As the Shared Governance Task Force prepares to meet with the Ithaca College Board of Trustees this month to provide an update on its progress, key individuals involved in this process say there are still issues that need to be resolved and communicated to the campus community.
Benjamin Rifkin, provost and vice president for educational affairs, said he hopes a revised system of shared governance will be disseminated to the college community in Fall 2016. At this time, Rifkin said, opportunities to provide feedback will be made both in person and through an anonymous web-based survey.
Conversations about shared governance have been in the works at Ithaca College since Fall 2015. Amid the protests and no confidence votes last semester, calls for the establishment of shared governance at the college was a factor in creating the Shared Governance Task Force, which has met biweekly since its creation over winter break 2016. Dominick Recckio, Student Government Association president and member of the Shared Governance Task Force, said the Task Force will meet with the board of trustees the weekend of May 21–22 for the task force to give an update on the work it has done this semester.
The task force is beginning to make decisions collectively, despite concerns that people both on the committee and outside of it, like Recckio and Peter Rothbart, chair of the Faculty Council and professor in the music theory, history and composition department, still have with the process. Rothbart said he thinks the boundaries of shared governance at the college are unclear and that the Faculty Council has discussed how to go about fixing it multiple times.
“Over the years, all the lines have been blurred because we haven’t really taken a step back and taken a re-examination of how better things can run if we can update,” Rothbart said. “It’s kind of a moving target, and it will continue to be a changing and moving target. … There are ways to streamline the process now. There are better communications systems that we need to harness so people can be in touch with each other.”
Currently, he said, there are several duplicate committees, overlapping committees and committees that are listed as advisory but that are governance committees and vice versa — examples of inefficiencies that he said should be addressed through the task force’s recommendations.
Recckio said the Task Force has been working on a lot behind-the-scenes and that he thinks this is part of the problem with transparency and communication the Task Force that the group is trying to fix. This work, he said, has been held secret from the community. He also said he is disappointed their work was not brought to the community.
“I feel like we let our community down a little bit by not bringing it to them,” he said. “I hope that in the future we can follow our principles of transparency, respect and accountability a little more strongly.”
The main purpose of the Shared Governance Task Force, which is composed of representatives of the faculty, student, staff and administrative constituencies, is to revise the way policies at the college are made and how members of the campus community are involved in that process, the task force said in a statement.
The group makes decisions on a majority consensus to move forward. However, if the 12 members cannot come to a majority consensus, the recommendation that has at least one member of each of the four constituencies in agreement is what prevails. According to a group response from the task force, this process was the first decision the group made.
Though decisions are made on consensus, even for decisions he doesn’t agree with, Recckio said he still needs to understand and be able to discuss all the decisions that the group makes, so the group spends time making sure all members understand the same perspective. Recckio said a difficulty of shared governance is having to support ideas he may not agree with.
“There are going to be some of those decisions that I don’t agree with that I have to back,” Recckio said.
Rifkin said the college still has a long way to go in defining shared governance and how different constituencies can contribute to decision-making.
“We lack a clear sense of how policy is created and when and how people from across the campus get a chance to contribute their voices to the discussion of possible policies,” Rifkin said.
Recckio said another concern is student involvement and participation. He said he has tried to put students, both in the SGA and not in the SGA, into committees, but they go abroad, change their class schedule or just stop going altogether, so he said it is hard to keep students on the committees.
Though the committee is trying to be transparent and offered the opportunity for members of the campus community to provide input and opinions for them through listening sessions in March, the events had poor attendance.
From the student government perspective, Recckio said that after the no confidence vote last semester, he researched other institutions that have had a no confidence vote and how shared governance has continued to be developed following those votes. He said he found that many institutions have not followed through on their goals and he wants the college to be different and continue.
To combat this, the SGA outlined a committee representation bill in the fall to increase communication by integrating members among different campus committees into the process. The SGA also created a Shared Governance bill in the fall — a bill to revisit shared governance due to the growing campus tensions in Fall 2015. The SGA’s Shared Governance bill is the student model that the SGA would like to put forward for consideration to the board of trustees.
“The goal of this is not to have the student body president doing all these things and to share the responsibilities beyond,” Recckio said.
Rothbart said respect, conversation and discussion are the principles of shared governance and need to continue to be cultivated as the task force moves forward to establish shared governance at the college.
“If we want to have real shared governance at the college — doesn’t matter what structure — what matters is that we start respecting each other and listening and attempting to be cooperative,” he said.