Update from President Pollack

Dear Cornell Community,

Last fall, I asked our community to come together to address several issues of critical importance to the university, leading to the establishment of three working groups: the Presidential Task Force on Campus Climate; the Consensual Relationships Policy Committee; and the President’s Visioning Committee on Cornell in New York City. Each committee was tasked with eliciting broad community input and reporting to me by May 1 on their progress. I write today to share that progress with you.

Presidential Task Force on Campus Climate

Following a bias incident in Collegetown in September 2017, I convened this task force to examine and address persistent problems of bigotry and intolerance at Cornell. We needed, as a community, to redouble our exploration of the systemic issues preventing us from being a fully welcoming and inclusive community.

Expertly led by co-chairs Professor and Vice Provost Lisa Nishii, Professor and Dean Eduardo Peñalver and Professor and Associate Dean David Wooten, the task force’s 36 faculty, staff and student members were divided among three subcommittees focused on campus experience; regulation of speech and harassment; and campus response. While each subcommittee has submitted a preliminary report, due to the longer-than-anticipated lead time to form a representative task force membership (the task force did not begin its work in earnest until January), a final set of recommendations will not be completed and delivered to me until later this month. However, the preliminary reports are available on the task force website, and I will post the final reports there as well when completed.

Once we have those final reports in hand, my leadership team and I will review the full scope of the recommendations over the summer to determine which recommendations should be implemented immediately, which over the next six to 12 months, and which should serve as long-term aspirations. I fully expect that some of the recommendations will have already been implemented by the time students return in the fall, and I will provide a full report to the community early in the fall semester on our overall implementation plans.

Consensual Relationships Policy Committee

When I arrived at Cornell one year ago, I learned that the university did not have an official consensual relations policy governing student-faculty relationships, and that prior efforts by our shared governance groups to create such a policy failed despite several years of attempts to build consensus among all stakeholders. The vague and flawed language that does exist is from a resolution adopted in 1996 by what was then called the Faculty Council of Representatives. I decided that a formal policy to protect the interests of students and faculty, and to minimize risk to the university, was desperately needed, and the Consensual Relationship Policy Committee was formed and tasked accordingly.

The committee, led by co-chairs Dean of the Faculty Charles Van Loan and doctoral candidate Anna Waymack, has shown exceptional leadership. Their extensive research and broad consultation led to the formulation of two alternative policies, which clearly specify the types of relationships that are permitted and prohibited, and the requirements for disclosure for those that are permitted. These proposals underwent rigorous debate by each of Cornell’s shared governance groups.

Yesterday the committee delivered to me a thoughtful and lengthy report that contains their recommendation and rationale. Over the coming days, I will carefully review and assess their recommendation and will report back to the community. My goal is to deliver a proposal to the university’s Policy Office for formal drafting and adoption by the start of the fall semester.

President’s Visioning Committee: Cornell in New York City

I charged this faculty-led committee to envision how Cornell could strategically grow its presence in New York City over the next decade in ways that enhance and complement our Ithaca campus. I wanted them to be creative, to think expansively and to develop a true vision for our presence in the city a decade from now without the constraints of matching aspirations to budgets or bureaucracy. Of course, this means that there is no guarantee that we can fully implement the vision, but it provides us with a valuable starting point for developing a strategy.

The committee gathered broad campus input from faculty and staff through surveys and meetings with deans, department chairs and a wide variety of campus bodies, including open discussions in Ithaca and in New York City. They have put forth a tremendous effort to take into account ideas from across our campuses and to synthesize them into a bold set of recommendations for expanding Cornell’s research, teaching and engagement activities in New York City over one-year, five-year and 10-year timelines.

Defining this strategic vision will take time and continued discussion with stakeholders across our campuses, but I am excited at the many opportunities that the university has to build upon its unique strengths as an Ivy League land-grant institution and to further distinguish itself as the leading academic institution with a robust footprint in both rural and urban settings. I am extremely grateful to the committee and its chair, Professor Noliwe Rooks, for their excellent work to harness these ideas. The provost and I will review the preliminary report over the coming months, and I will report to the community regarding next steps early in the fall semester.

I am grateful to the members of all three committees for their time and dedication to each group’s unique charge and process, and to all faculty, staff and students who provided feedback and suggestions on how to move these important issues forward in a constructive manner.

I wish all of you a productive, enjoyable and rewarding end to the academic year.


Martha E. Pollack