AU meeting sparks discussion on finances, salaries, welfare and new pool
At its second in-person meeting of the semester, the University Assembly heard from President Martha Pollack, who addressed the body last Tuesday on issues ranging from University finances to salaries to mental health. The meeting also heard a presentation by Professor Ashleigh Newman ’06, Assistant Clinical Professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine, on recent proposals to build new indoor swimming pools.
Pollack discussed the University’s recent philanthropic efforts. She credited the generosity of Cornell alumni and friends and the work of the University’s alumni affairs and development staff, with the first six months of this year being the best in Cornell’s history in terms of philanthropy.
“We raised the highest amount of funding ever in Cornell history, $528 million in total, bringing us to a total of approximately $3 billion towards our goal of $5 billion” , Pollack said. “This will help us meet a series of important priorities, including…the goal of making undergraduate education more affordable.”
During his talk, Pollack also discussed student health and wellness. She mentioned that recreation facilities and other in-person wellness programs, like Student Hope, have returned to campus for the first time since the pandemic hit, also citing issues with access and affordability.
While Cornell’s fitness centers are currently restricted to those who pay membership fees, a new Access Fund feature is offering access grants to those who cannot afford a membership.
Pollack also commented on the state of Cornell’s pools following a recent Faculty Senate resolution calling for a new indoor pool on campus. Pollack acknowledged the costly maintenance challenges with current pools, but she said the University is working on a “creative approach” to funding repair projects.
When discussing salaries and raises for the next fiscal year, Pollack claimed that funding a natatorium would require diverting funds from other areas. Pollack also asserted that the University’s biggest challenge each year is to appropriately compensate faculty and staff while limiting tuition growth. She commented on economic uncertainty and inflation.
“I know there’s a lot of concern about inflation and high prices,” Pollack said. “We will do our best to increase salaries as much as possible while staying true to the long-term fiscal responsibilities we have as a university.”
After his presentation, Pollack answered questions posed by members of the assembly, including Executive Vice President Jacob Feit ’22, who asked Pollack how the increase in Cornell’s student population had impacted access to housing. Feit expressed concern about the lack of four-year housing options, especially for low-income and middle-class students who are unable to keep up with rising housing prices.
“We don’t have the money right now to build dorms for juniors and seniors,” Pollack said in response. “Part of the reason for building the two thousand extra beds was that we thought it would put pressure on the housing market to drive down costs.”
Joel Malina, vice president of university relations, was also present at the meeting, adding that off-campus housing prices are tied to more complex financial decisions that are difficult to regulate. However, Malina also said the University has the ability to shape the local housing market through “external forces” and has made good progress.
In the second half of the meeting, Newman began his presentation by discussing the current status of Cornell’s swimming pools, located at Teagle Hall and Helen Newman Hall.
Newman pointed out that both pools do not meet federal standards and guidelines for accessibility and lack adequate bathrooms and showers for people who identify as male, female and gender non-conforming.
Throughout the University’s history, the pools have been used by students, faculty, staff, and retirees for free swimming as well as several sports teams and physical education classes for structured programs .
Newman pointed to an imbalance between supply and demand: although there is a huge demand for pool time, Cornell does not have the space or times of day to grant the access the community wants. . Over the past two years, pool closures have increased and even forced Cornell athletes to occasionally swim at nearby Ithaca College.
According to Newman, Teagle Hall’s damaged roof, which contains hazardous asbestos materials, needs a replacement that would likely take 10 months of work and millions of dollars.
Newman also said the new fixes come after the University spent $750,000 in 2020 on “stop-gap measures” to repair the pool, including inserting wooden support beams underneath.
“Everything that could be done was done at this point to try and extend the life of the pool,” Newman said.
Newman said she fears the University could be left entirely without a pool for at least seven years, as the approximate life expectancy of the current pool only extends to 2025, and the process of collecting funds, design and construction of a new natatorium could take up to 10 years. .
“[A pool is] not just a luxury item that we would love to have,” Newman said. “It would actually solve the supply and demand problem that we have at Cornell.”