Martha Pollack, Cornell’s New Madam President

14 11 2016

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As announced earlier today, Cornell’s 14th president will also be its second female leader. Univ. of Michigan provost Dr. Martha E. Pollack has been selected to take over the helm from interim president Hunter Rawlings starting in April 2017.

Currently, Pollack is the Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Michigan, as well as a Professor of Computer Science. As a student, Dr. Pollack earned her degrees at two of Cornell’s peers – a bachelor’s degree in linguistics from Dartmouth College, and a PhD as well a master’s in computer science and engineering from the University of Pennsylvania. Her professional specialty is artificial intelligence, with years of research focused on the design of technology to help those with cognitive impairments, including natural-language processing, temporal reasoning, and automated planning.

Pollack has held a number of positions across the country. From 1985 to 1991, she was a computer scientist at the Artificial Technology Center of SRI International, a non-profit research institute started by, and still closely associated with Stanford University. In what be a good fit with Cornell’s trajectory, SRI was initially created in the 1940s to help spur economic development in the vicinity of Stanford – an area that would later become known as Silicon Valley.

Following her time at SRI, she was a professor at the University of Pittsburgh for nine year, moving to Ann Arbor in 2000 to join the computer science department at U. Michigan. It was at Michigan where she began to work her way up the academic leadership ladder – first as an associate chair of the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department from 2004-2007, than as Dean of the School of Information from 2007-2010, then as a Vice Provost for Budgetary and Academic Affairs from 2010-2013, and then promoted in January 2013 to her latest position as Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs for the 44,000 student university. The provost role in higher education is basically the second-in-command, leading the administrations function of the university. Apparently, Michigan has a knack for turning out Ivy League presidents – Pollack accepted the provost position following colleague Philip Hanlon’s departure to take over as President at Dartmouth College.

Like many high-flying professionals, Pollack has earned a number of service and research awards over the course her career. When promoted in 2013, University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman spoke of her glowingly, saying “it’s obvious to me that she’s somebody with enormous potential.” A colleague described Pollack as “gentle, kind and has always been a tireless advocate for our student body.”

The appointment to provost, originally for two years, was renewed by the university in December 2014, and came with additional praise. “Provost Pollack has been an innovative and disciplined academic and budget leader for the campus. … I appreciate her work to hold down tuition costs, provide more financial aid to our students, and her leadership of important new initiatives in digital education and engaged learning,” said Mark Schlissel, the new president of the university.

While at Michigan, Pollack has taken some heat from conservative circles for overseeing a change in student registrations that allowed students to select their own pronouns in respect those who are gender non-conforming. earlier this year, Pollack gave a speech to Michigan students and used the example of supporting transgender children as an example of how young people must “fill the empathy gap.

Regarding her personal life, Pollack has been married for 32 years to Ken Gottschlich, an engineer and jazz musician, and has two grown children.

Although Cornell is large, well-respected and multifaceted institution, so is Michigan. A computer scientist with strong research acumen and academic connections seems like a comfortable choice for Cornell president. With her credentials, at a glance it appears that her appointment is a wise decision that fits with the university’s strategic goals.

Fast Facts: Cornell Postgraduate Surveys

18 11 2014

Unlike the other posts in the “Fast Facts” series, this information comes from Cornell Postgraduate Surveys conducted by Cornell Career Services.

Let’s be frank. People generally don’t go to college these days for educational enlightenment. It’s all about the return on investment, and that holds true for a school like Cornell. Here’s a look at some of the stats, courtesy of Cornell’s postgraduate surveys. Big disclaimer here – the response rate to these surveys is 70-75%, and I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the kids who find themselves with some motivation or bragging rights are probably the ones most likely to respond. Who wants to tell Cornell they’re living in Mom and Dad’s basement?

With that disclaimer aside, here’s the cold hard cash stats. These charts leave off the class of 2014 because they have six months to submit info – until the end of the month, in other words.


Looking at the past several years, we can definitely see the influence of the 2008/2009 recession. “Other Endeavors” includes, travel, volunteer work, and actively seeking grad school/employment. This value has climbed by a third since 2008. The number of those attending grad school continues to drop from its recession high, while employed grads have rebounded. There’s a well-documented inverse relationship between the economy and grad school enrollment – people want to make that cash when the economy’s good, but they hunker down and work towards advanced degrees when the bear market is growling.


Of those pursuing graduate studies, the top three, which are consistently the top three, are Engineering (M.Eng), Law School and Medicine. Law school has taken a hit in recent year due in part to the law school bubble bursting. The return on investment just isn’t what it used to be.


Now some real meat – mean and median salaries for the university as a whole, and for each college. Both mean and median are right around $55k, helped substantially by those engineering salaries. Electrical/Mechanical/Computer Engineering pays, kids, if you can survive the four-year blow to your self worth (looking at you, Diff Eq). AAP is well below the average, pulling just over $43k in 2013; but AAP students also respond to the survey in smaller numbers, often only 40-50%. That could be a good thing (unreported high salaries) or a bad thing (living in Mom’s basement and too embarrassed to respond).


Cornell breaks down respondents by the type of work they do. The big ones are financial services (I-Banking) and consulting (more financial work), which pull in 30% of the graduating class. In more recent years, “Technology”, your Google, Twitter and tech startup employees, has been booming, thanks to rapid growth and rapid rise in pay. If the last tech bubble burst in 2000/2001 was any indication, the number pursuing technology jobs will drop significantly when a market correction occurs.


But in the meanwhile, tech is at the top of the average salaries graph, followed by our friends in banking. Coming as no surprise, the graph shows working at a non-profit pays relatively poorly. There does seem to be a direct relationship between how boring/morally ambiguous a job is and how much one gets paid.


Lastly, average salaries by region. The West Coast (think Silicon Valley) leads the pack, followed by the always-expensive NYC Metro. Upstate New York is at the bottom, perhaps because 1) it’s a cheap place to live, and 2) the jobs in upstate don’t tend to be high-end finance or tech jobs; agriculture and education would be more likely. I can personally vouch for the West Coast being expensive; I was once offered a position in California that I estimated would incur an extra $20,000 in living expenses for things like rent, and the offered salary reflected that (I also discovered after they flew me out there for the interview/offer how much I would dislike the job, which threw me into a personal crisis…a fun story for another day).

Fast Facts: Cornell Students By Major

11 11 2014

As always, all data is taken from the Cornell University Factbook. Numbers used in this entry are for undergraduate enrollments.

Offhand, I can think of two mantras when it comes to first-tier higher education:
– Go into a STEM field.

– If you’re at a really good school for undergrad (Ivy plus), go for business.

The logic in both is fairly sound. STEM fields are in demand and pay well (and as someone in a STEM position, I say that with a very big asterisk). The other is that our most brilliant minds can get the most return on investment by going into financial services such as investment banking, where you work for for a couple years at a place like Goldman Sachs or JPMorgan, go back for a couple years of B-school, and find yourself making $250k at 32 as a vice president of some random business activity. The popularity of that easily earned, highly lucrative business degree is the reason why Cornell started offered a campus-wide minor in business; one-sixth of Cornell’s students go directly the financial sector, which is actually down a little bit from previous years.

There’s also a third mantra, much more negative than the first two: humanities doom you to unfulfilled jobs in coffee shops or years of fruitless grad school labor. Unfair certainly, but the academic stigma, also known as “what are you going to do with that degree?”, is strong for liberal arts majors.

I decided to take the numbers and see if there were any trends in enrollment in certain fields over the years. Below are Cornell’s enrollments from 2002-2013 by CIP, “Classification of Instruction Programs“, which is used by government entities to track enrollments by study.


Looking at this, it’s easy to pick out some winners and losers over the past decade. Social Services, English, Family and Consumer Sciences, and Architecture have notable drops. Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Engineering, Agriculture and Business have grown. Liberal Arts shows no strong trend. Computer Science shows an interesting parabolic shape, which can be attributed to the tech bubble bursting in the early 2000s, and taking a few years to recover before entering the current tech boom.

I’m going to take three years – 2003, 2008 and 2013, and split them into “STEM” and “non-STEM” for this next plot. The unknowns and multidisciplinary majors will be removed and I’m going to treat business separately. Non-STEM will be history, performing arts, social sciences, social services, psychology, philosophy, liberal arts, english, family and consumer science, foreign languages, education, personal services, communication, architecture, and area/cultural studies.  STEM will be physical sciences, nutritional science, math, biology, engineering, computer science, natural resources and agriculture. I’ve made an attempt to separate “hard” sciences from “soft” sciences, and I realize there’s plenty of room for debate which categories belong in STEM and non-STEM, but I’ll leave that out for now.


Over time, non-STEM is decreasing, while STEM and business are increase their share of the Cornell student population. It could be that there’s genuinely more interest in business and STEM, or Cornell students could simply be more pragmatic these days, choosing things that offer cold hard cash versus the educational enlightenment of the arts and humanities. Feel free to leave your comments.

Cornell Provosts Climb the Ladder

21 10 2014


It’s pretty clear the the president of Cornell is first in command of the university. However, being that Cornell is a university with tends of thousands of students, thousands of employees, and multiple campuses, it stands to good reason to have a chief academic officer of sorts, a general supervisor of college affairs while the president represents the university’s “public image” and acts as chief fund-raiser. In comes the provost, a position created in 1931 by the Board of Trustees to manage the university’s myriad affairs. The provost is a sort of COO while the president is CEO.

Many of Cornell’s provosts haven’t been content with being second in command, the latest example being Provost Kent Fuchs leaving to become president of the University of Florida. Fuchs (pronounced “fox”) has been in the provost position since 2009. His predecessor, Carolyn “Biddy” Martin, who left to take over as president of  the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Let me run down the list of provosts since WWII and see what happened with each provost:

Arthur S. Adams (1946-1948): Bid adieu to Cornell when he was appointed president of the University of New Hampshire. He may not have liked UNH much, because he left in 1950 to head the American Council on Education, and from there on a number of other academic leading roles. He passed away in 1980.

Before someone calls me out for not including the provost in 1945, there was no serving provost from 1944-1946. Former Ag school dean Albert Mann (1931-1936) and former Packard Motors executive H. Wallace Peters (1936-1943) both retired after serving as provost.

Cornelis de Kiewiet (1948-1951): Departed when he was selected as president of the University of Rochester, a position that he served in from 1951-1961, from which he retired and spent the rest of his years working as a proponent of investing in higher education programs in Africa. A rather unattractive brutalist dorm at the UofR is named after him.

Forrest Hill (1952-1955): I should note that provosts under President Mallott seemed to have less power than more recent ones; Mallott enjoyed his authority, something that also led to the student riots of 1958. Hill left to head the Overseas Development for the Ford Foundation, and established rice-breeding institutes that increased yields substantially, and helped propel the “green revolution” of the mid-20th century. Forrest Hill retired to Ithaca in 1976 and passed away 12 years later.

Sanford Atwood (1955-1963): Left in 1963 to serve as president of the prestigious southern college Emory University, where he was president from 1963-1977 (and where has a building named in his honor). While at Emory, Atwood became best-known for standing behind a professor who declared a belief that “God is dead”, which didn’t go over very well at the traditionally Methodist institution. He retired from Emory and passed away in 2002.

Dale Corson (1963-1969): The only recent case of a provost becoming president, as a result of James Perkins’s resignation following the Willard Straight takeover. Corson, for whom Corson Hall is dedicated, served as Cornell’s leader from 1969-1977, and lived in Ithaca up to his passing in 2012 at the age of 97.

Robert A. Plane (1969-1973): Left Cornell to serve as president and CEO of Clarkson University, where he served from 1974-1985. After he retired from that position, he became a winemaker, and eventually came back to work for Cornell as head of the university’s Ag Experiment Station in Geneva from 1986-1990. After he retired again,  he served as president of Wells College from 1991-1995, though the college was still all-female at the time. He’s totally, completely retired now, and still kicking at the age of 87.

David Knapp (1974-1978): Left to become the president of the University of Massachusetts, where he served as president from 1978-1990, and retired from his professorial duties in 1993. It was Knapp who suggested changing the name of the College of Home Economics to the College of Human Ecology, while he was dean of the college.

W. Keith Kennedy (1978-1984): For whom Kennedy hall on the Ag Quad is named. He retired at the end of his term, but served on a number of Cornell committees and Ithaca-based foundations and boards for the rest of his life. Kennedy passed away in Ithaca in 2011 at the age of 92.

Robert Barker (1984-1991): Retired from Cornell in 1995, according to the Office of the Provost website, and moved to Washington State.

Malden “Mal” Nesheim (1989-1995): Note the overlap with Robert Barker; Barker served as “senior provost and COO”, the only time that position has ever existed, from 1989-1991. Nesheim became provost emeritus in 1995, and is a professor emeritus of the Nutritional Science department, taking part in various committees well into the 2000s.

Don Randel (1995-2000): Left in 2000 to become the president of the University of Chicago. Left U. Chicago in 2005 to take over as president of the Mellon Foundation. It appears he’s since retired.

Carolyn “Biddy” Martin (2000-2008): Left to take over of the University of wisconsin at Madison. Left that position in 2011 to become president of Amherst College, a small but prestigious liberal arts school in Massachusetts.
W. Kent Fuchs (2009-2014): Leaving to take over as president of the University of Florida.

So, since WWII and excluding Corson, 8 of the 12 provosts have gone on to serve other schools, and only 3 of 12 stayed with Cornell through retirement. The position is often a high-level stepping stone for administrators with grand aspirations. Not to say they don’t care about Cornell, not true at all; but there’s a good chance that Cornell won’t be throwing a retirement party for the next provost.

Cornell’s Madam President

30 09 2014


As announced over at the Ithaca Voice, Cornell’s 13th president will also be its first female leader. Univ. Southern California provost Helen Elizabeth Garrett has been selected to take over the helm from David Skorton starting in July 2015.

In keeping with a Cornell trend to have presidents who’ve spent time in flyover country, 51-year old Elizabeth “Beth” Garrett started her academic career in Oklahoma. According to her curriculum vitae, she received a BA in history from the University of Oklahoma in 1985, where she was active in student government and Chi Omega sorority, and she has a JD from the University of Virginia in 1988, where she was valedictorian.  Following law school, Garrett clerked for judge Stephen Williams on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit (1988-1989), and for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (1989-1990). She also served as legislative director and tax and budget counsel in the early 1990s to retired Democratic U.S. senator David L. Boren (D-Oklahoma; back in a time when Oklahoma elected more Democrats). Since that time, she’s been firmly ensconced in academia. She has served as a visiting law professor at UVA, Harvard, Caltech, the Interdisciplinary Center Law School in Israel and Central European University in Budapest. She has served as a law professor at U. Chicago (1995-2003), where she was deputy dean for academic affairs from 1999-2001.  In 2003, she left for USC, where she would go on to serve as the vice provost for academic affairs (2005-2006) and then vice president for academic planning and budget (2006-2010). Garrett became provost, the second-in-command position for the university, in October 2010. Her tenure as USC provost has had its share of problems. It includes the failed merger of the Scripps Insitute with USC, and a series of high-profile crimes near the university where USC students were attacked.

As a lawyer, Garrett’s specialty is with government affairs and tax policy. In March 2009, she was nominated by Barack Obama to serve as assistant treasury secretary for tax policy, but withdrew that May for family reasons. It was suggested that she did not wish to put her family under the intense scrutiny that the vetting process required. She has been the target of the political right-wing’s fury in the past, for not doing enough to curtail a USC professor who used derogatory terms to describe Republicans.  Along with that nomination, her other government involvements includes serving on a number of government advisory panels and boards, include George W. Bush’s 2005 Panel on Federal Tax Reform,  and as the Commissioner of the California Fair Political Practices Commission since 2009. Like any other high-flying professional, she sits, or has sat on more advisory panels, had more professional memberships, and chaired more specialized committees and programs than you can shake a stick at. Her husband, USC law and philosophy professor Dr. Andrei Marmor, will be offered a position at Cornell.

A female lawyer with deep political and academic connections seems like a pretty safe choice for Cornell president. Although this will be her first time as a college president, she has strong enough credentials that, at a glance, her appointment appears to be a wise move.

Fast Facts: Cornell Employee Headcounts

25 03 2014

All figures come from the Cornell University Factbook.

I’ll lead off with a breakdown of overall number of employees. Faculty and academic staff have been discussed previously, but for consistency’s sake, their numbers are included here in their separate sub categories. In other words, the total number of Cornell employees is faculty + academic staff + non-academic staff. These figures don’t include Weill Cornell, but do include the Geneva research facility and the tech campus in New York City, (the tech campus had 7 employees in 2012 and 15 in 2013). Student and temp employees are not counted either. All figures were taken from November 1 of the year displayed.

In terms of raw numbers and in percentage, it’s pretty clear that non-academic staff were the ones that decreased the most in the midst of the Great Recession. The big plummet comes from 2008 to 2009, where the number of non-academic staff dropped from 7,707 to 7,038, an 8.7% drop. Combined with the losses in employment in faculty and academic staff, the drop in employment that year was from 10,548 to 9,786. Today, the number of total employees is even lower, at 9,731. Meanwhile, student enrollment has continued to climb.

Cornell had a few different tricks up its sleeve to decrease the numbers so sharply. The primary constituent was a retirement incentive package. If you worked at Cornell for over 10 years and were 55 or older, the university was willing to give an employee a lump sum payment (one year’s pay) and an enhanced retirement account payment (30% of what was in the account), provided that the individual retired by the end of June 2009. According to their press release, 432 people accepted the offer. As I recall from my job at the Cornell Store, at least three of the full-time store employees had accepted the package. Another 200 accepted in 2009-2010. Of the 669 positions, at least 105 were layoffs. A Sun article from 2011 details the results of these cuts, including concerns of low morale and overburdening certain departments. It also notes that cuts were expected to continue through 2015, which given the numbers out since then, looks to be pretty accurate. For the curious, the average salary of a non-academic full-time staffer at Cornell was $33,885 in 2007.

Looking at the numbers in greater detail, we can take further nuggets of information from the figures. For fall 2013, for instance, there were 7,070 non-academic staff. Of those 7,070, 4,130 (58.42%) are female, and 6,193 (87.60%) are white. There are 479 part-timers, or 6.78% of the total non-academic staff workforce.

The types of non-academic staff can be broken down into subcategories, both for occupational group and by organizational sector. For occupational groups, the subdivisions are clerical/secretary, executive/admin/managerial, other professional, service and maintenance, skilled crafts, and technical/paraprofessional. For organizational sector, the subdivisions are “Colleges, Research, Library, Other Academic Units, Student and Academic Services, Facilities Services, and Other Administrative Units”.

Job Groups

Org Sector

Speaking broadly and looking at proportions alone, if you work in research or in an administrative position, you’ve fared pretty well since the big slimdown five years ago. If you’re a skilled craftsman or fall into the vague term of “other academic unit”, the prospects haven’t been as sunny. The big employers in gross are secretaries and the grab-bag called “other professionals”, in colleges and “other administrative units”. I presume a lot of secretaries have been replaced by Ms. Google and her friends.


In this Cornell-provided chart, if you split up the colleges by headcount, the Vet School and CALS appears to have taken the biggest cutbacks, although AAP took a big hit percentage-wise. Hotel, HumEc, the Johnson and the Law Schools employ more now than they did at the 2008 peak.


Lastly, even with the retirement incentive, the employee population continues to grey. In 2001, 12.4% of non-academic staff were 55 or older; by fall 2013 it’s doubled to over 25%. In sum, while the student population goes up, the staff population is generally decreasing and trending older.


Fast Facts: Academic Staff and Faculty Trends

10 11 2013


In the entry, faculty are defined as “part-time, clinical and acting assistant, associate and full professors”, while academic staff are defined as “instructors, lecturers, senior lecturers, teaching associates, research and senior research associates, research scientists and principal research scientists, extension and senior extension associates, librarians, associate librarians, senior assistant librarians, assistant librarians and archivists”. All data is taken from the Cornell University Factbook:

Total Aca Staff

Fact number one – the number of academic staff has decreased, from 2,728 in 2001 to 2,660 in 2012. The number peaked at about 2,841 in Fall 2008, and has largely declined since then, as the Great Recession took its toll. CALS and Engineering appear to still be declining, with staff reductions near 10% in the past five years alone (704 to 654, and 306 to 280 respectively).  AAP has lost 14 positions in the same span, reducing academic staff from 69 to 55. Some schools, like the Hotel School and Law School, never really saw declines, while others such as HuMec and Arts & Sciences have started to rebound.

Faculty and Aca Staff

Let’s break down these numbers a little more, into faculty and academic professionals. Faculty numbers went from 1551 in 2001, to 1647 in Fall 2007 (its peak), to 1587 in Fall 2012. Academic staff went from 1,177 in 2001, to a peak of 1,219 in Fall 2005 (and a secondary peak of 1,208 in Fall 2008), and had decreased to 1,073 in Fall 2012. Let’s note that the student population has increased substantially since 2001, especially among the graduate student and professional student sub-groups.

Faculty Percentages

Overall, the faculty proportions haven’t changed too much. Slightly less assistant and full professors, and slightly more associate professors. It has been noted 47 percent of professors are over age 55, and 15 percent over age 65. Cornell had set a goal in Fall 2011 to bring in new blood and expand its faculty base by hiring 100 new faculty per year, but given these numbers, I’m doubtful that is occurring.

Aca Staff Percentages

With academic staff, the big decrease has been with those working in extension (Cornell Cooperative Extension). Some of these cuts were publicized, like the 17 staff that were laid off from ILR Extension in February 2009 (apparently, the Sun link no longer works since their website had to be rebuilt). Cornell Cooperative Extension comprises university outreach and research conducted as part of the university’s land-grant commitment to the state, mostly in agricultural concerns and community programs.

Aca Staff vs. Time

The drop in extension is illustrated further here. In 2001, it had 290 staff. In 2012, 0nly 213. The research staff went from 410 to 392 in the same span (note that there 454 researchers in fall 2008), and 126 to 110 librarian staff. Academic instruction staff increased from 351 to 358. Note that academic instruction staff does not include post-docs, as they are considered temporary employees of the university. Off-hand, given the salaries posted on sites like Glassdoor, I wonder if lower-cost lecturers and teaching associates are being hired in place of professors, and if the university has become more dependent on the cheap labor provided by grad students as their budget has tightened.