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Martha Pollack, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Michigan, has been appointed Cornell University’s 14th president, according to a Cornell press release published Monday afternoon.
Pollack has served as the University’s provost since 2013, acting as the chief budgetary and academic officer overseeing all teaching and research in each of the University’s 19 schools and colleges. Her term at Cornell is slated to begin on April 17, 2017, though her current contract, approved by the Board of Regents in December 2014, extends through the summer of 2018.
“I am humbled and honored to have been elected to lead this great university,” Pollack said in the Cornell press release. “As a private university with a public mission, Cornell is the embodiment of my own deeply held belief in the ability of knowledge to improve the human condition.”
University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel congratulated Pollack in an email sent to faculty Monday afternoon, and applauded her accomplishments as provost.
“Our loss is most certainly Cornell’s gain,” he wrote.
In a University statement, Schlissel also said he will appoint an interim provost before the end of Fall semester, and organize a nationwide search for a permanent replacement by January.
University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald said while the announcement came as a surprise to many University officials, he believes her appointment was a good decision for Cornell.
“She’s been a strong leader for academics and for the budget.” Fitzgerald said. “The provost at the University of Michigan has a somewhat unique role where the chief academic officer is also the chief budget officer. She balances her commitment to academics with being a good steward of the budget well, while keeping a college education affordable and blazing pathways with new academic initiatives. That’s quite a sweetspot.”
Cornell’s board of trustees unanimously approved Pollack’s selection Monday afternoon on a recommendation from the school’s presidential search committee, formed in April following the death of former Cornell president Elizabeth Garrett. Before Pollack’s appointment as provost at the University, she served as the associate chair for computer science and engineering in the University’s department of electrical engineering and computer science, as well as the dean of the School of Information.
In an interview with the Cornell Daily Sun, Pollack who will be Cornell’s second female president in its 184 years of existence, noted that the importance of her new job will transcend gender lines.
“The job of the president is to serve everyone. Not to be the female president, but the president.” Pollack said.
During her tenure at the University, Pollack has been an advocate for technological innovation and the use of data in the classroom. In a press release from the University in September 2015, Pollack emphasized the importance of a $100 million University investment in data science, calling it the future of academia. Among other impacts, the investment created the Michigan Institute for Data Science.
“Data science has become a fourth approach to scientific discovery, in addition to experimentation, modeling and computation,” Pollack said. “To spur innovation while providing focus, the DSI will launch challenge initiatives in four critical interdisciplinary areas that build on our existing strengths in transportation research, health sciences, learning analytics and social science research.”
Also during her tenure, Pollack helped to spearhead the University’s Third Century Initiative, a plan to invest $50 million dollars over five years in an effort to improve student learning. The initiative, which awards grant funding to University faculty, has helped to foster University-developed programs, such as School of Information professor Barry Fishman’s grading platform, Gradecraft.
Fitzgerald noted these initiatives will remain intact following her departure.
“At this point, the things that Provost Pollack has introduced have become significant University commitments.” Fitzgerald said. “They are moving forward, and I don’t see there being an interruption with an interim leader, or a leadership change.”
Pollack’s departure follows a pattern similar to her predecessor, Phil Hanlon, who also left his post at the University to assume the presidency of Dartmouth College.