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In a Surprise, Cornell’s President Resigns

Martha E. Pollack, Cornell University’s president for the past seven years, announced in a surprise email on Thursday afternoon that she is resigning.

“I understand that there will be lots of speculation about my decision, so let me be as clear as I can: This decision is mine and mine alone,” she wrote in her email, addressed to “Cornellians.” “After seven fruitful and gratifying years as Cornell’s president — and after a career in research and academia spanning five decades — I’m ready for a new chapter in my life.”

Dr. Pollack, a computer scientist, said she would remain in office until July 1.

In a separate announcement, Kraig H. Kayser, the chairman of Cornell’s board of trustees, said the board had asked the university provost, Michael I. Kotlikoff, to serve as interim president for two years. Dr. Kotlikoff was previously dean of Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, among other posts.

Dr. Pollack’s resignation means that four of the eight Ivy League universities — Harvard, Yale, the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell — will now be in various stages of leadership transition, three of them with interim presidents already in charge or presidential searches underway. The presidents of Harvard and Penn resigned in the last six months, in part because of fallout over their testimony at a December congressional hearing investigating campus antisemitism.

Mr. Kayser said that Cornell’s trustees would wait to begin a search for a new permanent president until about six to nine months before the end of Dr. Kotlikoff’s two-year term, an unusually long delay.

Dr. Pollack, 65, leaves at a time of controversy over disciplinary action Cornell has taken against pro-Palestinian student protesters. While Cornell has not summoned outside police forces to its campus in Ithaca, N.Y., it has taken what some professors called draconian measures against six protesters. Critics have found the disciplinary actions particularly disturbing coming in a school year when Dr. Pollack launched a campus free-expression initiative.

Though the students’ protest remained peaceful, the university invoked a provision calling for “immediate temporary suspension,” a measure intended for situations where the safety and health of the community were threatened, according to Risa L. Lieberwitz, a Cornell professor and the campus president of the American Association of University Professors.

“It is not intended to be used where the university is unhappy about the fact that you have an encampment and chanting,” she said.

Professor Lieberwitz called on Dr. Pollack to revoke the students’ suspensions — penalties that could erase their academic credits for the semester — as a parting presidential act that would ease tensions on campus.

Mr. Kayser called Dr. Pollack a “transformational leader” who increased financial aid and created new academic programs at Cornell.

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