Martha E. Pollack: a new president for Cornell University

Martha E. Pollack, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Michigan, has been selected as Cornell University’s 14th President. Dr. Pollack was introduced to Cornell, Ithaca, and the world on Monday afternoon.

Cornell's 14th President, Martha E. Pollack. Photo provided.

Cornell’s 14th President, Martha E. Pollack. Photo provided.

The unanimous election by Cornell’s Board of Trustees on Monday morning follows Dr. Pollack’s selection by a presidential search committee that was formed following the untimely death last winter of President Elizabeth Garrett. Former president Hunter R. Rawlings III has served as interim president since April.

“The search committee set out to find a bold and strategic leader who would engage the entire Cornell community in furthering the University’s core mission,” according to search committee chair and Cornell trustee Jan Rock Zubrow. Of Pollack, she says, “she is uniquely qualified to bring together Cornell’s outstanding colleges, schools, and campuses to elevate and align the entirety of our great university.”

“I am deeply committed to the notion that universities are second to none in effecting change in the world,” Pollack said during yesterday’s press conference. “It’s just as incumbent on me to make sure this is a campus where everyone’s voice can be heard.”

She also referred to Cornell as “an Ivy League school with a Big Ten heart,” quoting Isaac Kramnick, a legendary Cornell government professor and a member of the search committee. “As someone who was educated at Dartmouth and Penn, but who has spent the last 16 years at a Big Ten university, the University of Michigan, I understood exactly what he meant,” she said.

Dr. Pollack has already been serving on the steering committee for the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute, Cornell’s partnership with Israel’s Technion at Cornell Tech campus in New York City. As a computer science faculty member at Michigan since 2000, Pollack quips that when she entered the field, “There were more computer science professors whose name was Igor than there were female computer science professors.” She will hold tenured appointments in Cornell’s Computer Science and Information Science departments.

“As president of the Association of American Universities, I had an opportunity to work with Martha,” said interim president Rawlings in a statement. “She will be a great president, and her hands-on knowledge of Cornell Tech will help to solidify the growing collaborations and synergies among Cornell’s upstate and downstate campuses.”

Five of Cornell’s last six presidents have come from Big Ten schools, and six of Cornell’s fourteen presidents (including Pollack) had been either faculty members or deans at Michigan. In fact, Cornell’s first president, Andrew Dickson White, was a professor of history and literature at the University of Michigan before he served in the New York State Senate, where he met Ezra Cornell.

Dr. Pollack will remain at Michigan until the end of January and assume her new role at Cornell on April 17th, 2017.

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