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June 26, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

News

Sustainability at IC withers as a result of structural changes

Over the past four years, sustainability at Ithaca College has seen numerous structural and funding changes that have resulted in its falling from the college’s top priorities.

Since 2012, sustainability positions at the college have shifted from reporting directly to the provost’s office, to reporting to the Office of Facilities —  a move many current and former faculty members blame for withering sustainability efforts at the college. Additionally, administrative positions involved with sustainability have seen many vacancies over the past few years, a situation that has impacted sustainability initiatives. For example, the college has had five different Provosts since 2010, and three different people have filled the director of energy management and sustainability position since its creation in 2014. Sustainability also recently lost two high-level position lines that were filled by Marian Brown — special assistant to the provost for academic affairs for sustainability and later the special assistant for campus and community sustainability — and Mark Darling — sustainability coordinator —  who worked at the college for over and almost three decades, respectively.

President Tom Rochon declined to comment on the sustainability structural changes.

sustainability-online-graphic-1Sustainability at the provost level

From 2004 to 2012, Brown reported directly to the provost. Until 2007, this was Peter Bardaglio, a “champion” of sustainability, said Jason Hamilton, chair of the Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences.

Brown said this structure was beneficial because she was reporting directly to those who were high up in administration and was able to work crossdivisionally with higher positions like deans and department heads.

Now, Bardaglio is the president of the Black Oak Wind Farm, the first community-owned wind farm in New York state; he works to improve energy and water management in downtown Ithaca; and he works with the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative, Bardaglio said via email. Bardaglio said he didn’t want to discuss his time at the college.

Once Bardaglio left the college, after a five-month interim Kathleen Rountree became the provost in July 2007. Rountree left in 2010 and she was replaced by Marisa Kelly, who worked at the college until 2014.

In addition to Brown’s position as special assistant, there was an energy manager position — later combined with sustainability to create the director of energy management and Sustainability position — filled by Michelle Jones and a sustainability coordinator position, filled by Mark Darling. Both reported to the Office of Facilities.

Climate Action

In 2007, President Peggy Williams signed onto the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, and in 2009 the Board of Trustees approved The Climate Action Plan, pledging that the college would be 100 percent carbon neutral by 2050.

From 2010 to 2013, the college released yearly progress reports, but since then, none have been released. Susan Swensen Witherup, professor in the Department of Biology, said this is a major source of the issues with sustainability progress.

“One of the most important things we need to do is to revisit our Climate Action Plan,” she said. “We were supposed to be making yearly progress toward these interim goals, and there’s been no group of people to come back and revisit that document.”

Greg Lischke, current director of energy management and sustainability, said he hopes to formally update the community on sustainability soon.

Tim Carey, associate vice president for facilities, said the vacancies and turnover with sustainability have hindered the ability to produce the progress reports.

“The flux of staffing has certainly made an impact there,” Carey said.

In May 2008, Williams retired, and Rochon became president in July 2008.

Funding

Also in 2008, the college received a $500,000 grant from the HSBC Bank’s community fund to go toward educational opportunities involving sustainability and the environment. This grant funded the Committed to Change Program, in which the college partnered with the Ecovillage in Ithaca to develop fellowship programs, student grants for internships and research, and faculty development programs like the Finger Lakes Project Workshops. The Finger Lakes Project aimed to increase sustainability in curriculums both at the college and at other schools. Hamilton said the grant funding ran out in 2012.

Paula Turkon, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences, said the Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences is in the process of creating a program that gives funding to students for internships and research projects, similar to what existed in the Committed to Change Program. However, since the program will be funded through the department, only students studying environmental studies and sciences will be eligible for these grants, whereas, before students from all schools could get them.

During the time when sustainability at the college had funding, Hamilton said it was being discussed among students, faculty, Facilities staff and in the upper levels of administrations.

Once the funding ran out in 2012, Hamilton said, the college would not take up the funding for the programs developed, so most of them ended.

“We were probably devoting, depending on how you count it, $80,000 to $100,000 a year, outside of salaries … to actually have programming … and now it’s zero,” he said.

They were unable to receive external follow-up grants for the sustainability programs that they developed — partially because of a lack of support from administration, he said.

“To get follow-up grants, you really have to be able to show granting agencies that there’s institutional support for whatever it is that you’re doing, and we didn’t have that,” he said.

The only programs that came from this grant that are still in existence are the Non-Timber Forest Products Program, the permaculture garden by Williams Hall, the Environmental Sentinels course and the shortterm study abroad program in Belize, Hamilton said.

He said faculty who were initially the “heavy-lifters” for sustainability did not want to put significant time and energy into something that did not have many resources.

With Bardaglio gone from the provost’s position, and the loss of a critical grant, sustainability was partially lost on both the administration and faculty levels.

Sustainability moves to Civic Engagement

In March 2012, Brown said, her position was abruptly moved so that she would report to Anthony Hopson, former assistant vice president for community and government relations and civic engagement in the newly formed Office of Civic Engagement. She said neither the provost nor she was informed of the reason for the change.

Brown and numerous faculty members said they had concerns over the move from academic affairs because they felt it reduced the involvement of sustainability in academics.

“I was concerned what this would say to the faculty who had supported the development and growth of the sustainability initiative over the years that it no longer was part of academic affairs,” Brown said.

The OCE, which was created in 2012 as a part of the IC 20/20 strategic vision, was designed to help students become involved with the community by providing opportunities to volunteer locally and initiate service-learning courses, according to the college’s website.

Her position title also changed to special assistant for campus and community sustainability during this time.

Several faculty members, including Turkon, said having sustainability personnel involved directly with the provost’s office and Facilities at the same time was beneficial.

“The biggest benefit with the old way of doing it is the ability to really make any efforts for sustainability-academic endeavors as well as facilities-related decision-making,” Turkon said.

Linda Petrosino, provost and vice president for educational affairs, said sustainability is present in the college’s academics within the Integrative Core Curriculum theme “Quest for a Sustainable Future.”

“In terms of an academic component or priority, I think you do see that in being featured in one of our themes,” Petrosino said.

Sustainability moves to finance

Brown’s reporting to the OCE lasted until October 2013, when her position was moved again to report to Gerald Hector, vice president for finance and administration.

A sustainability component was added to the energy manager position, forming the director of energy management and sustainability, which was filled by Lew Durland in 2014. The position was moved up briefly from Facilities to report to Hector, Brown said.

During this time, Brown said, she advocated for sustainability to not be added to the energy manager’s position because, while they are related, they have different focuses, and heavy workloads.

Lischke, who now holds this position under the combined title, said he does not believe having sustainability and energy management is too much work for one person.

“There is a lot involved with energy management and sustainability … I don’t believe it’s too much for it to be under one umbrella,” Lischke said.

Durland passed away suddenly about a year after joining the college. The position was then filled by Jerone Gagliano in December 2015 and was moved to report to the Office of Facilities under Carey. Gagliano left shortly after, in May 2016. Gagliano said he resigned due to family reasons after his second son was born. The position was filled in May 2016 by Lischke.

Brown said the benefits of the energy manager reporting to the vice president of finance and administration were that the energy manager could work easily with departments like Dining Services and Digital Instruction and Information Services. When the position is under Facilities, the focus is mostly managing campus building’s energy consumption.

“By assigning energy management under the associate VP for facilities, it sent the message that building energy was the main focus of the energy manager’s job,” she said.

Carey said sustainability and energy management in the facilities department will both be focused on equally.

“The fact that they are linked now and in the facilities department means that they will both be pursued aggressively,” Carey said.

Additionally, the college decided to have Brown report to this new director of energy management and sustainability, who at the time was Durland.

These changes impacted Brown’s decision to leave in May 2014.

“I realized that it was time to ‘pack up my dolls and dishes’ and find a new home for my experience and the skills that I had developed leading IC’s sustainability initiative for 10 years,” she said.

Her position has never been filled.

Brown took a position at Wells College to direct its new Center for Sustainability and the Environment. She said she was able to achieve sustainability goals that she was not able to at Ithaca College, like forming a Center for Sustainability, which would house all the positions and give them physical offices and classroom space —  something she advocated for at Ithaca College. Also, at Wells College, Brown said, she reports directly to the vice president and provost level; developed a sustainability major and minor in addition to a sustainable food system minor; and receives good budget support.

Student, Faculty and Staff Interpretation

Former and current faculty, staff and students, like Maura Stephens, the former associate director of the Park Center for Independent Media who is involved in several grassroots environmental groups, have seen a decline in the focus on sustainability, as well as sustainability initiatives, compared to what it once was at the college.

“I don’t see any vision from this administration,” Stephens said. “I don’t see any forward thinking about true sustainability, and how the college can put itself on the map, as it was striving to do with Marian Brown and Peter Bardaglio and Mark Darling.”

Witherup said a problem with sustainability at the college is that it is not housed in one unit.

“Sustainability is a thing, but there is no place for it at IC,” Witherup said. “It’s integrated into lots of different academic pieces, and facilities, and all of that, but there is no department. And that’s part of the problem with sustainability, is that it doesn’t have a home.”

Carey said he is encouraged by where sustainability is going and is eager to work with the community.

“I am encouraged that a sustainability agenda can be pursued, and my intent is to pursue that agenda in collaboration with students and faculty members,” Carey said.

Senior Josh Enderle, a student sustainability advocate and current program manager of Eco-Reps, said there are people on campus and in Facilities who are doing their part for sustainability, but said he has not been able to do as much as he wants to do.

“It just feels like I’m just treading water,” Enderle said. “It feels like, for me personally, like I want to be doing more, but somehow it’s not happening.”

Ben Tolles ’16, who worked extensively with sustainability at the college, including heading the Eco-Rep program and serving as an Energy Intern, said reporting structure does not matter as much as long as there is support from the upper-level positions. Tolles said he did not feel supported for sustainability by the administration at the college.

“By the time I left the college, I didn’t want to help Ithaca College at all anymore because of the lack of support,” he said.

Petrosino said she can suspect that there are people who are disappointed with the level of support because of limited resources that are able to be given to specific areas.

“We have a lot of very important initiatives, priorities, and passions on campus, and I think during any one given year, it’s hard to distribute resources to fully satisfy everyone’s dreams in terms of how they want to advance things,” she said.

Carey said since the department has been under his control, they have been working to collaborate with faculty and have encouraged people to come forward with ideas.

“The focus has been to bridge the gap between the Office of Energy Management and Sustainability and the academic departments on our campus,” he said.

Lischke said he wants to get the college back on the map with sustainability.

“One of my goals is to help make Ithaca College be seen as a leader in sustainability,” he said.

Hamilton said though there have been recent improvements to the focus on sustainability, such as the addition of the energy manager position — now the director of energy management and sustainability filled by Lischke — it no longer has the emphasis and support it once had.

“There was a golden era of sustainability on this campus, and we’re not in it anymore,” he said.

Sophie Johnson can be reached at sjohnson3@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @sophjohnson26