Cornell President Pollack Announces Retirement Amid Campus Turmoil

Cornell University President Martha E. Pollack announces her retirement, effective June 30, after a seven-year tenure marked by significant challenges. Provost Michael Kotlikoff will serve as interim president for a two-year term beginning in July.

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Bijay Laxmi
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Cornell President Pollack Announces Retirement Amid Campus Turmoil

Cornell President Pollack Announces Retirement Amid Campus Turmoil

Cornell University President Martha E. Pollack announced her retirement on Thursday, effective June 30, after a seven-year tenure marked by significant challenges. Pollack, a computer scientist, cited the need for a smooth transition before the start of the coming academic year as a key factor in her decision.

In a statement, Pollack emphasized that the decision was hers alone, stating,"It is only after extensive reflection that I have determined that this is the right decision. "Shehad been deliberating on her retirement since last fall but was forced to pause three times due to events on campus.

Why this matters: The retirement of Cornell University's president amidst rising antisemitism and Islamophobia on campus highlights the growing concerns about hate crimes and discrimination in higher education institutions. This development may have implications for how universities address and respond to incidents of harassment and bias, potentially influencing national policies and campus climates.

Pollack's announcement comes amid rising antisemitism and Islamophobia on campus, as well as protests and controversies sparked by the October 7 terrorist attack on Israel. The university has faced scrutiny over its handling of these incidents, with the Department of Education launching aninvestigationin November over allegations of anti-Muslim and antisemitic harassment.

Last month, Cornell temporarily suspended four student protesters, further fueling tensions on campus. Pollack acknowledged the challenges faced by the university, stating,"My time as president has also been one of enormous unexpected challenges for both our country and our community, as we've had to navigate a global pandemic, a national racial reckoning, and a terrorist attack and subsequent war that has reverberated across our country and especially across higher education."

Pollack's resignation makes her the third leader of an Ivy League college to step down this year. Harvard University President Claudine Gay resigned in early January amid accusations of plagiarism, while University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill resigned in December following backlash over her comments during her testimony before Congress.

Provost Michael Kotlikoff will serve as interim president for a two-year term beginning in July. Pollack's title will be changed to president emerita by the school's board of trustees when she officially resigns on June 30.

Pollack's retirement marks the end of a challenging period for Cornell University. As the institution grapples with ongoing tensions and controversies, the transition in leadership will be closely watched. Pollack expressed hope for the future, stating,"There is so much more to Cornell than the current turmoil taking place at universities across the country right now, and I hope we do not lose sight of that."