At the All-College Gathering on Jan. 28, Ithaca College President Shirley M. Collado spoke about impending economic and structural changes the college will see as the strategic plan, Ithaca Forever, continues to be implemented.
Collado also discussed the community’s concerns about the campus climate regarding diversity and inclusion. Additionally, Collado and Laurie Koehler, vice president of marketing and enrollment strategy, discussed enrollment and retention rates. Mostly faculty and staff attended the relatively full meeting in the Emerson Suites.
“I know this is a time that’s going to be uncomfortable,” Collado said. “I’m asking you to have courage with me and the team to sit in that space with us and embrace the certainty of change because that is certain.”
Collado began her talk by addressing the campus climate. She said the Campus Climate Action Group, along with other groups, is working to address issues that have been raised around diversity and inclusion. A racially charged incident occurred in a theater arts classroom Nov. 21 in which a lecturer asked her students to write potentially offensive words on the white board from a play they were reading that the class should not say out loud, which included the N-word. The following day, three students from the class created a display in Dillingham Center that shared microaggressions and scenarios that occurred in classrooms in recent academic years. In response, administrators walked around the Dillingham Center area Dec. 13 to talk to students about their experiences in the classroom.
“This work is so important not just for today’s students but those who are to come,” Collado said. “We must approach the development of an inclusive campus climate as ongoing dialogue and an opportunity to learn from one another.”
Collado also talked about the Ithaca College Board of Trustees meeting that will take place in February in Los Angeles. Collado will be joining the board for a meeting with Bob Iger ’73, CEO of The Walt Disney Co., to discuss the future vision of the college. Iger and his wife, Willow Bay, recently endowed a new scholarship in the Roy H. Park School of Communications to support underrepresented students.
The budget for the 2020–21 academic year is going to be approved by the Board of Trustees at its annual May meeting, as opposed to February, Collado said. In response to concern about the decreasing operational budget, Collado reminded the college that it has been investing in more aspects of the campus, including deferred maintenance and the student experience.
In addition, she said the college cannot rely on tuition for its financial health. The college has previously raised concern over the sustainability of its budget. William Guererro, vice president of the Division of Finance and Administration, said approximately 88% of the budget during the 2019–20 academic year came from student fees, including tuition, room and board.
The lower enrollment of the freshman class resulted in budget cuts for the 2019–20 academic year, as previously reported by The Ithacan. In 2019, the college received a C+ rating from Forbes for its fiscal health. The numerous changes to staff within the Division of Student Affairs and Campus Life in 2018 were partially funded from the college’s budget surplus, which decreased from $20 million to $5 million. Approximately $6.7 million was allocated toward salaries and benefits, which included the new positions within the Division of Student Affairs and Campus Life, as previously reported by The Ithacan.
“The reality is that we must shift our business model,” she said. “To be successful, we have to recalibrate our expenses. We have to identify new revenue streams. We have to focus deeply on a comprehensive, philanthropic strategy. We have to evolve and build a bold and real mission-driven enrollment strategy. We have to think about growing parts of the college that bring in revenue.”
Collado asked the college to be patient as it works on developing and implementing elements of the strategic plan.
“I want to point out very clearly, too, that these things don’t happen overnight,” she said.
Collado said many have expressed concern about the third goal of the strategic plan, which is to “determine and maintain an appropriate size for our programs and structures and their associated resources at every level of the institution.” She said the college is currently looking to find cross-sector partnerships and collaborations, a solution that will partially address this. Additionally, she said strategic plan committees are currently working to develop rubrics for academic and nonacademic programs to be reviewed for consolidation, reorganization and growth.
“We can’t be in the business of chasing numbers that don’t make sense anymore for us,” she said.
Some faculty members and students asked questions and raised concerns during the question-and-answer portion of the event.
Janice Levy, professor in the Department of Media Arts, Sciences and Studies, said she believes the Collado administration is focusing more of its efforts of the strategic plan on the School of Humanities and Sciences as opposed to the professional schools, including the Park School and the School of Business, at the college. During the event, Collado referred to the School of H&S as the spine of the college’s liberal arts education.
“H&S might be the backbone, but professional schools really carry the enrollment for this institution for as many years as I’ve been here, which is now 33 [years],” Levy said at the meeting. “I’m wondering what type of attention is being given to the professional schools who basically keep this place alive, not only in terms of money that they bring in but also in terms of our reputation.”
Collado responded that the administration’s intention is not to neglect other schools but rather to emphasize having a foundation in liberal arts education.
Darius Cureton, residence director of Holmes, Hilliard and Hood residence halls in the Office of Residential Life and a member of the Campus Climate Action Committee, said he is glad Collado emphasized the concerns and aspirations regarding diversity and inclusiveness at the college. He said the committee is currently focused on creating the college’s diversity and inclusion statement for the strategic plan.
Senior Wren Murray, 2019–20 President’s Fellow, said she is hopeful for the future of the college.
“The college is definitely going in a new direction that we can’t really predict yet, which is scary but also exciting,” Murray said.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that the college spent approximately $6.7 million on the new positions within the Division of Student Affairs and Campus Life. However, that $6.7 million was not just used entirely for the new positions.