Ithaca College President Shirley M. Collado and La Jerne Cornish, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, will be proceeding with the faculty and program cuts associated with the Academic Program Prioritization (APP) process.
Collado and Cornish approved the recommended elimination of 116 full-time equivalent (FTE) faculty positions Feb. 24. Throughout the APP process, some college community members have raised concerns about the lack of shared governance, the speed of the process and the lack of financial transparency.
Editor-in-Chief Madison Fernandez spoke with Collado and Cornish on March 1 about the campus community’s reactions to the changes and the APP process moving forward.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Madison Fernandez: We’re very aware that these are necessary changes that need to be made for the financial future of the college, and they are all in line with the strategic plan. A lot of the questions that we have today have to do with the way the changes are being perceived by members of the campus community. So just to start off, I’m interested in how you two interpret transparency. Time and time again, members of the administration say that you’re committed to transparency, but a lot of members of the campus community don’t feel like you’re being transparent. I’m just wondering why you think that there’s that disconnect there?
Shirley M. Collado: Can I start just respectfully Madison — I’m happy to answer that question. But the heart of your editorial is your position on this, and the fact that you don’t believe that we’re being transparent. I mean, you made that super clear. So, above many other disturbing things that were shared about us, and that is an opinion piece, it is your editorial, but I just don’t know how helpful we can be. You made a very clear statement about what you actually think our position is in terms of being truthful and open and honest as an administration and as two of the most senior people, individuals leading the administration. We’ll answer the question, but I’d just like to ask you that question.
MF: We’re trying to ask these questions. But I mean, in terms of the editorial, the most I’ll say about that is that we were reflecting what a lot of the campus community is feeling right now.
SC: Okay. La Jerne, do you want to start?
La Jerne Cornish: You know, with regard to transparency and the APP process, my office has an APP website. We put out an update every week. We sought feedback from the faculty, following the guidelines in Section 4.9.8 [of the Ithaca College Policy Manual], which clearly lay out the review process and who’s involved in the review process. … And so with regard to transparency, I don’t know what more we could have done. People may not have agreed with the recommendations or with the final decision, but it isn’t that we didn’t provide information on a weekly basis because we did.
SC: I think the other thing I would add there in terms of what it means to us, because I think that’s a fair question, even though there are varying degrees of thoughts and opinions across campus, and we get that. For me, it looks like being really accessible and giving multiple opportunities, venues, times, formats, if you will, to share information and address questions directly. So I’ll give you an example. I have regular open office hours each week, and they’re full. There are students who come and see me sometimes individually, sometimes in pairs or trios. Then I realized, and it was with feedback from students, that students were struggling with the fact that we were doing these big webinar format gatherings that don’t always work. We tried them at night. We tried them in the common hour. So I introduced the idea of hosting these conversations with the president. I’m sure you saw them, they’re on the Connect with Collado website, up to 25 students at a time because I thought it was actually valuable to do what we’re doing now. See who’s talking, ask direct questions, be in conversation with each other, not be anonymous, not write things in a chat, but just real conversation. … Some students take us up on those offers and others don’t. … So it is regular communication in different modalities, having direct access to us when we can and appropriate, and then the governance councils. I think it’s important beyond our regular meetings with our different stakeholders, and faculty and staff who are a really important one, in addition to students. La Jerne meets with the Faculty Council Executive Committee, she was doing it weekly, now every other week, and I’m at almost all of the faculty meetings. Faculty can engage both of us directly. We collaborate with our governance council, staff and faculty governance councils, and we have regular meetings with our counterparts on the Student Governance Council. I mean, the list could go on and on, but just to give you a few. In terms of transparency, for me, it’s access, consistent and direct ways of giving people the information that they need. That doesn’t guarantee that people will like the information or agree with the decision.
MF: I think in speaking with a lot of the individuals who have voiced criticisms of the APP and the lack of transparency, in their opinion, a lot of it has to do with the finances that they’re asking for. So for instance, with [the Student Governance Council] when they asked for the specific tuition breakdowns, and I don’t know if you’ve seen the [Ithaca College American Association of University Professors] petition asking for audited financial statements with breakdowns by department or planning unit. So I was wondering if you are planning to address any of those specific requests directly?
SC: I think that all of the data, except one piece of information around the current salaries of the Senior Leadership Team, all the pieces of data have been made available and shared out, and so the audited financials are public. They’ve been shared out, and we’ve reminded people through the [Institutional Effectiveness and Budget Committee] and the [Chief Financial Officer (CFO)] where you can find them. All of the data on enrollment by Laurie Koehler in the position that she’s been trying to educate our institution repeatedly, including in her new “Path to Progress” sessions, which I know you know about, and Bill’s [Guerrero, former vice president for finance and administration] InFinity presentations, which the new CFO, whenever that person begins, will continue, and in the meantime, Marc [Israel, associate vice president for business and finance], and [Budget Controller] Beth [Reynolds] will continue that kind of information. At this point, Madison, quite honestly, I don’t know what other piece of information can be given to the public because we have not, as a Senior Leadership Team, been withholding the status of our endowment, the status of our cash reserves, where we are in enrollment, what we’ve given back in refunds, what we gave back in terms of the losses of room and board this semester. As you know, a good number of students decided to stay home, rightfully so. We wanted to give students that choice. And in our open forums with faculty, staff and students, we’ve also made it clear the different levers that were before us when we were making ultimate decisions about the financial sustainability of the college, and reminding individuals that the reason that we say that we right now are in a position to weather the storm, is because of the fact that we’re not willing to stay in the status quo. That the financial model of the college was one of the core principles and goals of the strategic plan, and recalibrating the size was, too. Now we’re doing it, and it’s been sped up a little bit by a year because of what we’re facing now and we did not anticipate, but it was always going to happen. And remember that the reduction of faculty is happening over the course of three years. And the other piece that I think is being forgotten because in fairness to students, there’s so many numbers that have gone out but the original charge, if you will, when you all covered the first story on this that the provost announced at the Faculty Council meeting last year was about 131 FTE, and the “Shape of the College” landed at 116 with a segment of those actually being attrition and not direct cuts and over three years as opposed to absolutely just making decisions quicker. So I don’t, you know, and maybe you could help us here, but I don’t know what else we can share. We’ll continue to share information, but we do feel that we have done that diligently and openly with everyone.
MF: Are you planning to address petitions that are going around and the bills that SGC passed?
LJC: The petitions ask us to stop the work. We are not reconstituting [the Academic Program Prioritization Implementation Committee (APPIC)]; we are not stopping the reduction of faculty. We’ve done that work, and now we have to continue into parts two and three. I said repeatedly, there are three parts to this work: alignment, restructure and reorganize, strategic growth. We have come to the conclusion of part one. We will not be beginning the work over again. Part one is done, and we will now have to shift our focus to get faculty, staff and students ready to engage with us as we go through parts two and three, concurrently and together. But both bills, the petition and the bill, ask us to reject the recommendations from the APPIC committee. And we did not do that. And we’re not going to do that.
SC: I think our response was our announcement in the decision that we made and how we’re moving forward. In fairness to your question too Madison, most recently, we know that there’s a set of bills that have come from the SGC that we received on Friday. … One of them was, as you know, basically a lack of confidence in the APPIC. The decision has been made, it was announced and as the provost said, we’re not reversing it. We’re moving forward. There’s a lot more to do.
MF: On the note of the current administrative salaries. This is something that we’ve been raising since October, and I’m not asking you to disclose other SLT salaries because that’s not your position, and I understand that, but, again, I’m asking, how much was your salary reduction for this fiscal year?
SC: So you are asking a salary question directly of us? We wouldn’t report out, I wouldn’t, and I wouldn’t ask the provost to report on anyone’s salary at the institution.
MF: No, I’m just asking you specifically.
SC: Yeah, I’m not. I think my compensation is in the 990 with all other forms of compensation that people can look at. That’s public information in terms of our status as a nonprofit. And the president’s compensation, as dictated by the Board of Trustees, as outlined in terms of how the board comes to those decisions on the trustee website. I think Dave Maley [director of public relations] shared with you already, and we’ll state it again, that members of the Senior Leadership Team last year and the year before took decreases and no increment. And the year before that, we did not take an increase and really upheld the need to provide increases for everyone else who’s employed at the college, and 100% of the team took a deduction last year, myself included, but most importantly, the rest of the leadership team and many members of the college leadership, many deans, associate VPs, senior members of our direct reports opted to do that voluntarily, outside of what the SLT decided to do.
MF: And so you did take a salary reduction this year?
SC: Yes. For this academic year. Yes.
SC: All of the Senior Leadership Team and many members of our direct reports, which I call the college leadership team, those are associate VPs, directors, deans, many members of that community joined us in solidarity. And it was not to reach a certain number. It was to do our part and be part of this difficult time for the college. And the year before that we did not take an increase, we did not take a salary increase, and we gave an increase to all of our employees.
MF: And so we could expect to see that reflected in the 990 that comes out next year, then, right?
SC: If you’re referring to this last calendar year, that will be two years out.
MF: I’m wondering how you’re planning to rebuild trust with members of the campus community who, especially those who were so outwardly opposed to these changes. … There’s a lot of alumni who are expressing their distaste with it and talking about not donating now. So I’m just wondering how or if you have any plans to address that?
LJC: There are some segments of the campus community who trust us. There are some members of the campus community who support us. There are some members of the campus community who believe in the work we are doing and are grateful for the work that we are doing. And so that is the other side of what you are saying. Madison, we are not going to be able to please everyone, and we’ve got to get this institution back on the right track. And so in order to do that, people are upset with us. And there’s not going to be anything we can do to make them believe that this is the right thing to do. We’ve presented the financials. We have a $25 million budget deficit for this year. We have a strategic plan. Everything we’re activating right now, we had planned to do, we just had to do it faster. So there are some people who will never trust us, but I’m hoping in a few years when we are where we need to be, there will be more people who say, ‘In the midst of it all, they did the right thing. They did the thing that the institution needed them to do.’ And so, you know, there are some people, and it saddens me to say this, who don’t trust us without the evidence that says that they shouldn’t. There are some people who don’t trust us simply because we’re in the jobs that we’re in. But I can’t let that stop me from moving forward. We were brought here to do something. And so we’re going to do that work, as hard as it is to receive the amount of criticism that’s constant — I mean, it’s never–ending — yet and still, there’s a quiet minority. There may even be a quiet majority.
SC: I don’t think they’re a minority, actually.
LJC: There may be a quiet majority who believe in what we’re doing. There are some naysayers who are very loud, who make it clear about just how much they hate what we’re doing. We’ve got to listen. We’ve got to activate the plan, and we’ve got to do what’s right for the institution because we’re trying to ensure that the institution survives and thrives.
SC: I completely agree with La Jerne, and the other thing that I think is worth noting, Madison, it’s what we’re doing right here with you, … part of the ongoing and building trust regardless of how I feel about the deep criticism, and in some cases that you’re responsible for, right? That you decide to put out there as a caring for your stakeholders and feeling that you’re doing the right thing in terms of representing your constituents. Regardless of whether or not I believe the facts are correct, it’s our job to stay in this conversation with you and stay in this conversation with our community and provide the best amount of information that we can to make sure that we’re educating folks, that people know we’re not hiding anything, that we are talking about a future that is at stake and that has needed to change for a long time. We happen to be the two people who now hold this responsibility at this point in the college’s history. And yes, it happens in the context of a pandemic that we never anticipated and a very troubled time in our nation, but we have to rise and keep doing it. And we believe we can do that with openness, with humanity, with mutual respect. I do believe that we have a significant portion, and by the way, because we’ve met with them, we’ve been in meetings with them. And they may not be writing to the paper, they may not be shouting from the mountaintops, but people who are part of our alumni community, our parents, many students who see me, write to me, talk with me and the rest of the team, and then certainly, members of our staff, and members of our faculty who I would say absolutely don’t share the view that you’re highlighting here. It’s our responsibility to be leaders for all people, including when there is criticism and concern. So I guess the way that we’ll rebuild any trust that needs to be rebuilt with any group, and with some individuals, that will be impossible, we’ll never be able to do it. It’s just keep providing, keeping open, keep talking and providing information and engaging. … There are members of our alumni community, they’re not as close to the campus or they’re here and they’re hearing things. And they’re concerned for all important reasons. We’re making ourselves available to share information and answer. That’s what we’re doing, and not from a defensive place, from a place of deep care for the future of the college. … We’re not giving up on our students and this place. No matter what comes in front of us, it’s really important to us.
MF: And thank you for sharing that, of course, there are people who do agree with you. And I want you to know that we do understand that too.
SC: I appreciate that. I honestly wish, Madison, that those voices would rise, and you would have a more balanced perspective. … But it says something about our community. And I don’t put that only on La Jerne and me. In our community, what’s reflected is not everyone feels empowered to say there’s staff who have been ignored, who have not been part of this conversation, and we have to represent them as well. And not all of those individuals feel like they have a space to go to the newspaper, or to go to social media or speak openly about their experience, especially when they’re going up against the grain of a very loud and strong voice. That can be scary to a number of people, including pre-tenured, non-tenured faculty and other members of our community.
MF: At the All-College Gathering, it was mentioned that administrative and managerial roles have been cut. I was just wondering what that entails.
SC: That’s also similar to the pay cuts and the lack of a salary increase. It’s also part of our shared responsibility as a team to carry the work. So we do feel that administratively, and I don’t mean just the Senior Leadership Team but also areas that have reported to us as a team, that we needed to look at all those areas very carefully in terms of administrative overhead, while being financially responsible and not placing the institution at risk. … There are well over 15 positions that have been eliminated. Some … were terminated positions, and others that were vacated and not filled, so kind of attrition, like what the provost is doing with some of the faculty. And they’re really signature key management positions, some at the associate VP level, executive directors. So for instance, I’ll give you one concrete one, chief analytics officer, an associate VP of Student Affairs, the position in my office, executive director for government and community relations, these are very important, mission–critical positions that we have not filled, and we don’t plan to fill them for some time until we stabilize. And the other thing that I think has gone a little bit unnoticed that I’ll put an announcement about … is you’ll notice that I did not launch an official search for the VP general counsel and secretary to the board. I wanted to take my time to really assess that and figure out how we could possibly get creative about covering really important roles, like … you can’t have somebody who’s not a lawyer be the general counsel. But thank goodness, I’ve had a little bit of help. And she’s not full time, Nancy Pringle [secretary and legal counsel to the Board of Trustees] came back, as you know, to help. And we think we’ve come up with at least a creative solution in the next couple of years to oversee that area without filling the VP role. I can’t do that for the CFO role. So that’s probably one of the most prominent ones. And I’ll be communicating that, I’ve been wrapping my mind around what the final decision will be. … People have been asking about the interim deans, and the provost and I, along with feedback from the deans, have been thinking carefully about what that administrative structure across the five schools should look like, as part of our effort to connect the schools but also to be fiscally responsible.
MF: So does that entail less than five deans?
SC: It might.
MF: Do you have any sense of a time frame of a decision you would make with that? Or is this more of a long-term plan?
SC: No, and we’re not hiding anything. We don’t mean to be cagey with you at all. It’s just the provost has been talking with faculty and staff. The faculty and staff have known this for some time that we were wanting to take our time and get through the APPIC, the APP first.
LJC: I’ve said that the dean structure would be a part of the restructure-reorganize, and so now that we are through the alignment phase, we need to think about how we want to look as we move forward. I want to look at not only the dean structure but the [associate] deans as well. And we need to figure out the best administrative structure with a smaller student body moving forward. Again, the five schools are going to remain, but it is the administrative piece to that — how we are going to run those five schools. Those five schools are important to the identity of Ithaca College as a whole, and so those identities will remain.