Year-end message from President Pollack

Dear Cornell Community,

As we look forward to our plans for the summer and beyond, I would like to take this opportunity to share with you progress that has been made toward building a more equitable and welcoming community at Cornell.

As many of you may remember, in the fall of 2017, after a number of troubling bias incidents on campus, I convened the Presidential Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion. I did this out of a sense that we, as a community, needed to do more to live up to our founding ideal of being a university for “any person.” Cornell is a tremendously diverse campus: our students come from all 50 states and 116 countries, nearly half of undergraduates identify as students of color, and an increasing number—including 14 percent of our freshman class—are the first generation in their family to attend college. But our institutional commitment to diversity also encompasses a responsibility to inclusion and equity: to making sure that ours is a community in which all members feel included and valued.

The final report of the Presidential Task Force, received at the beginning of last summer, was consolidated into a list of 60 concrete recommendations for programs and initiatives to bring us closer to that goal. I am pleased to share that to date, 60 percent of those recommendations have been implemented. The full list of goals, with current status, can be found at and will continue to be updated regularly as our work continues. Some highlights:

  • During August Orientation, the entire entering undergraduate class—over 3,000 students—participated in three-hour Intergroup Dialogue Project sessions, introducing them to Cornell’s diversity and inclusion vision and values.
  • Over the course of the academic year, a number of new resources have been put into place, including support for first-generation and low-income students and those who are undocumented or have DACA status; improved access to mental health services; and expanded opportunities for active, inclusive, and engaged learning.
  • The new Inclusive Excellence Network of programs, including workshops, a podcast, and an inaugural, full-day summit in June, is engaging Cornell staff in action-oriented discussions, self-reflection, and productive discourse around topics that impact the workplace.
  • New funding has been allocated toward recruiting and retaining diverse faculty, bringing total spending toward these efforts to more than $60 million over the next five years.
  • A new team of diversity leaders, the Presidential Advisors on Diversity and Equity (PADE) are in the planning stages of Belonging at Cornell: a revamped university-wide framework, to be implemented in 2019-2020, that will ensure continuity of the university’s diversity and inclusion commitment across all colleges and units.
  • The PADEs are also establishing a set of metrics, consistent across campus, to measure our progress over time and enable us to concentrate our efforts and resources in the most effective ways.

As I announced shortly after spring break, we are also developing a university-wide Statement of Core Values, for which we have invited input from across the Cornell community. We are in the process of reviewing and collating that feedback now, and a final statement will be in place at the beginning of the new semester.

While this work has been moving forward, we recognize that the diversity of our campus depends on the ability of students from all backgrounds to attend, and thrive at, Cornell. To this end, we have also made significant new investments in financial aid; thanks in large part to the generosity of our alumni, we have been able to budget $285 million in undergraduate financial aid for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. As a result of our strengthened commitment to financial aid over the last decade, a Cornell education is now more affordable to most students with financial need than it was twenty years ago. However, we recognize that we have a long way to go to make a Cornell education equally accessible to students from all backgrounds. Financial aid will continue to be among my highest fundraising priorities, as it is central to our mission and essential to building a truly diverse and inclusive campus.

Cornell was created, 154 years ago, as an oasis of truth, knowledge, and equality: one where, in the words of Andrew D. White, “the most highly prized instruction shall be afforded to all… where truth shall be sought for truth’s sake.” Today, it is our privilege and our responsibility to uphold that commitment, and work together to ensure that Cornell is and remains a university that truly embraces its founding ethos of “ ... any person ... any study.”


Martha E. Pollack