February 5, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 45°F


Q&A: New provost discusses initiatives for academic year

La Jerne Cornish, newly appointed provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Ithaca College, began her tenure at the college July 1. She succeeded former interim provost Linda Petrosino, dean of the School of Health Sciences and Human Performance.

Cornish is the seventh provost to work at the college in the past 10 years. Assistant News Editor Maggie McAden spoke to Cornish about adjusting to a larger campus community, the future of the Integrative Core Curriculum and her plans for the coming academic year.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Maggie McAden: What has your adjustment been like since arriving at the college?

La Jerne Cornish: It’s been great. It’s a small town. I’m from a big city, and so part of the adjustment is the smallness of Ithaca but also the beauty of Ithaca.  I think I’ve been to almost every restaurant on The Commons. So, what excites me now is that the students are back, so I need to feel that vibe.

MM: How have your past experiences prepared you for your position?

LC: I served as associate provost for undergraduate studies for the last four years, so I really feel that that prepared me for the next step which is being provost. Prior to that, I served as the chair of the faculty which would be the equivalent of the chair of the faculty council here.

MM: You worked in Baltimore, correct?

LC: I did. I worked at Goucher College, but I also spent 15 years at the Baltimore City Public Schools. So, my career began as a sixth grade teacher, an English teacher, at a middle school.

MM: In terms of this coming academic year, but also in the future, I’m wondering, what are your short-term goals, and what are your long-term goals?

LC: Short-term goals, highlighting and recognizing the work of the faculty. Faculty here have made tremendous contributions to their fields, so how do we highlight the work of the faculty? Hence the Provost Colloquium which I’m kicking off this fall. So, there were 37 faculty members who were on sabbatical in the last academic year, so over fall and spring semesters we will highlight the work of the faculty with these colloquia. There will be two each month, the second Monday and fourth Thursday of the month we will highlight the work of three faculty members. We will also have two —  one each semester — dedicated to the Dana professors, so we want to highlight the work of the Danas as well.

The other initiative is the Chair’s Academy. As someone who was a department chair once in her career, I remember when I became tenured I was told, ‘Ok, you’ll be chair next.’ No training. So, I remember folks almost dreading becoming department chair [because it] was not something you aspired to, it was something you did because you had to. I want the chair’s role to be one with which people aspire. … I want this to be seen as a leadership role, but with that comes professional development opportunities. Chairs need training around managing budget, dealing with personnel, around curriculum, around instruction, around diversification. So how do we help chairs be prepared and feel good about the work that we are asking them to do?

MM: Have you faced any challenges while at the college?

LC: Ithaca College is five times the size of the institution that I came from, and so the greatest challenge is going to be being at the same level I was present at a smaller institution. … It matters to me to have relationships with faculty, staff and students. And so how do I make myself very visible while operating at the high level that my position requires me to operate at? That is the challenge for me, and that is something that I really spend a lot of time thinking about. So for that reason, I went to the people of color cookout yesterday. I went to the Park Scholars welcome barbecue. I went to the LGBT event last night. So, how do I get outside of PRWC [Peggy Ryan Williams Center] and be the places that students are and let them know that indeed, I am the provost for all students?

MM: And what’s happening with the ICC?

LC: The ICC is scheduled for program review this year. And so I’m working with Danette Johnson, who is the vice provost, and with Tom Swensen, in faculty council, to come up with a committee that will be responsible for reviewing the ICC. And I need to let you know that we are going to ask five students to be a part of that committee. I want one student from every school to be a part of that review committee.

MM: Do you have any idea of what a timeline for that would look like?

LC: Well, first of all, we have to establish the committee, and then once we have established the committee, we can move from there.

MM: And that process is going to take place over the course of this academic year?

LC: Yes, and I can tell you that Susan Swensen and Christina Moylan will be the co-chairs of the ICC review committee. So, I know who they are, and now we have to staff the committee.

MM: I know that you’re also the co-chair of the strategic plan steering committee. Could you go a little more into that?

LC: Yes, and that’s the major task for this year. We are in the process right now in soliciting feedback from the community about the design team planning process — the plan for the plan. And then, we’re also soliciting nominations of people to be on the steering committee. And then, once the steering committee is formed, we will work to identify the themes that the working groups will then create goals and objectives around the strategic plan and to create the plan for the institution.

MM: Is there anything else you would like to add?

LC: I’m just so delighted to be here. I was so inspired by Convocation. To see that many students come into that space along with the number of faculty that attended, the number of staff who attended and even some returning students attended Convocation as well. … So, I’m excited for this year. I see us on the precipice of renewed energy, renewed sense of purpose and I’m excited and ready to be a part of that.

Maggie McAden can be reached at mmcaden@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @maggie_mcaden