Pollack establishes Task Force on Undergraduate Admissions

President Martha E. Pollack has established a task force to interrogate all aspects of the undergraduate admissions process and to recommend a universitywide admissions policy and best practices that will be guided by Cornell’s founding mission and can be adapted by the admissions offices of each school and college.

“Cornell’s origin story, as reflected in our founding principle of ‘any person ... any study,’ is unique, and it’s key to our modern ethos and identity,” Pollack said. “Our commitment to broad-based and inclusive admissions practices wasn’t an afterthought; it has always been intrinsic to our purpose and philosophy. A diverse and exceptionally talented student body is critical to the advancement of our institutional mission.”

The Presidential Task Force on Undergraduate Admissions brings together 15 faculty members and senior administrators with broad expertise in relevant fields. It is led by three co-chairs: Avery August, professor of microbiology and immunology in the College of Veterinary Medicine, deputy provost and presidential adviser on diversity and equity; Kelly Cunningham, chief of staff and special counsel to the president; and Patrizia McBride, professor of German Studies and senior associate dean for social sciences and interdisciplinary programs in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The group met for the first time Nov. 21, less than a month after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in separate legal challenges brought against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina. Cornell joined other institutions in filing amicus briefs supporting the lawful consideration of racial and ethnic diversity in admissions.

The task force is charged with developing and recommending a universitywide undergraduate admissions policy and principles of practice to guide the admissions offices supporting each college and school.

“The task force’s work is both timely and necessary for Cornell to honor its founding ethos and continue evaluating how we can best serve that mission,” August said. “It provides an opportunity to reflect on who we serve and how we do that most effectively, and on what makes for a successful student here at Cornell.”

In addition to embracing Cornell’s founding principles and core values, Pollack said the policy should be responsive to the current legal and demographic landscapes; advance compliance with applicable accreditation standards; and inspire admitting units to recruit classes that are diverse across a range of categories and that exhibit excellence across an equivalently diverse range of attributes.

To develop the principles of practice, she asked the task force to examine pipelines and pathways to college, as well as recruitment and retention strategies. The task force then will recommend ways for admissions teams to identify attributes and experiences that have prepared applicants to succeed in the university’s academically rigorous programs, positively contribute to the campus community and use their Cornell education to address society’s most challenging problems.

“To respond to the challenges and opportunities of our time, we must be attuned to the world’s diversity,” McBride said. “That diversity is not abstract but made up of concrete exchanges and interactions in classrooms. To the extent that our communities reflect the beauty and variety of the society in which we live, then our disciplines will thrive.”

The principles of practice are expected to consider all aspects of the admissions process, from identification of prospective students to support for admitted students to external partnerships with schools and community organizations.

While encouraging task force members to think broadly, Pollack requested recommendations focused on the following questions:

  • What applicant characteristics or indicators should be prioritized to craft a class that furthers the university’s mission and yields the educational benefits of a diverse student body?
  • What, if any, are the appropriate uses of data analytics and machine learning technology as tools to enhance the holistic and individualized review of all applications?
  • What research protocols should be designed to assess the effectiveness of the recommended principles of practice?
  • Which pipeline, recruitment and retention programs should be prioritized across the individual undergraduate admitting units to generate the maximum impact on undergraduate student body diversity and the educational benefits derived from that diversity?

Task force deliberations over those topics will build upon findings from a working group on admissions convened last summer, led by Vice President and General Counsel Donica Thomas Varner and Vice Provost for Enrollment Jonathan Burdick; and from a 2018-19 committee on diversity in admissions led by Eduardo Peñalver, then dean of Cornell Law School.

The task force is expected to deliver an interim report by the end of the spring semester and a final report no later than Aug. 31, 2023, so that recommendations may be incorporated as soon as the next undergraduate recruiting cycle.

“In addition to anticipating possible changes in U.S. law,” Cunningham said, “the task force presents an opportunity to think broadly about how Cornell defines undergraduate student success and how recruitment, admissions and retention strategies can intentionally reflect Cornell’s unique founding mission and core values.”

In addition to August, Cunningham and McBride, the members of the 2022-23 Presidential Task Force on Undergraduate Admissions are:

  • Vicki Bogan, associate professor of applied economics and policy and Geller Family Faculty Fellow (Cornell SC Johnson College of Business);
  • Jonathan Burdick, vice provost for enrollment;
  • Scott Campbell, executive director of admissions and recruitment (Cornell Engineering);
  • Lee Humphreys, professor and chair of the Department of Communication (College of Agriculture and Life Sciences);
  • Thorsten Joachims, professor of computer science and information science (Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science);
  • René Kizilcec, assistant professor of information science (Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science);
  • Mark Lewis, the Maxwell M. Upson Professor of Engineering and director of the School of Operations Research and Information Engineering (Cornell Engineering);
  • Michael Lovenheim, the Donald C. Opatrny ’74 Chair of the Department of Economics (Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy and ILR School);
  • Alan Mathios, professor of economics, (Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy);
  • Lisa Nishii, professor of human resource studies (ILR School) and vice provost for undergraduate education;
  • Ravi Ramakrishna, professor of mathematics (College of Arts and Sciences); and
  • Kim Weeden, the Jan Rock Zubrow ’77 Professor of the Social Sciences and director of the Center for the Study of Inequality (College of Arts and Sciences).

Media Contact

Rebecca Valli