President Martha E. Pollack
A private university with a public mission, Cornell has an abiding commitment to academic excellence across disciplines, to the development and curation of pure knowledge, and to the application of that knowledge in the world we share.
Cornell was founded with the radical ambition of being an institution “where any person can find instruction in any study” and where “truth shall be sought for truth’s sake.” Today, I am proud to lead Cornell as its fourteenth president and to uphold its founding ethos of equity and openness, its commitment to free speech and civil discourse, and its mission of knowledge for a public purpose.
With its flagship campus in Ithaca and a major presence in New York City, Cornell is rapidly expanding collaborations and synergies across its urban and rural communities, as well as around the world. At this exciting moment in Cornell’s history, I am delighted to work with our faculty, students, staff, and alumni to advance Cornell’s academic distinction, educational verve, civic responsibility, and “One Cornell” ethos in Ithaca, throughout New York, and beyond.
About the President
Martha E. Pollack is the 14th president of Cornell University and professor of computer science, information science, and linguistics. She took office on April 17, 2017.
An expert in artificial intelligence with a research focus on natural-language processing, automated planning, and the design of assistive technology for people with cognitive impairment, President Pollack is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association for Computing Machinery, and the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence. She is proud of Cornell’s unique identity as both a land-grant and an Ivy League university: one that combines the highest standards of teaching and research with an exceptional breadth and depth of expertise across the liberal arts and the professions; honors a foundational commitment to diversity and equity; and embraces both the joy of creative discovery and a mission of knowledge with a public purpose.
Cornell’s academic excellence underpins the university’s success in every aspect, and President Pollack has worked across the university to advance that excellence. By investing in collaborative, cutting-edge research and new, evidence-based approaches to teaching and learning; fostering an inclusive, equitable community; and leveraging the complementary strengths of Cornell’s urban and rural campuses, President Pollack strives to bring Ezra Cornell’s vision of “the first truly American university” forward to meet the challenges of our present and future.
Since taking office, President Pollack has worked strategically to strengthen and advance Cornell’s academic excellence across the university.
Under her leadership:
- The Cornell Brooks School of Public Policy was established in 2021: creating a shared home for Cornell’s multidisciplinary public policy expertise, and positioning the work being done across colleges and units for greater reach and impact.
- Cornell Computing and Information Science, one of the first such cross-disciplinary academic units to be established in the United States, has become Cornell Bowers CIS: an independent college dedicated to exploring cutting-edge computing and information technologies, and the impact of those technologies on individuals and society.
- Weill Cornell Medicine, which now offers debt-free education to all of its medical students with financial need, continues to excel across its core areas of teaching, education, and research. Over the past five years, its research portfolio has expanded significantly, with a 46% increase in total sponsored research revenues, including a 74% increase in NIH-sponsored research revenue. For many years, Weill Cornell Medicine has had the highest percentage of any U.S. medical college of graduates who enter academic medicine as full-time faculty, and it also has the highest percentage of graduates who complete their medical educations with both MD and PhD degrees.
- Cornell Tech, the university’s pathbreaking technology campus on New York’s Roosevelt Island, is opening new areas of exploration in human-focused technology research and education: for example, Health Tech, Urban Tech, and Public Interest Tech.
- Innovative programs such as the Humanities Scholars and the Milstein Program in Technology and Humanity in the College of Arts and Sciences are providing exceptional undergraduates with unparalleled opportunities for creativity and exploration across and beyond the humanities.
- Interdisciplinary initiatives such as The 2030 Project: A Cornell Climate Initiative, the Cornell Institute for Digital Agriculture, and Migrations: A Grand Global Challenge are leveraging Cornell’s extensive expertise toward pressing contemporary challenges such as food security and the movement of living populations across our planet.
In the first five years of her presidency, despite the challenges of the pandemic, Cornell’s externally funded research increased dramatically, with a 36% increase in federal funding (including a 61% increase in funding from the National Institutes of Health) and a 52% increase in corporate research funding.
Pollack believes strongly in the importance of evidence-based educational innovation, including active learning, community-engaged learning, and assessing outcomes through discipline-based educational research. She led the integration of eCornell, the university’s online learning platform, and other external education programs into a new unit placed under the provost’s leadership, enabling the coordination and expansion of online and blended offerings. She strongly supports work to expand access to Cornell’s offerings to an increasing range of non-traditional and external students.
In line with Cornell’s institutional goal to educate new generations of global citizens, President Pollack has strengthened Cornell’s international presence on campus, and the university’s presence beyond United States borders. Through programs and resources such as the Cornell China Center and current and planned Global Hubs, Cornell is able to better facilitate international collaborations and partnerships, teaching and learning, and alumni connections. President Pollack is also a strong advocate for international students, who make up roughly half of Cornell’s graduate and professional students and whom she sees as key both to our research enterprise and to the ability of the United States to innovate and compete.
In fall 2021, Cornell publicly launched one of its most ambitious campaigns ever: setting out to raise at least $5 billion total for its Ithaca campus, Weill Cornell Medicine, and Cornell Tech, while engaging 200,000 alumni before June 30, 2026. To Do the Greatest Good has already led to the two most successful fundraising years in the history of the university, reaching $829 million in fiscal year 2021 and $924 million in fiscal year 2022, as well as a record-setting engagement year with 104,000 alumni in fiscal year 22. The campaign goals reflect President Pollack’s emphasis on the distinction and diversity of our academic community, with significant fundraising for endowed professorships and undergraduate affordability. She has earmarked $500 million within the campaign to make a Cornell education more affordable and more attainable to students from all socioeconomic backgrounds, with specific goals to increase the number of aided students at Cornell by 1,000; reduce debt burden; and ensure that students on financial aid are able to pursue internships or other educational experiences over at least one summer. Over the course of her first five years as president, the percentage of students identifying as first-generation has increased by nearly a half.
From the beginning of her presidency, President Pollack has emphasized the importance of ensuring that Cornell is able to build a diverse and equitable community where all members feel accepted and valued, and where opinions can be freely expressed through thoughtful civic discourse. In her first months in office, she convened a Presidential Task Force on Campus Climate, whose work led to a set of 60 concrete recommendations to build a more inclusive and equitable campus—more than 80% of which have been put into practice. These include the introduction of an Intergroup Dialogue Project experience for all incoming students, and the creation of an online program in Teaching and Learning in the Diverse Classroom for faculty and teaching assistants. In 2020, in response to nationwide acts of racialized violence, she instituted additional actions to strengthen the university’s work for racial justice, including campus initiatives to improve equity in public safety, and the establishment of a planned Center for Racial Justice and Equitable Futures.
To reaffirm the university’s core values in a contentious era, Pollack engaged stakeholders across Cornell’s campuses to identify and describe those values. The resulting statement of Core Values—purposeful discovery, free and open inquiry and expression, a community of belonging, exploration across boundaries, changing lives through public engagement, and respect for the natural environment—is a foundation for action and a guide for decision making. In accordance with these values, Pollack initiated a revised and clarified consensual relationships policy governing faculty-student relations; a complete revision of the Student Code of Conduct to bring it in line with modern best practices; and extensive reforms to sorority and fraternity life designed to prevent hazing and foster a safe and healthy campus culture.
In the fall of 2020, following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Cornell became one of a handful of U.S. universities, and the only Ivy, to invite all of its undergraduate and graduate students back to campus for an in-person residential semester: a year characterized by multiple mitigation measures, including extensive surveillance testing conducted by Cornell’s newly established in-house COVID-19 testing laboratory, which performed over 2 million screening tests between the summers of 2020 and 2022, including some 300,000 provided to local communities. Relying on a science-based approach to planning and response, and a communitywide culture of public health responsibility, President Pollack’s administration enabled a successful year of research, teaching, and engagement. During the pandemic, President Pollack also provided service to the state as a member of the Reimagine New York Commission, co-chairing their Subcommittee on Telehealth.
President Pollack is intent on achieving the university’s ambitious goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2035, both by applying existing technology to reduce emissions, and using its resources and expertise to explore new solutions. As part of that effort, the university has constructed a two-mile-deep borehole observatory to explore the feasibility of using geothermal energy to heat its Ithaca campus. A focus on environmental sustainability in Cornell’s campus operations (for example, in the design and construction of the recently completed North Campus Residential Expansion) complements the large body of research and teaching on sustainability conducted by Cornell’s faculty across virtually all of its colleges and schools. Cornell was recently awarded STARS Platinum status by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) for the third time in a row—the first university to have achieved this distinction.
President Pollack’s professional service has included membership on the university advisory board for Coursera; on the board of directors of the Computing Research Association; on the advisory committee of the National Science Foundation’s Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) directorate; and on the board of directors of the Association of American Universities. She is currently a member of the board of directors of IBM and of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to make access to knowledge more affordable. She has also served as president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence and as a member of the executive committee and program chair of the International Joint Conferences on Artificial Intelligence. She served as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Artificial Intelligence and on the editorial board of several other major AI journals.
From 2000 to 2017, Dr. Pollack was a faculty member at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she also served as dean of the School of Information, vice provost for academic and budgetary affairs, and finally, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. Previously, she was a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, and before that a member of the technical staff at SRI International. She earned her Ph.D. and M.S.E. in computer and information science from the University of Pennsylvania, and her A.B. in linguistics from Dartmouth College.
Recent speeches and writings