduate students for digital technology. We're going to be innovating with new ways of learning, ways that are very hands-on-- direct connection with companies, entrepreneurial training-- but we're also going to be providing opportunities that link back to Ithaca.
So for example, there's a program called the Hinge program that was started by President Rawlings, which is taking-- small numbers so far, but faculty members in particularly humanities and public policy who want to spend a semester in New York, a great cultural center, doing research, allowing them to be there and come back. I think we're going to see all kinds of linkages that will advantage both campuses.
I want to mention one other thing, because I think this is important. We always think about how access to Manhattan is going to help Ithaca. But it goes the other way as well.
There's a program in Weill Cornell medical school, which is looking at rural health and is coupled to another program where medical residents who want to eventually practice medicine in rural regions are coming up to the Southern Tier and getting their training up here. So the flow of information, the flow of people, the flow of opportunities goes in both directions.
JOEL MALINA: Fabulous. Let's talk a bit about challenges not just facing Cornell, but higher education in general. A few issues that I'm sure a number of you have been thinking about.
Let's start with political diversity among faculty and staff. How will you foster--
--it's a significant question.
MARTHA POLLACK: Yeah.
JOEL MALINA: How will you foster and preserve that diversity?
MARTHA POLLACK: So Joel, I've been out on-campus, as you know, from day one pretty clearly and strongly expressing my commitment to free speech. In fact, if you haven't seen it, there was, I think, a wonderful editorial in the "Wall Street Journal" this morning written by the president of Middlebury reflecting on what happened there and talking about her commitment to free speech.
I firmly, firmly believe that this needs to be a place that allows all voices to be heard, that you can't shut down speech no matter how heinous it is.
I talk with students and there is a generational difference. But what I try to explain to students is, in particular, if you're concerned about those voices that have historically been excluded, you need to stand on the side of free speech. Because historically, it has never gone well for the most marginalized communities when you allow someone to shut down free speech. So I think we need to stand up to our campus policies and we need to assure that all voices are heard.
At the same time, that means we need to double down on our commitment to diversity. We need to double down on making sure that voices that historically have been marginalized have a voice, that people whose dignity is impugned-- I'm not talking about serious discourse. I'm talking about provocateurs, who even them should be allowed to speak. That people whose dignity is impugned get the support they need. And that we do everything we can to make this a respectful and inclusive community.
JOEL MALINA: What do you think are some of the other challenges--
MARTHA POLLACK: Challenges for higher ed.
JOEL MALINA: --facing higher ed?
MARTHA POLLACK: I think the biggest challenge higher ed faces today-- I know, people think I'm going to-- I see the front row. People think I'm going to talk about money. I'll talk about money second. Because I think the biggest challenge higher ed faces today is a sense in the country that a college degree is not worth it. And that's just wrong. It's wrong even on financial grounds.
So the college wage premium, the amount of money the typical college graduate gets over the course of his or her career, even net of what they've spent on higher education, has never been greater. On average over their career, a college graduate will make $1 million more than a non-college graduate. The average starting salary for a Cornell graduate, starting salary, is $63,000 a year, which is higher than the median salary [INAUDIBLE]. So even on financial grounds it's wrong.
But more importantly, we all know-- I'm sure every Cornell alumna or alumnus knows that what you get out of a university experience at a fine university like this is more than just a return on investment. To be corny about it, you live a better life, right? You live a better life. You appreciate the arts. You appreciate the humanities. You have reasoning skills. You have communication skills.
So I think the biggest challenge is for people like me, with the assistance of our communications folks, to tell a better story and to make that case.
Now, closely related to that are the financial challenges. I think we understand pretty well why costs of higher education have gone up. And it's not most of the things that you hear. It has largely to do with macroeconomic forces in industries where you can't industrialize, where you can't replace teachers with machinery. What that does is it means that you get this differential pricing.
So it's not just higher ed that has seen costs grow faster than inflation. You see it in the arts. In fact, the classic example in the paper that explains this talks about a Beethoven string quartet. And if it's a half hour long quartet and it takes two hours to play it and you try to reduce costs by leaving out the violas or playing more quickly, it's not a good outcome, right?
So I think we face the same thing. We could drive down our costs enormously, say, by having all our classes be online and have 10,000 students. but we would decrease the quality. So we have to figure out a way to address college costs.
I am very proud of the financial investment commitments that this university has made over time. I am very proud of the fact that our loan burden is not-- it's significantly lower than what you hear in national numbers and that we are still accessible to lower income students.
We have challenges in the middle income range. And we need to work on that.
JOEL MALINA: Let's turn to a few questions of a more personal nature. You and your husband Ken and, I believe, four cats just made the move from Ann Arbor.
MARTHA POLLACK: We did.
JOEL MALINA: How has Ken taking the move to Ithaca?
MARTHA POLLACK: You don't want to know how my cats have done. I was telling people last night at the-- I think it was the class of '52 dinner that anywhere else I've lived, I say to people, yeah, I have four cats. And here-- I guess it's because of the vet school, I don't know-- I say, I have four cats. And people say, oh, only four?
Ken loves it here. My husband was a musician when I met him. He went back to school and studied engineering. And then about 14 or 15 years ago, he decided his real love was music. And he stayed home. And when my kids were teenagers, he was home full-time with them.
Now that he's turned 60, he no longer says he's a homemaker. He says he's retired.
We have a piano. And he plays piano. He's a very serious fly fisherman. He's a very serious birder. So he's just had a great time.
My older daughter and her boyfriend have been out to visit. My son and his girlfriend haven't yet. But they're coming out soon.
JOEL MALINA: And how are you spending your time when you're not--
MARTHA POLLACK: Working.
JOEL MALINA: --well, when you're not doing the presidential rounds?
MARTHA POLLACK: Well, I'm a pretty avid reader. So at the end of the day, I always try to read. I try to get in at least a chapter or two of a book.
I, like Ken, do like outdoors, hiking. I pretend I'm a birder, but I can identify about four birds. But I carry my own [INAUDIBLE]. I do like to hike and be out there.
We're big music fans. We got here just at the very tail end of a Cornell concert series. And we've signed up for the rest. I hope many of you got to hear the Steve Reich music yesterday. It was extraordinary, wasn't it?
Yeah, it was extraordinary. And I like to travel.
JOEL MALINA: Well, this is obviously your first Cornell reunion. And I know you talked a bit at the outset about the special quality of our alumni. But what do you think about these crowds returning in their sea of red to celebrate their class reunion?
MARTHA POLLACK: It's extraordinary. I mean, the level of energy. I've been going from class event to class event to class event. And the level of energy is extraordinary. The level of dedication.
You know, I'd seen that, because I see this very large board of trustees we have, all of who are alumni. And it's astonishing to me the time and commitment and dedication they put in. But these crowds are just extraordinary. And all of you seem like you're having so much fun. And it's just great.
JOEL MALINA: How much red did you have in your wardrobe before seven weeks ago?
MARTHA POLLACK: So let me tell you, not much. But red is a whole lot easier than maize, as in maize and blue.
JOEL MALINA: And I do want to call out my Cornell cufflinks--
MARTHA POLLACK: [INAUDIBLE]
JOEL MALINA: --today. And, oh, yes, the red socks. I'm a Mets fan, however, not a Red Sox fan.
Tough. Tough. That's tough.
MARTHA POLLACK: Joel--
JOEL MALINA: Yes.
MARTHA POLLACK: --I didn't know that. I'm a Yankees fan.
JOEL MALINA: It's a good team. They're a good team.
So one final question before we open it up to questions. How in your mind, can our alumni help you and, frankly, me and the rest of the administration going forward?
MARTHA POLLACK: In one very-- in lots of ways, but one very specific way-- of course, I see Fred sitting over there. He wants me to say donate to your annual fund. So I've done that, Fred.
No, seriously, I am intentionally spending my first few months in listening mode. People always talk about listening tours. But that's really what I'm doing. I'm meeting with students. I try to get in as many student meetings as I could before they left town. I'm meeting with many, many, many faculty. I'm meeting with staff. And I'm trying to meet with alumni to get a sense of what matters to this community.
I've been at enough universities to know that different universities do have different cultures and different interests. So especially during this weekend, if I see you, let me know what's on your mind and what you're thinking of. And donate to your annual funds [INAUDIBLE]
JOEL MALINA: Well, thank you for your insights. Let's open it up to questions from the hall. I hope we have time. And we do. This is perfect. Great.
And if you can please announce your class affiliation before you ask your question. Who would like to start?
AUDIENCE: I would.
MARTHA POLLACK: There's one over there.
JOEL MALINA: Yes, sir.
[? GARY COTTRELL: ?] I'm Gary Cottrell, class of '72. I was in natural language processing as well. So I was wondering, you said something about MOOC. So I don't know if everyone knows, Massively Open Online Courses You teach one of those and you've reached more people than you've ever reached in your career.
And you indicated that you thought they were lower quality. But in some sense, somewhat counter-intuitively, they're actually more individualized. Because if you do it right, if there's a learning breakdown, there's a path for you to go to get a different way of being taught the same concept. And I wondered what you thought about how that's going to affect education.
MARTHA POLLACK: So I don't think that MOOCs, per se, are lower quality. What I think is that an education based just on online experiences is a much lower quality than the education you get in a residential setting.
I think that there is a very important role for online material-- not necessarily HOME MOOCs, but online material and other online tools. I mentioned the tool that directs you to the problem sets. That's a little bit what you're talking about. I think there's a very important role for that in the residential setting.
But I don't think what a 19-year-old sitting in his bedroom doing online videos will get is anything approaching to what you get by interacting on campus, not just what the faculty, but with the other students.
JOEL MALINA: Yes, sir.
PAUL ANBINDER: I'm Paul Anbinder, class of 1960.
MARTHA POLLACK: Can you lift the mike a little? It's hard to hear up here.
MARTHA POLLACK: Oh, sorry.
PAUL ANBINDER: I'm Paul Anbinder class of 1960, attending my wife's 55th reunion.
MARTHA POLLACK: Great.
PAUL ANBINDER: I'm just wondering, are you prepared to say anything about the situation in Qatar?
MARTHA POLLACK: Yeah, I am. It's a period of watchful waiting right now. I've been in touch with the dean in Qatar. And Augustine Choi, our provost and dean of the medical school, is in contact with him almost daily. I've been in contact with the other presidents of the campuses in Education City.
And at the moment, everything is going smoothly on the ground. All students are accounted for. Classes are going on. And we're just keeping a watchful eye on things.
JOEL MALINA: Yes, sir.
AUDIENCE: Hi. I'm class of '97. I just want to start by saying thank you for the Tech campus. I'm a CS major and engineering. And I live out in the Bay Area.
JOEL MALINA: Can we boost the sound?
MARTHA POLLACK: Yeah, it's almost impossible to hear up here.
AUDIENCE: How's that?
MARTHA POLLACK: Better.
JOEL MALINA: It's much better.
AUDIENCE: All right. I'm class of '97. And I want to start by saying thank you for the Tech campus. As a CS major from the engineering school and living out in the Bay Area, it's really nice to know that not only is the campus there, but somebody who understands the Bay Area is out there. Because we're getting smoked by Stanford and Berkeley on the entrepreneurial side. So it's nice that we're [INAUDIBLE]
MARTHA POLLACK: I'm not sure of that.
AUDIENCE: My question was, as an alumni who paid attention to this on cursory and talking to some other alumni who were depressed, we were really saddened to hear about some of the tactics and some of the things that happened with the graduate students trying to unionize. And I was wondering if you could talk about that. And if you could--
MARTHA POLLACK: [INAUDIBLE]
JOEL MALINA: Graduate student unionization.
MARTHA POLLACK: Graduate student unionization.
AUDIENCE: --commit to your support in regarding for--
MARTHA POLLACK: Yeah, I can't say a lot about it, because it's sort of still in process. So there was a unionization vote. And the no, we shouldn't unionize votes outnumbered the yes, we should, but the gap was exceeded by the number of votes that are still being contested.
About a year prior to this-- so this was before I got on-campus-- there was a formal agreement made that it would go to an arbiter. And it's out for arbitration now to decide. So it's really still in progress.
What I do want to do is publicly recommit to our graduate students. I mean, the graduate students are incredibly important on this campus. We would not be the university we are without them. And whichever way this vote goes, we will continue to support our graduate students.
JOEL MALINA: Yes, sir.
CHARLES STUPPARD: I'm Charles Stuppard, co-president of the class of 1982. Let's say that we fast forward 10 to 20 years from now and this is your retirement speech. What top three things do you think you would have been most proud of? In other words, what are your top three goals for Cornell?
MARTHA POLLACK: That's a great question. And I have intentionally been very, very careful about not making a big speech yet about what my top goals are, because I am trying to listen to campus, listen to people shape those. I will tell you that how-- and this is not forever. I'm hoping to lay this out in an inauguration speech in just a couple of months.
Whatever the details, whatever the details, it seems to me it's going to build on three or four pillars. We've got to be academically distinguished and academically distinctive. So we have to understand what our unique strengths are. And we have to build on them. And I've alluded to what some of those are already.
We have to engage in educational innovation, both on-campus and in the use of technology in all these ways that you see.
We have to remain committed to what I see as an interlinked triad of things. A commitment to free speech, a fundamental commitment to diversity and inclusion and equity, and a commitment to speaking truth. To not giving into this view we seem to have and have had in the world for about a decade that, you know, if I hear something, it must be true. Just because you don't know everything doesn't mean you know nothing. Just because there are different interpretations doesn't mean that some are more valid than others. And I think those are intertangled.
And then we have to build on our sense of community. We have to build a stronger-- continue to build a strong community.
But specific details forthcoming.
JOEL MALINA: Yes, over here.
CRAIG WILLIAMS: Craig Williams, also the class of '82, also mechanical engineering, like Charles.
I know you don't want to take this, but I'm going to press you on something you started to address earlier on. Over the last several years, we've seen a lot of press reports about what's been going on on campuses, speech codes, safe zones, shouting down of guest speakers and so on, ridiculing the professors and students for not toeing the line.
Can you at least give us one specific action that you intend on taking with you and your staff to make sure this type of climate does not take root at Cornell and to encourage free speech.
MARTHA POLLACK: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
Absolutely. But let me say a few things first. First of all, I know that there were some issues earlier in the year with some speakers. I do want to say that about, I don't know, two or three weeks before I got on-campus, Newt Gingrich came to campus. He was viewed, for whatever reason, as controversial. And the dialogue was extremely respectful. There was give and take.
And in fact, Gingrich praised our students for the ability to engage with him. So I don't think, by any means, you never see appropriate respectful behavior. That's number one.
Number two, while I am firmly committed to absolute free speech and wants to both to do things like teach our students about the history of free speech and why it matters and why it needs to be respected, and then to make sure our campus code is upheld.
I want to defend our students a little bit. They should not be shutting down speech. Intolerable. Unacceptable. I will not allow that.
But this view that students are just snowflakes, I also think that's unfair. Our students are very concerned about issues of dignity. They feel very badly about their fellow students who have to suffer insults and put-downs and assaults to their dignity in disproportional fashions. And I think rather than shame them for having that view, we need to applaud them for having that view and then teach them the right ways to make good on that view.
JOEL MALINA: Yes, please.
JONI SPIELHOLZ: I'm Joni Spielholz, class of '73, CALS and the College of Veterinary Medicine. Welcome.
MARTHA POLLACK: Thank you.
JONI SPIELHOLZ: Welcome to Ken and cats.
MARTHA POLLACK: Thank you.
JONI SPIELHOLZ: My question has to do with Cornell in the international arena. And I know that before you came, there has been a lot going on and will continue to go on in terms of Cornell doing reach abroad and having campuses abroad. I know about Qatar. But China and we have an India program. Can you talk a little about that?
MARTHA POLLACK: Yeah, yeah. So I mentioned some of the similarities between Cornell and Michigan. Let me tell you another similarity. They are both wildly decentralized universities, which make enormous progress not just in spite of, but I think because of that decentralization.
I had a group of faculty over to my house for dinner last week. And I asked them what they liked best about Cornell. And one of them said-- how did she put it? It was like, the barely controlled chaos.
But she meant it in a positive way. We have the smartest faculty in the world. And we let them develop the smartest ideas.
OK, now how is that relevant to your question? We have a lot of international activities. And we're starting to pull them in. Laura Spitz, who is our vice provost for international activities, is doing, to my mind, an absolutely brilliant job of figuring out where we need to coordinate more, where we need a little more sort of standard policies, but without quashing innovation.
So we have new programs. The business school is standing up new programs in India. You mentioned the China programs. We're expanding in China. I'm hoping we'll expand more in Africa.
We're going to see a lot of these programs. But in the typical Cornell way, we're going to let them spin out as faculty in different disciplines see fit for their disciplines.
JOEL MALINA: Do you have a question up there, sir? I hope you haven't been waiting for a long time. I didn't notice we had a microphone.
JEREMY: You call 10 minutes a long time. I don't.
I'm Jeremy, class of 2019. And I have a question about the whole free speech. Because oftentimes, protecting speech can be framed as a choice of whose speech you want to protect. Let's just say you protect person A's or person B. And there's only a limited room as how many people can speak. So how are we going to choose whose free speech we're going to protect more than others if there is a trade-off?
MARTHA POLLACK: We don't choose. We don't choose. That's the point. Everyone's speech is protected. Full stop.
JOEL MALINA: We have time for one last question. Over here, sir.
DICK BRAUN: Thanks very much. My name is Dick Braun. I'm not a Cornell alumnus, but my spouse is. Susan Davison, class of '57.
However, this is a question I'd postponed a long time. Because the last time I was in a meeting like this, the question was not addressed. And the reason I didn't ask it was that I happened to go to a small college in New England where the jacket color is green. And I decided that I was a guest. And I didn't really want to ask the question. But it comes up again.
And it came up yesterday when Olivia was driving us around the campus and taking us to where we going to go. And she said, what are the big changes that you've seen from the time you were here to what we have now? And so facetiously, I said, well, of course, there's the usual collegiate desire to fill up every green space with a building. That always changes. I understand that.
I said, but let me put it to you this way. Academically, let me give you an example. And it's a math example too. I said, when I was in my residency as an orthopedic surgeon at John Hopkins Hospital in 1960 to '63, we thought we were pretty hot stuff. Because we could look at bone crystals with a magnification of 50,000 times. And we thought, wow.
When I came back to the Cornell campus and I took the nanotechnology tour, I casually asked a student, by the way, when you're finished making this microchip and you want to look at it, and there's all those little machines in there called electron microscopes, which seem to be as prevalent as salt containers on tables-- I mean, we thought ours was so special-- what magnification do you use? He says, 10 to the minus 7.
So I said, oh. So in one lifetime, we've gone from 50,000 to 10 to the minus 7. I said, but let me tell you something else. When I went to Dartmouth, my tuition was $650 a semester. And now it's $60,000. So there we have 4 power.
And so you said before that you'd get around to talking about costs, especially for middle class people who work for a living.
MARTHA POLLACK: Yeah.
DICK BRAUN: And how about then being now. Can you address what you think, as an academic, is your responsibility to provide affordable care?
MARTHA POLLACK: So yeah. And look, I did talk about that, right?
DICK BRAUN: A little bit.
MARTHA POLLACK: Yeah, well, I talked about everything that much. We have an hour.
It is a challenge. There is not a responsible administrator of a university in this country who is not concerned with that. And the balance we are all trying to meet is this balance between continuing to provide a world class education that changes people's lives, and, by the way, still gives them a very positive ROI, and not having people go into too much debt. And I am, frankly, very proud of the financial aid that Cornell has put in to ensure that our students are not graduating with massive debt.
Is it far enough? No. We're working hard. We're working hard to drive down operational costs. We're working on all those things that don't touch the core educational experience.
Even there, even there, we have done things before I got here that are very hard to do, but we've done them. So you can't teach little tiny classes with three people anymore. That's a hard thing to do. Those are great classes. But you have to do that sort of thing.
But I don't want us to get to the point where the way we balance our books is by having only MOOCs with 10,000 students and you never see an instructor. So finding that balance is the challenge for all of us.
JOEL MALINA: And with that, I want to thank President Pollack. I want to thank all of you for your questions. And back to Liz.
LIZ EVERETT KRISBERG: And speaking of balance, I think we could sit here for many more hours. But there are many more things we all need to do during Reunion Weekend. But thank you, Martha.
MARTHA POLLACK: Thank you.
LIZ EVERETT KRISBERG: Thank you, Joel. Thank you for your questions.
JOEL MALINA: I think we stay put.
MARTHA POLLACK: We stay put?
JOEL MALINA: We're going to do some singing.
MARTHA POLLACK: Oh, really?
LIZ EVERETT KRISBERG: Before we all leave--
MARTHA POLLACK: I'm turning my mike off.
LIZ EVERETT KRISBERG: --before we all break, I'd like to invite the Cornell a cappella groups After Eight and the Hangovers to join us onstage to sing the alma mater.
ALL: (SINGING) Far above Cayuga's waters, with its waves of blue, stands our noble Alma Mater, glorious to view. Lift the chorus, speed it onward, loud her praises tell, hail to thee, our Alma Mater! Hail, all hail, Cornell!
Far above the busy humming of the bustling town, reared against the arch of heaven, looks she proudly down. Lift the chorus, speed it onward, loud her praises tell, hail to thee our Alma Mater! Hail, all hail, Cornell!
We've received your request
You will be notified by email when the transcript and captions are available. The process may take up to 5 business days. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about this request.
A conversation with Martha Pollack, Cornell’s 14th president. Part of Cornell Reunion 2017.