Benjamin Rifkin resigned from the position of provost and vice president of educational affairs for Ithaca College July 31. Following this, Linda Petrosino, dean of the School of Health Sciences and Human Performance, moved into the position on an interim basis until the next president is able to conduct a search for a new provost.
News Editor Sophia Tulp and Assistant News Editor Grace Elletson spoke with Petrosino, who assumed the role as interim provost once before in 2014, to discuss her role, initiatives that will be continued this year and an idea of the leadership strategy for the college.
Sophia Tulp: We didn’t really get the opportunity to meet you as we would a finalist who comes to campus. Can you take this opportunity to introduce yourself to members of the campus community who may not have been here when you assumed the role in 2014 and outline the goals you have for this year?
Linda Petrosino: I have a deep passion and love for Ithaca itself. So, I’m pleased to be back to serve the institution in a broader role, particularly during transition time. So, relative to my goals, I do see this as a major … transition time for the institution. And part of my goal is to really make sure that I can prepare the next administration as best I can in this role. … Last year, a task force worked very, very hard on shared governance issues, and we are at a point where … the shared governance task force will reconvene for the first time this academic year and I will sit with them and we will develop a timeline for rolling out a draft for a shared governance model for the institution. … We also will be looking at our diversity and inclusion initiatives … and how we can promote and build a better campus climate. … Also, another big priority for us this year is our Middle States reaccreditation. So, all of the various committees in place have been working hard and doing a lot of data collection this year. … So when you think about it, I just named three big pieces to get ready for a new administration. A shared governance model, a Middle States self-report and the campus climate survey that will be full of data.
Grace Elletson: With five top-tier administrators who just left the college, we’ve heard from a couple of groups on campus that there’s this worry this might be a standstill year. How are you going to ensure that progress is moving forward to prepare the next administration?
LP: We have a lot of transition going on, but the way I look at it is not from a place of fear. I look at it from a place of opportunity. When you look at Ithaca College’s position and you look across higher education, what we’re experiencing here is actually what’s happening across higher education; there’s a lot of transition going on. … I have a difficult time understanding the concept of a standstill just because different people are in place. Typically, when you look at most, if not all, of the individuals who have stepped into an interim role, these are individuals who have been here at the institution, so there’s not a learning curve about what the culture is, what the climate it, what the initiatives are. … So, I guess I look at it a little differently.
ST: All of the initiatives the former provost was working on, are those all continuing now that you are the provost? Has anything changed or taken a different direction?
LP: The initiatives that I just mentioned: most of — in fact, all of them — were in place with the previous provost. And the provost has his or her hand in everything, but really, it’s the work of our faculty, staff, other administrators and students. It’s their work who really keeps everything going. The role of the provost is to make sure that things are in place, that these committees, these task forces, are being supported so that they can do the good work and so the provost can be responsive to those things. So, the important priorities of the institution are continuing. There’s just a different person there in that role to facilitate and lead and to cheerlead and to support and to make sure we continue on that focus.
ST: I remember Provost Rifkin was talking about a new position, I think it was called the vice provost for transformational learning. Is the search for that position being continued?
LP: When I came into this position, that position was pretty far along in its process. That was one thing I did look at and I kind of stepped back and said I’m going to suspend that position at this point in time because I felt I wanted to … have more discussion with our folks on campus, who are already very involved in transformative learning, integrative learning. … I wanted to make sure I had enough information about what was expected in that particular position. … Now, it may be, that might be the direction to go and it could be re-instated. But I just didn’t know enough and I wanted to make a more thoughtful, educated decision about such a position before moving ahead.
GE: Looking back at last year, the office of the provost was criticized a bit for being top-down in their decision-making. Some instances include the honors program and study abroad cuts. Some people had expressed that these decisions were made without taking into account other perspectives. So how do you plan to make sure the office remains in collaboration with the campus community?
LP: I feel that I’m only in a position to talk about my style and not make a comment about what happened last year. First of all, because … that would not be appropriate for me to do so. … True collaboration takes thoughtfulness, it takes sometimes moving a little bit slower on certain things, which in itself is a balancing act because sometimes you get criticized for moving so slow. True collaboration takes time, it takes thoughtfulness, and you need to know who to reach out to so you’re getting the right voices in on whatever the particular issue is. So, I think it’s a matter of spending time to make sure you understand what the issues are. … So, I don’t have a magic answer other than I am dedicated to collaboration and communication and working with people.
ST: What is your involvement in IC 20/20 for this year and how that will work?
LP: We’re in the second phase, the 2014–17 phase of the IC 20/20. … I think in terms of wrapping up, we’re looking at continuing where we are with the Integrative Core Curriculum. We will have our first class having gone through the Integrative Core Curriculum, so that’ll mean we have an opportunity to do a formal assessment. And of course, we’ll have to do several years of assessments to get good information. Our ICNYC: we’re still working on developing that, and I think we’re making good progress. … We have our integrative coursework and our image text MFA program. We’re looking at more possibilities for integrative electives. And all of this takes years of work to pull this together. So, we’re looking at where we are for our markers and our success with the second phase of the IC 20/20 plan. … Also, within the IC 20/20, you might remember we had talked about diversity. … So I don’t know if we’ll ever wrap up where we are with diversity and inclusion because that’ll be an ongoing thing, but we’ll be looking at all of the markers that speak to our success with that.