JOEL MOLINA: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome. My name is Joel Molina. I'm Cornell's vice president for university relations. I want to thank all of the media who are joining us here on our Ithaca campus as well as those who are participating online. I especially appreciate everyone gathering on such short notice.
I'd like to introduce, directly to my right, Bob Harrison, class of 1976. Bob is the Chairman of the Cornell Board of Trustees, and a parent of a member of this year's graduating class, the great class of 2017. On the far right is Jan Rock Zubrow, class of 1977. Jan is the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees and the Chair of the Presidential Search Committee.
And in the center, I am pleased to introduce our President-elect, Martha Pollack. I'm going to ask Bob and Jan and Martha to give some remarks. And then we'll open it up to questions. And we'll alternate. We'll take questions first from the room, and then from those online. We'll alternate back and forth. And if you could please state your name and affiliation before you ask your question, that would be terrific. Bob?
BOB HARRISON: Thank you Joel. Well on behalf of the entire university community, I want to thank the Presidential Search Committee for their incredibly hard work and total devotion to Cornell. The committee represents a 19 member cross-section of the university community, students and faculty, staff, trustees, and alumni, as well as three advisors, the two prior living chairs of the board and the former chair of Weill Cornell's board of overseers. The committee spent literally countless hours since last spring reviewing resumes and interviewing candidates, and ultimately selecting the perfect one for Cornell.
I want to especially thank Jan Rock Zubrow for serving as the chair of the committee and for driving the entire process. I asked her to do this because she was the single most experienced member of the board, having served on three prior search committees, and having chaired the last search committee. She helped create the vision of what we wanted in our next president. And she kept the committee focused on achieving that vision. Most importantly, she and the committee have delivered spectacularly well. Thank you from a very grateful community.
JAN ROCK ZUBROW: Thank you Bob. Seven months ago, we set out to find a bold and strategic leader who would engage the entire Cornell community in furthering the university's core mission. We looked at a large number of truly world class candidates, and one person emerged as our clear choice. Today I'm thrilled to announce that the board of trustees voted unanimously this morning to elect Martha E. Pollack, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Michigan, as Cornell's 14th president. Martha, welcome to Cornell.
MARTHA POLLACK: Thank you. Thank you so much Jan and Bob. It is really just such a privilege to be here today. I've spent nearly my entire career in higher education. And I am deeply committed to the notion that universities are second to none in effecting positive change in the world. And really nowhere is that more true than here at Cornell, a private university with a public mission, a university with a long and proud tradition of educational and research excellence, a deep commitment to the liberal arts coupled with a passion for putting knowledge to work in service of some of the world's most challenging problems.
One of the search committee members described Cornell as a private university with a Big Ten heart. And as someone who was-- actually described as an Ivy League university with a Big Ten heart. And as someone who was educated at Ivy League universities at Dartmouth and at Penn, but has spent my last 16 years at a Big Ten university, the University of Michigan, I know exactly what he meant.
It's also an incredibly exciting time in Cornell's history as its campuses, which so complement each other, are poised to become increasingly interconnected. The global need for an informed, engaged citizenry has never been greater, and I am convinced that Cornell is leading the way in demonstrating how critical universities and their work are to the world today.
I'm humbled and honored to have been asked to lead this incredible university. I want to thank Jan, Bob, and the entire search committee for a series of truly enjoyable interactions over the past few months. And I want to thank them and the board of trustees for putting their trust in me.
I would also like to introduce and acknowledge the most important person in my life, my husband Ken Gottschlich, who will join me as part of the Cornell faculty. I can't wait to begin my work here.
JOEL MOLINA: And with that, we'd like to open it up for questions. First question right here.
SOPHIA: Thank you. Hello, I'm Sophia, the editor of the Cornell Daily Sun. And thank you for joining us today as the next Cornell president. I'm wondering if you could tell us more about your priorities for your presidency, and perhaps when you'll be stepping formally into the position. I know there are several policy priorities that are coming up, [INAUDIBLE] carbon neutrality, issues of freedom of speech on campus, especially in the climate that we are in today. I was wondering if you could tell us more about how you would hope to address some of these policies or your overarching principles?
MARTHA POLLACK: Sure. First of all, under the question as to when I'm going to start, I will remain provost at the University of Michigan through January 31. And then I'm going to take a little bit of leave and start here in mid-April. Sorry Hunter, I know you wish I was starting tomorrow.
As far as policy goes, I mean, it's not really appropriate for me yet to talk about specific Cornell policies. I'm not the president yet. I can tell you the kinds of priorities that I have, or actually the kinds of values I have. I very much value integrity. That's my first priority, my highest, the thing I value the most. I value quality. I think it's really essential that Cornell continue to be one of the world's strongest universities with powerful academics that span the liberal arts and the practical and applied fields.
I very much value innovation and adaptability. The world is changing quickly. And those institutions and people that survive will be those that are able to adapt.
I have an enormous commitment to diversity. I think that appreciating diversity and celebrating difference is absolutely essential in today's world. And I won't enumerate all the reasons for that, but just what I think is the most important. Our students are going to graduate into a very diverse world. And if they are not able to work across difference, to synthesize different perspectives, then I fear for the future of this country and the world.
I value free speech. I think that freedom of expression is fundamental to who we are as a democracy, and even more fundamental to a university so that we can have open dialogue and critical discussion of difficult issues.
And finally, to be blunt about it, I value having fun. I think you get better results when you have a lot of fun.
JOEL MOLINA: There are currently no questions from those online, so we'll go to another question in the back here.
JEFF KULIKOWSKY: Thank you. And welcome President-elect Pollack. As an Ithaca College alum, I believe you'll love it here in this area. I guess my question--
JOEL MOLINA: If you can start with your name.
JEFF KULIKOWSKY: Jeff Kulikowsky from WSYR-TV in Syracuse, sorry about that. I guess this question may be a little bit for each of you at the table. Obviously this was an unexpected, untimely presidential search. How difficult, Bob and Jan, was it for you? And President-elect Pollack, what is it like for you to have to step into those shoes that President Garrett left us, unfortunately too soon?
BOB HARRISON: Well we are very, very fortunate to have had Hunter Rawlings come back for the third time as the president of the university. So there's not the trauma that might have existed had this been an instantaneous transition. President Rawlings has been here since April. And not only does he have tremendous experience leading Cornell from his prior two lives, but he also was the president of the AAU, the Association of American Universities. So his stature nationwide as a leader of higher education is unquestioned. And we have been very fortunate to have that period of his leadership here.
JAN ROCK ZUBROW: I chaired the search committee that appointed Beth Garrett, and I had a very personal and deep connection with her, and believe that she was doing great things for the university. And I felt compelled to find another great leader that would take our institution to greater heights. And we have found that in Martha Pollack.
MARTHA POLLACK: I don't have much to add except to say, as Bob noted, I am incredibly appreciative for all that Hunter has done. I've known Hunter for quite a while, including when he was serving as the president of the AAU. And I also do want to acknowledge Beth, who is very much in my thoughts today.
JOEL MOLINA: Our next question is offered by Melissa Korn of The Wall Street Journal. I should add Melissa is a Cornell graduate. The question is, can you clarify what the president-elect's role has been with Cornell Tech? Martha, is that something you'd like to--
MARTHA POLLACK: Yeah, sure. For a few years I have been on the advisory board of the Jacobs Technion Institute, which is part of, but not all of Cornell Tech. This is an advisory group consisting both of academics and people from industry who provide guidance to the director of the Jacobs Technion.
JOEL MOLINA: Thank you. Next question here in the room.
JENNY BARNETT: Thank you. I'm Jenny Barnett, the editor and publisher of Cornell Alumni Magazine. Congratulations Martha on your appointment. My question perhaps is directed at you Jan. I was just wondering what qualities you saw in Martha that led you to make this decision.
JAN ROCK ZUBROW: Well first of all, we were looking for a bold strategic leader and someone who could really further the mission of the university. And what really impressed us with Martha is that she has demonstrated those leadership qualities at a very, very high quality institution in the University of Michigan. And it is a very complex and big institution. And so she has demonstrated the ability to bring people together and create great things at a very complex institution.
Secondly, Martha has really outstanding managerial skills. People speak eloquently about her velvet glove approach. I love that. And I think she has the ability to realize the aspirations for one Cornell, by bringing people together.
JOEL MOLINA: Another question here in the room.
JULIE ALMENDAREZ: Hi, my name's Julie Almendarez. I'm the managing editor at the Ithaca Voice. Since the election of Donald Trump last week, the LGBT community, racial minorities, religious minorities, and women have been really fearing for their safety and agency in their own communities. So what's your plan, specifically here at Cornell, to let these people know that their voices are being heard and that their concerns are being validated by the university?
MARTHA POLLACK: So again, I'm not going to be starting until April. What I can tell you is that at Michigan, where this is within my responsibility, we have also seen an uptake in some very, very, very troubling behavior. And I am currently working very closely with the president, the vice president for student life, the Department of Public Safety to get out a very strong message that no one should be subject to intimidation, that we will take all forms of intimidation very seriously, and that we will bond together to make clear that hatred has no place at our university. There was an email that went out just this morning reaffirming that and providing resources to the campus of Michigan.
JOEL MOLINA: Another question here in the room.
JAMIE: Hi, Jamie from WHCU News Talk. I was wondering if you could possibly speak-- President Elizabeth Garrett, as I understand-- correct me if I'm wrong-- was the first female president of Cornell University. As the second female president of Cornell University, what are your plans in that role? What kind of things would you like to show as the second female president?
MARTHA POLLACK: Well you know, I have a sort of long history of being, if not the first woman, one of very few women. When I got to the University of Michigan, there were more computer science professors whose first name was Igor than there were female computer science professors.
That said, I think the job of the president is to serve everyone, not to be the female president, but to be the president. I am extremely committed to diversity, but not just gender diversity, diversity of all forms. And I think it just is incumbent to make sure that this is a campus where everyone's voice is heard and where you can model the fact that people of all differences are valued and respected.
JOEL MOLINA: Next question in the room.
TOM FLEISCHMAN: Hi I'm Tom Fleischman from the Cornell Chronicle. Welcome.
MARTHA POLLACK: Hi.
TOM FLEISCHMAN: Just explain what you mean by an Ivy League institution with a Big Ten heart. What does that actually mean?
MARTHA POLLACK: Sure. What that means is a university that has world class academics, and in particular a strong and profound commitment to the traditional liberal arts fields, to the creation and curation of knowledge, but that couples that both with real embrace of the more applied fields, the practical fields of professional schools, and also couples with a commitment to putting research and putting to knowledge in service of society.
JOEL MOLINA: Yes, next question. Is it back to Sophia?
SOPHIA: Thank you. Could you speak more about how to balance the rising cost of higher education with what you said earlier, the quality of higher education, and principles that you would use in your decision making?
MARTHA POLLACK: Absolutely. Although, again, some of the specifics await my learning a lot more about the Cornell budget and the Cornell budget model. But what I think is that we understand the broad forces that have led to tuition increases. And what we need to do is everything we can, first of all, to hold down costs, to be as operationally efficient as we can. At the same time, to look to new revenues. And then to make sure that we are using our financial aid dollars in the way that maximize access for students.
JOEL MOLINA: Yes, in the back.
JEFF KULIKOWSKY: Just one more, not to put you on the spot Ms. President-elect. I know you don't take over until April. But speaking of your background at Dartmouth and Penn, come the football game in the fall of 2017 with either of those institutions, who will you be rooting for?
MARTHA POLLACK: Go Cornell.
JOEL MOLINA: And please, no more tough questions. I thought that was very unfair. Any other questions here in the room? Yes?
JULIE ALMENDAREZ: Thank you. Julia Almendarez with the Ithaca Voice again. I realize that you are still kind of transitioning into the role and won't be here until April. But that being said, what is your five year plan or 10 year plan for Cornell University? What direction do you see yourself moving in, and what are some of those priorities going to be over the course of several years?
MARTHA POLLACK: So I think Cornell, because of the things that I've already talked about, notably its incredible world class academics coupled with a deep commitment to make a difference in the world, as well as its wonderful Ithaca campus-- I haven't lived in Ithaca, but I was an undergraduate in Hanover, so I understand the magic of a small rural community of scholars. The combination of that with the New York City campus, I think position this to be the greatest university in the world. I think what we need to do is lead the way in demonstrating why universities are so important and what kind of impact they can have on the world.
JOEL MOLINA: Yes, in the back.
PHILIP O'DRISCOLL: Sorry, Philip O'Driscoll Time Warner Cable news. To follow up with that very statement I guess, do you feel that academia is under any type of-- I wouldn't say threat. That sounds too strong a word. But with how many throughout the country and throughout the Western world view academia's influence at this current state of time, how is that addressed to maybe bring people back into the importance of higher education?
MARTHA POLLACK: I think that's a really important question, yes. Academia is being attacked. We have, to some extent, lost the goodwill and the faith of much of the population, who no longer necessarily recognizes how very valuable you are-- we are. And one of the things that is extraordinarily important to me, and that I will take very seriously in this role, is trying to turn that message around. I think one of the big advantages of being the president of a world class university like this is that you have a forum for trying to make clear how incredibly important what we do at universities is.
JOEL MOLINA: We have a question online from Jeff Platsky of the Binghamton Sun Bulletin. If you were advising President-elect Trump, how would you suggest the federal government handle ballooning student debt? I'm assuming, Martha, that's best for you.
MARTHA POLLACK: Well, I think that's an incredibly complex question and not one I'm going to be able to answer quite sensibly in 30 seconds. I would say maybe just two things. One, let's look really carefully at what the facts are. Let's look at what segments of higher education, what levels of debt. And two, let's look at the causes for those debt. Why is debt increasing? And how can the federal government help in reducing debt.
JOEL MOLINA: We have time for one final question. That will be from, anyone. Yes, Tom.
TOM FLEISCHMAN: Tom Fleischman again. It's a softball I think.
MARTHA POLLACK: OK, go Cornell.
TOM FLEISCHMAN: Just tell me about your lecture here seven years ago with Gerard. So just tell me what you remember that-- what you remember from that, and maybe kind of how that influenced you to come back.
MARTHA POLLACK: So I am, by training, a computer scientist. And Cornell has one of the best computer science departments in the country and in the world. I've been on campus a number of times, not recently, but most-- I don't know if it's most recently, but certainly about 2009 when I deliver the Gerard Salton Lecture.
Interesting, my comments there were all about how computer science needs to be even more interdisciplinary than it is, something that we've seen over the past nine or 10 years, and something that really ties into a strength of Cornell. It's, again, what the provost describes as radical collaboration. I loved that visit. I've loved every visit I've ever taken to Ithaca.
JOEL MOLINA: And that's all the time we have. Thank you again for being with us here and online. Thank you for your questions. We invite you to review additional background that's now posted to the Cornell website. Thank you. Have a great day.
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On Nov. 14, 2016, the Cornell University Board of Trustees unanimously elected Martha E. Pollack, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Michigan, Cornell’s 14th president. Pollack will assume the presidency April 17, 2017.