UPDATE: After the announcement, Pollack fielded questions along with two Cornell trustees who served on the search committee, Jan Rock Zubrow, who chaired the search committee and Board of Trustees chairman Bob Harrison.

“I am deeply committed to the notion that universities are second to none in effecting positive change in the world, and no where is that more true than here at Cornell,” Pollack began, referring to Cornell as a private institution with a public mission that was devoted to tackling the world’s biggest issues.

Asked to describe her priorities and core values, Pollack said that integrity was at the top of her list, along with quality, innovation, adaptability, free speech and diversity. Expanding on the last element, she said “Our students are going to be graduating into a very diverse world and if they are not able to work across difference and synthesize different perspectives, then I fear for the country and the world.”

“Finally, to be blunt about it, I value having fun. I think you get better results when you had a lot of fun,” Pollack said, capping off the list.

Asked about what brought the search committee to choosing Pollack, Zubrow said that she filled the need for “bold, strategic leadership” at a complex institution, which they said she demonstrated in her current position at the University of Chicago. She added that Pollack was known for her “velvet glove approach” to management which was effective in bringing people together.

With Pollack, Cornell now has had back-to-back female presidents. Pollack quipped that she had a history of being the first or among the first woman in other roles: “When I got to the University of Michigan, there were more computer science professors with the first name Igor than there were female professors.”

“That said, I think the job of the president is to serve everyone. It’s not to be the female president but to be the president,” she added.

She also addressed questions of academia’s place in a world that has become increasingly suspicious of facts and research. Pollack said that was one of the benefits of the office that she was looking forward to, as it would give her a platform to work toward restoring people’s goodwill toward the academic sector.

“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,” Pollack said.

Pollack will be starting at Cornell on April 17, 2017.

Previously —

ITHACA, NY – Following a six-month search, Cornell University has announced its 14th president: Martha Pollack.

Pollack is an expert in the Artificial Intelligence field and formerly provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Michigan.

The search was announced following the death of the previous president, Elizabeth Garrett, in March. The Cornell community was shocked when Garrett died weeks after being diagnosed with colon cancer. Though she served as president for a short time, Garrett was remembered for her intellect, diligence, high energy and dedication to the students Cornell serves.

After Garrett’s death, the university appointed Hunter R. Rawlings III as interim president. Rawlings had previously been the 10th president of Cornell, and had also served in an interim capacity in 2005-2006.

The search was conducted by a 19-member committee chaired by trustee Jan Rock Zubrow,  representing trustees, faculty, undergraduate and graduate students, staff and alumni.

This is a developing story. We’ll continue to bring you more details about Cornell’s new president as they are unveiled.


Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.