In her 2017 inaugural address, President Martha E. Pollack reflected on Cornell’s founding commitment — to be a place “where any person can find instruction in any study” — and how the ideas embodied by that vision were, in fact, quite radical at the time of Cornell’s founding in 1865. Within the context of that vision, she defended Cornell historian Carl Becker’s assertion that the purpose of universities is to “maintain and promote the humane and rational values” that preserve democratic society. President Pollack is committed to meeting this obligation through the pursuit and advancement of four overarching priorities: academic distinction, One Cornell, educational verve, and fulfillment of the university’s civic responsibilities.
“We must always aspire to distinction in both senses of the word: we must be distinguished and we must be distinctive.”
To sustain and enhance Cornell’s academic distinction, President Pollack is committed to investing in the university’s distinguished faculty. She supports an environment not only where faculty thrive as teachers and researchers, but also one that builds on Cornell’s distinctive strength as both an Ivy League and land-grant university, its breadth of expertise, and its ability to collaborate across disciplinary boundaries.
“[Educational verve] is what we must aspire to in education: a vitality that leads our students to a lifetime of discovery, a passion for ideas, and a commitment to seeking truth.”
To support a culture of educational verve within and beyond the Cornell community, President Pollack encourages investment in new, evidence-based approaches to teaching and learning, and she also promotes the exploration of technologies that encourage students to develop critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving and teamwork skills that prepare them for the necessary work of educated global citizens.
“Beyond our core work of research and education lies [another] pathway to promoting humane and rational values: an interlinked triad of civic responsibilities that universities must satisfy.”
Building on the university’s founding commitment to diversity and inclusion, President Pollack supports three interconnected principles, which she understands to be Cornell’s civic responsibilities: defending the notion of knowledge and truth; protecting freedom of speech; and creating a truly diverse, inclusive and egalitarian community in which all groups are included in the conversation and all members communicate effectively across difference.
“‘One Cornell’ we shall be, and we shall be stronger and more distinguished because of it.”
Cornell’s impact on the world has in large part derived from the university’s remarkable ability to create synergy between the liberal arts and applied fields of study, between its aspiration to be an exemplary research university and its public engagement mission to enhance lives. As Cornell’s presence in New York City expands, President Pollack is upholding the university’s synergistic tradition by developing opportunities for One Cornell that build on, and benefit from, the complementary strengths of the university’s vibrant rural and urban campuses.