The Ithaca College Faculty Council discussed the search for the next president of the college, the college’s response to COVID-19 as well as the format of Faculty Council meetings during the Sept. 14 meeting.
The Faculty Council discussed creating a statement to present to the Ithaca College Board of Trustees regarding shared governance during the search for a new college president. Shirley M. Collado, former president and senior advisor to the interim president and the board of trustees, announced July 8 that she will be stepping down from her position effective Aug. 30. Some Faculty Council members expressed concerns that there would not be an open search for the next president or that the decision has already been made.
Following former President Tom Rochon’s resignation, the search for the ninth president of the college — a position that was filled by Collado — began as an open search that involved public meetings, but it was later closed.
Charis Dimaras, professor in the Department of Music Performance, said he is concerned that faculty have not received much information from the board of trustees, and thinks that writing a statement would help ensure that faculty are included in the search process.
“Nobody’s doubting that the board is working as diligently as they can to find a solution, maybe they’re just going into details,” Dimaras said. “It’s just that I think a statement from us would help to simply accelerate that potential.”
Some faculty members like Belisa Gonzalez, professor in the Department of Sociology, said she would understand if the college decided to not have an open search, saying that some candidates may not want it to be public information that they applied for the position.
Fatima Hajjat, assistant professor in the Department of Marketing, said she would prefer an open search.
“If you are applying for a president position, and you’re not willing to take on that risk, you’re not necessarily serious about the position,” Hajjat said. “To me, that’s not necessarily a very strong argument as to why we should not have an open search.”
Samm Swarts, assistant director of emergency preparedness and response in the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Management, spoke about the rates of COVID-19 cases within the college community as well as the vaccination rates. Swarts described the campus as being “healthy,” citing the college’s COVID-19 dashboard which shows that there are 21 active cases among students, faculty and staff as of Sept. 14. This includes 17 student cases, three staff cases and one faculty case.
In Tompkins County, there are 221 active COVID-19 cases as of Sept. 14, according to the Tompkins County Health Department. Cornell University had 69 new cases during the week of Sept. 7–13 and is currently at a moderate risk level. The university reported five times more cases in the first week of Fall 2021 than in Fall 2020, despite 95% of the campus community being vaccinated.
Swarts said the college is not holding surveillance testing of all students like it did in Spring 2021 because the CDC and the New York State Department of Health have not recommended surveillance testing for vaccinated populations. Approximately 99% of students are vaccinated along with approximately 80% of faculty and staff, Swarts said. Faculty and staff are not currently required to be vaccinated to be on campus. He said more faculty are vaccinated than staff, with faculty vaccination percentages in the high 80s and low 90s and staff vaccination percentages in the 70s.
Junior Deontae Guy, president of the Student Governance Council (SGC), addressed the Faculty Council about an SGC bill that would require faculty and staff to be vaccinated. Students were required to be fully vaccinated before returning to campus for Fall 2021 unless they had a religious or medical exemption. Swarts said there are fewer than 100 students that received exemptions from the vaccine requirement. The Faculty Council decided to discuss the SGC bill at the October Faculty Council meeting so that more time could be devoted to the discussion.
As of Sept. 13, the college is implementing non-mandatory randomized campus-wide surveillance testing in which a group of vaccinated students and employees are selected each Monday for testing. Swarts said during the Faculty Council meeting that the college decided to implement the randomized testing as a way to ease people’s concerns about a lack of testing.
Some faculty members at the meeting asked about classroom COVID-19 precautions like social distancing and how contact tracing is being conducted. Swarts said people will be notified if they have been identified as a close contact, but professors are not notified if one of their students has tested positive unless they are a close contact. Swarts said there is no evidence of classroom transmissions in any cases in Spring 2021 or Fall 2021.
Swarts said that social distancing is not being required in classrooms in an effort to return to normalcy.
“We are returning to normal during this COVID period of time,” Swarts said. “We are making steps trying to get back to a world where we are proceeding normally — if we can even pretend like we’re proceeding normally even though we’re still going through a rough patch — but that is the ultimate goal.”
While social distancing is not required in classrooms, everyone is required to wear a mask while in any indoor area.
The Faculty Council then discussed meeting formats for future meetings. David Gondek, associate professor in the Department of Biology, discussed adding a closed session to Faculty Council meetings in which only Faculty Council members and invited guests would be present, and the council would report out from the meeting what was discussed. Gondek suggested that this could be used as needed, or it could become a regular part of Faculty Council meetings. He said the purpose of this meeting format would be to allow for more candid conversation among participants.
Gonzalez said she supported this idea, saying people would be able to speak more freely and allow for greater transparency. Ari Kissiloff, assistant professor in the Department of Strategic Communications, said he thinks a closed session is unnecessary.
“This is exactly a move in the wrong direction,” Kissiloff said. “Being open and transparent is where we should be going, and we already have a mechanism to have discussions that are not recorded out, and it’s called executive session. … So I can’t even understand why this is being suggested to be honest.”
The Faculty Council went into executive session at 9:07 p.m. for approximately 40 minutes at the request of the Roy H. Park School of Communications faculty members. The executive session was held to discuss an article written by the Faculty Council Executive Committee without consulting the general council, according to Kissiloff.