University President Mary Sue Coleman has appointed Martha Pollack as the next University provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.
Since 2010, Pollack has served as vice provost for academic and budgetary affairs under current Provost Philip Hanlon, who is set to become the president of Dartmouth College in July.
If approved by the Board of Regents at its Feb. 21 meeting, Pollack will assume a two-year appointment beginning May 6. The University made the announcement in a press release early Wednesday morning.
“I am thrilled to have this opportunity to serve the University of Michigan as provost,” Pollack said in a statement. “This remains one of the world's premier institutions of higher education, and I am both humbled and honored to be a part of an incredibly dedicated leadership team.”
As provost, Pollack will act as the University’s chief academic officer and chief budgetary officer. In addition to her current role as a professor in the School of Information and professor of computer science and engineering in the College of Engineering, Pollack will advance and oversee teaching and research in each of the University’s institutes and 19 schools and colleges.
In her current role as vice provost, Pollack works closely with the Hanlon to craft budgetary policy, most notably the University’s general fund budget. Pollack plays a large role in supervising assessments of the University’s schools and colleges and during has been at the forefront of efforts to expand the University’s relationship with Coursera, a massive open online course platform.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily Wednesday, Coleman cited Pollack’s work with Hanlon as an integral factor in the selection.
“They’ve got such a great team in that office in terms of analyzing the budget and where we can look for cost savings — where we can make investments that are really going to move the institution,” Coleman said. “She worked really well with the team and with Phil (Hanlon) over the few years she was in that role, and it’s obvious to me that she’s somebody with enormous potential.”
Pollack has worked in partnership with Hanlon, deans and budget directors not only on budgetary issues, but also in developing and advancing new academic programs. Last fall, Pollack and Hanlon taught a one-credit course on finance in higher education to help students better understand the process of budgetary and fiscal planning.
In a statement, Coleman said Pollack’s array of experiences has prepared her to assume the University’s second highest administrative role.
“Martha Pollack is an effective leader who understands how to maintain world-class academics through a disciplined approach to finances,” Coleman said. “She has a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities currently facing higher education. Her appointment as provost reflects a deep knowledge of this institution that is grounded in her work as a faculty member, department chair and dean.”
Prior to being appointed vice provost — a position Hanlon held before his own ascent to provost — Pollack served as dean of the School of Information. During her 13 years at the University, she has also served as associate chair for computer science and engineering in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Her research has focused largely on the advancement of artificial intelligence, and she has also worked as editor-in-chief of the Journal of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence.
In an interview with the Daily Wednesday, Pollack said she is thrilled to fulfill the position, and hopes to help the University adjust to dramatic changes facing higher education.
“You can see that as a challenge or an opportunity – I think it’s both,” Pollack said. “We’re at a moment where there’s real realization where we have to do things differently.”
Pollack attributes much of her knowledge and qualifications for the position to Hanlon’s mentorship while she worked as vice provost in addition to her experience in previous roles at the University.
Her goals include furthering the use of educational technology to adapt to the trend toward online learning.
“I’m excited about ways to use that so we can free up time for more hands-on activities and to hold down costs,” she said. “I think we need to be more productive, and one way we can do that is making creative use of online technologies. I think we’ll see how that plays out in the coming years.”
Pollack stressed the importance of affordability for students and added that she will work to put the University at the forefront of affordability.
“I think we have to figure out how to continue to deliver a first-rate education — one that gives hands-on education that well help (students) become leaders in the 21st century — and do it in a way that allows access to students, whatever their socioeconomic background,” Pollack said.
When asked about her future beyond her new role as provost, Pollack said she wants to focus on the next two years ahead.
Pollack earned her undergraduate degree in linguistics from Dartmouth College in 1979, a Master of Science in Engineering in computer science and engineering in 1984 and Ph.D. in the same subject in 1986 — both from the University of Pennsylvania. She previously taught at the University of Pittsburgh in various capacities from 1991 to 2000.
Judy Lawson, assistant dean for academic and student affairs for the School of Information, said as a fellow colleague she most admires Pollack’s unwavering commitment to students.
“When Dr. Pollack first started in her position as dean of the school of information, I was struck by her incredible energy, enthusiasm and down-to-earth approach,” Lawson said. “I always felt that student interests were a top priority for Dr. Pollack.”
Moreover, Lawson said Pollack’s information background aligns perfectly with the role of provost. She said Pollack often spoke about the ways in which the digital age was transforming many aspects of everyday life, including the ways people learn and educate others.
“Dr. Pollack brings an uncanny ability to manage competing priorities and move an organization towards greater levels of success,” Larson said. “I anticipate that, as provost, she will foster high levels of engagement in making the university operate more efficiently and effectively. She also has a great sense of humor, which is always a bonus.”
CSG President Manish Parikh said in a statement that he had the pleasure of working with Pollack on the University's budget.
"The Vice Provost was one of the first administrators I had the pleasure of working with as CSG President," Parikh said. "She is gentle, kind and has always been a tireless advocate for our student body. Students and student leaders across campus will benefit from her passion, ingenuity and vision."
In a Nov. 29 interview, Pollack said the University remained financially solvent, largely due to the careful planning by Hanlon, but that serious budget issues would continue to be a main issue for the next provost.
“Many of the (challenges) are going to be continuations of the ones he had to deal with. Many of them are of course financial,” Pollack said. “There's been a serious decline in state support for public education, and we'll have to come to grips with that.”
“We're going to continue to work hard ... but the fundamental (budget) model is sound.”
Pollack will receive a salary of $450,000 — less than Hanlon’s $509,000 — according to University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald added that there was no search committee formed to hire a new Provost, but Coleman consulted various people across campus while making her decision.
“I consulted with a lot of people around the institution because obviously anybody taking that role you want to make sure that they are establishing good relationships — that they are clear, that they take advice — and all those things come together,” Coleman said Wednesday.
In an interview in December, Hanlon predicted the University would choose a talented successor.
“I think we’ll get someone really terrific in the job, someone really skilled,” Hanlon said. “They’ll know exactly what they’re doing, I’m sure.”
Hanlon also granted some advice, stressing the importance of facilitating the vast resources the University offers.
“We have terrific students, and we have terrific faculty and we’ve got the human resources talent to beat any place,” Hanlon said. “It’s really a question of opportunity to take all this brain power and talent and really take this place to perform at an even higher level than it has been.”