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March 5, 2021
Ithaca, NY | 23°F

Opinion

Commentary: Academic Program Prioritization neglects space for campus grief

I am, like so many others, dismayed with the impending decision that the resizing of the college will move forward. But the resizing isn’t the problem, it is a symptom of the problem. The real problem is the other unsustainable models the college can’t seem to shake. 

From a growing reliance on an abusive system of adjunct faculty, to taps on the wrist for racist, homophobic and bigoted teaching by tenured faculty, and probation for staff who dare to question their organizational divisions, the wounds inflicted by Tom Rochon were still fresh at the beginning of President Collado’s inauguration. Like a traumatized dog that’s been taken in by a shelter, just shaving off all the matted fur and giving them a new name does not make a companion. You have to build their trust, or they will continue to bite and lash out.

Those who implemented these unfavorable working conditions at the college are mostly no longer a part of it, minus some choice white men who still serve as trustees. From my last academic year on campus, 2018–2019, five new vice presidents have joined the Senior Leadership Team. Their allegiance is not held to the campus community members whose time on campus outlasts theirs, but to the bottom line. I am holding out hope that our president and provost are in it for the long haul, and I know I’m not the only one. But I beg you to call a spade a spade. This isn’t “holistic” or “innovative.” This sucks. 

Staff and contingent faculty are my friends. Hardly any campuswide acknowledgement of their furloughs-turned-to-layoffs has occurred. It seems as though staff have no review process written into their handbook when major reorganization happens at the college — just a private conversation with their dean or supervisor with the expectation they will quietly pack their things and go. And for those further down the chopping block, beyond their Zoom screen, a suffocated panic is taking place to find a side hustle to cover daycare costs or make sure their unemployment can cover the rent. 

I don’t know when or if the campus community will be able to rally behind Ithaca Forever. For my respective constituency, alumni, in 2019, only 6% of the 70,000+ of us make a donation of any amount to the college. I don’t think this is indicative of an unwillingness to ever give. I do think the Division of Philanthropy and Engagement is out of touch with its donor base. Unfortunately, emails in my inbox about a COVID-19 potential superspreader event where “Bombers were involved at several levels, all the way up to the owner’s suite,” while whole departments are being axed doesn’t motivate me to give. There’s an upcoming day of giving on March 18 that may want to commit to transparency rather than gloss over the current turbulence on campus. Thankfully the Board of Trustees outlined what not to say to alumni who are rightfully upset about their programs being cut (i.e. saying the goal for a more sustainable financial model “is not simply about reductions … as the college is also currently investing in new areas of study.”)

We are still in a global pandemic and these layoffs need to stop. To those who were furloughed and sought new jobs under their pay grade, to those who will have to continue to teach until their termination date, to those who have to stay quiet for fear of retaliation, to all those who may be swept under “The Shape of the College,” you deserve better.