Spring semester updates

Dear Cornellians,

I hope all of you had a chance to rest and relax over the winter break, and that you’ve come back to campus with a renewed sense of commitment to our academic community. We experienced a difficult fall, indeed, but through it all I have seen many instances of Cornellians demonstrating the care, respect, and thoughtful engagement that have been hallmarks of our institution since its founding in 1865.

Today, I’d like to revisit the many steps we have taken in recent months and share examples of new and upcoming programming designed to help Cornellians both feel a sense of belonging and expand their understanding of the challenges our world faces today.

Last semester, several academic units organized lectures to deepen our understanding of the current conflict in the Middle East and to help our community understand the scourges of antisemitism and Islamophobia. Across campus, students, faculty, and staff listened to, and learned from, each other.

Our educational efforts are continuing this semester. We will be hosting a number of visiting speakers who will address issues of antisemitism, Islamophobia, and the crisis in the Middle East. I am grateful to the many departments and programs that are sponsoring these speakers. We also are offering important and innovative courses such as “Antisemitism in the Courts and Jurisprudence,” taught by globally recognized genocide expert Menachem Rosensaft. Additionally, Professor Ross Brann, a historian in the College of Arts and Sciences, is offering “Judeophobia, Islamophobia, and Racism” in Cornell’s residential program in Washington, D.C.

These and other academic events take place this semester alongside a robust lineup of programming and conversations tied to our freedom of expression theme year. If you have not done so already, I urge you to review the theme year website and calendar and participate in as many of these events as you can.

I also want to take this time to emphasize our commitment to helping the Cornell community build bridges. Last semester, Student and Campus Life staff held more than 100 conversations to support and assist Jewish, Muslim, and Palestinian students navigating global and localized unrest. In December, students from Jewish, Muslim, and other religions gathered at a moving interfaith Community Care Dinner to bond over shared values, passions, and experiences at Cornell.

I am so pleased that many more opportunities for student dialogue and community building will occur throughout the spring semester. Jewish-Muslim Alliance events will take place to support students in engaging with empathy. They will host another interfaith Community Care Dinner February 21, one of several upcoming opportunities for students to explore what defines and unites us all.

We continue to prioritize the safety of our campus, and I want to thank the Division of Public Safety for their extraordinary efforts to ensure a safe campus last semester: DPS staff worked for many, many hours to protect our whole community. Complementing these efforts, last fall the university completed an external review of our public safety operations, which found that we are not in a state of crisis and that we are well positioned to protect our students, faculty, and staff.

I also want to update the community on the important, ongoing work of reviewing Cornell policies to ensure that they advance and honor our core values and comply with federal and state law. I have asked the Board of Trustees to partner with me in our review of relevant institutional policies and procedures that impact campus conduct. I am grateful to Ezra Cornell ’70, the university’s longest-serving trustee, who will lead an ad hoc trustee committee to help us ensure we have clear, enforceable, and legally compliant guidelines aligned with our mission and values.

And I have greatly appreciated the input received to date on the interim university-wide policies on Expressive Activity and Anti-Doxxing. These measures aim to ensure all Cornellians can express and hear opposing viewpoints while being safeguarded against behavior that seeks to silence speech. We will continue to collect input through the University Assembly and finalize the policies in the coming weeks.

Finally, as previously announced, I created two advisory groups — one comprising trustees and one comprising external experts — to provide input and perspective on the steps that we take to combat antisemitism, and all forms of hate, on our campus, including Islamophobia and other instances of racism. Both groups are fully engaged, and when their work is complete, which I anticipate will be by the end of March, we will provide further details of additional steps we plan to take.

I wish you all a productive, academically engaging semester.


Martha E. Pollack