July 5, 2022
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Board of Trustees discusses how to make IC sustainable

Members of the Ithaca College Board of Trustees discussed retention, the presidential search and Luvelle Brown, member of the board of trustees and superintendent of the Ithaca City School District (ICSD), who has been accused of misusing his power, at a Feb. 14 open meeting for community members.

The virtual openconversation session was led by David Lissy 87, chair of the board of trustees, and James Nolan 77, vice chair of the board of trustees. About 55 people attended the event. Lissy and Nolan shared what the board discussed at its meeting that took place from Feb. 9 to 11 and answered questions and addressed concerns of attendees. 

Lissy said one of the main issues discussed at the winter meeting was the college’s retention rate, which is the percentage of students who stay enrolled at the college for all four years. He said the college gets about 95% of its revenue from tuition and room and board, which leaves the college reliant on its ability to engage and retain students. 

“As important as it is to put our best foot forward and attract students, you know, if we can’t keep them here once they’re here, then of course, that becomes an even bigger challenge,” Lissy said. 

At the Feb. 8 Faculty Council meeting, Elizabeth Bleicher, interim director of Student Success and Retention Strategy said the third-semester retention rate was 84.2% in both 2011 and 2020 academic years. 

Lissy said in order to remain financially feasible, the college must improve engagement and retainment. 

“We now have two classes [Class of 2024 and Class of 2025] that I see are much smaller than what we have had historically,” Lissy said. “They’ll be with us for four years so there’s really not a lot to do there other than to retain them. We have to be able to recruit larger classes in the next couple of years, in order to continue to be sustainable.”

Kelly Stern, director of enrollment marketing in the Creative and Marketing Group, has been working at the college for 11 years. She said she feels the college is in a crisis because of the number of changes it has experienced over the past few years. 

“As a community over the past five or more years, we have endured zero-based budgeting, the blue sky event and aftermath, student sit-ins in the Peggy Ryan Williams Center, an 18-month interlude while we awaited a presidential resignation, a sea change in leadership, –– starting with a new presidential inauguration –– a new strategic plan, programmatic transitions, the eliminations and transitions of majors, graduate programs, significant changes to orientation, elimination of the Honors Program, introduction of new scholar programs,” Stern said. “These are just a few of the things in which we have all been involved and affected together.”

Stern said this crisis has made for an unfair work environment where people are overworked. 

“No one feels they can take vacation because there’s no one to cover in their absence,” Stern said. “People are already doing the work that at least two people, and more often, three used to do. What I want you to hear most, at least for me, is the exhaustion of many of the college’s people. It’s [the college’s] most valuable asset, people who make it what it is.”

Lissy said he understands the present state of the college is not sustainable. 

“I know it may seem difficult to believe right now, but I believe wholeheartedly in our future,” Lissy said. “I’m not going to stop doing the work that I do tirelessly to try to affect the best possible future for IC.

Stella Rivera 19 said she hesitates to recommend the college to interested applicants because Brown continues to hold his position on the board. 

A letter that stated Brown misused his power as ICSD superintendent was sent to the New York State Department of Education. The complaint said Brown undermined his ex-wife’s rights, Anjanette Brown, and that he misused resources in ways that have negatively impacted their children. A petition was created the same day as the meeting by IC Alumni Against Austerity with the goal to get Brown to step down. 

“The Ithaca College Board of Trustees continues to enable individuals with a history of abuse and has routinely put these individuals in a position of power at our institution. … If those in power at this institution fail to address the abuses committed by Dr. Luvelle Brown, it sends the message that abuse is acceptable at any level,” IC Alumni Against Austerity said in its petition.

“I don’t feel comfortable sending vulnerable 18-year-olds to IC knowing that someone on the board of trustees has been accused of such egregious abuse,” Rivera said. “I don’t really understand, is there something that’s keeping you guys from talking about it, other than your personal connections to him?”

Lissy said he engages with prospective students on a regular basis and said he has incredible confidence in recommending the college. Lissy said he is unable to make comments regarding Brown. 

The college is in the later stages of the presidential search process and Lissy said he is hopeful that the college will be able to communicate in a substantive way within the next 30 to 60 days. 

“I think we need someone who is going to do the hard work of bringing the community together,” Lissy said. “By the community, I mean not just the faculty, or not just the staff or not just the students, but also the alumni. We’re all united in the success of Ithaca College, and we need someone who can inspire that.”

Olivia Stanzl can be reached at ostanzl@ithaca.edu