Resolution: SA R36: Promoting University Action Against Pipeline Expansion

ActionRejected by the President

Dear Jung,

Thank you for conveying to me Student Assembly Resolution 36: University Action Against Pipeline Expansion, which urges Cornell University “to acknowledge the human rights and environmental implications of pipelines, and to take strategic institutional actions to inhibit their expansion.” Specifically, the resolution calls for Cornell to publicly condemn several local and national pipeline projects, to conduct and publish a review of its financial and programmatic ties to several entities closely associated with the Dakota Access Pipeline, and to forward Resolution 36 to the Board of Trustees Investment Committee.

Regarding the public statement requested in the resolution: One of my greatest responsibilities as president is to speak on behalf of Cornell, whether I am addressing university or external audiences. I approach every communication with considerable regard for the impact of words that will represent our full community and its individual members, as well as our institution. I would like to share with you my expectations for university statements and my reasons for defining their scope.

I believe it is fitting for presidential statements to serve several general purposes, including: to address issues in higher education; to share news of significant consequence to our mission or function; and to express our collective sympathy and support when tragic events may involve Cornellians. However, I believe that my statements should not convey a position on social or political issues unless they are directly tied to higher education.

Cornell has a powerful and continuing influence on society as a result of our mission and values. We are dedicated to research, teaching, artistic creation and public engagement, within an academic culture that protects and encourages free inquiry, free expression and a broad diversity of perspectives. In such an environment, every aspect of society can be examined, challenged, supported or protested by our faculty, students and staff – but the university must remain neutral. If Cornell were to take a collective position on social or political issues, doing so would compromise academic freedom, free speech and inclusion on our campuses, and ultimately, our ability to realize Cornell’s mission.

Regarding the requested financial review and transmission of Resolution 36 to the Board of Trustees’ Investment Committee:  I believe that we must examine carefully the effects that a reconsideration of investment strategies might have on the earnings of our endowment. Cornell University’s endowment has been built up over generations to advance the academic mission of the university, and university leaders must resist, in almost all cases, the temptation to manage these precious funds to further social or political causes. The endowment’s central purpose must continue to be to provide ongoing resources essential to furthering our academic goals as well as the affordability and accessibility of our university. That said, in January 2016 the Cornell University Board of Trustees directed the university’s chief investment officer to actively seek investments in alternative energy. Since that time, the Office of University Investments has reviewed 17 funds focused on making alternative energy and clean technology investments. And, as of December 31, 2016, Cornell held approximately $40 million of private investments in alternative energy-related businesses. These investments range from electricity production using renewable solar and wind technology to energy efficiency and battery storage technologies.

I appreciate the thought and effort that the Student Assembly put into Resolution 36 and look forward to our continuing work together.


Martha E. Pollack

President, Cornell University

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