March 28, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 43°F


Commentary: The lives that IC administration chainsaw massacred

Editor’s Note: This is a guest commentary. The opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board.

January is a cruel month. 

In January 2021, 116 full-time equivalent faculty positions were cut from Ithaca College, non-tenure track (NTEN) faculty were part of this group. These faculty members were on 3–5 year appointments as full faculty, with advisees and research students, serving on committees in their departments. Many also served on college committees.

These NTEN faculty had every expectation of continued renewal, and some of them had been at the school for over 20 years. Some, like me, had just been renewed for another full 3-year appointment. Some had been recommended for 5-year appointments or conversion to tenure, some had been promoted to associate. Most of these faculty had competed nationally, been flown in for their interviews and campus visits, and been reimbursed their costs of moving to New York State. 

What we heard when we came to Ithaca College as NTENs was that if you were in this multi-year renewal track, and you were considered a strong teacher, your job was solid — unless the school declared a state of financial exigency. Although Ithaca College never declared a financial emergency, our jobs were cut anyway, despite letters of protest by departments, students and alumni.

Now, I am not talking here about the part-time adjuncts or the full-time year-by-year contingents — those were represented by their union. Their lives were difficult and the conditions onerous. But in this piece, I am speaking specifically about the NTENs — the full faculty, national hires, not under the protection of unions any more than pre-tenured or tenured faculty were. 

Shortly after the draft cuts were made public and the call for feedback went out, I was called into Melanie Stein’s, the former dean of School of Humanities and Sciences, Zoom room and told I was terminated. Even though the time for feedback and comments was not over — and had, in fact, barely begun — these NTENs were all called in one by one and terminated. 

I walked around the next few weeks in a lightning storm. I remember being told by a colleague — you’ll bounce back, you’re a great teacher. I remember blowing up at him. 

I also remember the fears we all had then and what we were told. The college was sinking from pandemic debt, the administration were all taking pay cuts, the enrollment was impossibly low, this was the only way through and so on. What happened during this period of cuts was horrific, especially on the heels of teaching through the pandemic; we were all suffering — those who were kept as much, perhaps, as those thrown in the trash that year. But all the talk of sharing the burden, of administrators taking serious pay cuts, the talk of helping terminated faculty (while not really helping them) — well, it was a trainwreck, but it sounded necessary and it appeared (possibly) done ethically. 

But in January 2023, the new 990s made a mockery of any notions of ethics in those faculty terminations. Former president Shirley M. Collado made more in 2021 per month than I made in any year of my employment. I won’t go into the math of that. Others, notably Thomas Pfaff, professor in the Department of Mathematics, and senior Elijah de Castro of The Ithacan, have already done this well. 

So, instead, let me go into my own story. In 2014, I was hired at Ithaca College as a brand new Ph.D. from Mississippi — to build environmental humanities/environmental justice into the environmental studies major. I was cut from the faculty the same semester that I won a faculty excellence award. My student evaluations were solid. My classes filled up. I was a diversity hire: a Latinx who grew up in Texas poverty. Students of color and students who were marginalized in other ways found me, took my classes, worked with me, became my advisees and they stayed in touch as my alumni. I worked with Sandra Steingraber to develop the initial grant proposal for a climate justice research center. She has since left, and the grant proposal for that center has evaporated.

Being a faculty member of a department, creating my own courses, working with my majors, creating a curriculum with my colleagues will not happen again.

I left Ithaca in June 2022, the month after my last semester teaching at Ithaca College, because I could not afford to stay. I have had three interviews since leaving — executive director of a conservation nonprofit, executive director of DEI at a campus police force and urban community engagement specialist. But my age interferes. Rather than continuing to mentor students through our urgent environmental and racial crisis, now, not even a year after my final semester at the college and just eight years since my hard-won Ph.D., I am jobless. Instead, all of that midwifing of students into a passion for justice and environmental activism is no longer part of my life — and it will no longer be my privilege to do that work.  

The Ithaca College budget cuts led to the end of my life in Ithaca, the loss of my inclusion in a community of environmental students and alumni, the very sad loss of colleagues and the loss of a job it took years of my life to qualify for. I turned 60 during my doctoral program, I competed against younger candidates to get my job at Ithaca College and I worked hard to pull students on Zoom screens through the pandemic. I worked hard to make a difference in the lives of students for eight years, with the intention of another ten. I taught with the very strong, innovative and dedicated faculty in the Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences at Ithaca College. 

The college repeatedly says, “Students are our why.” But the NTEN faculty it terminated were strong, caring teaching professionals rooted in the hearts of their departments. 

It’s worth noting that Collados of the world continue to make more per month and perhaps even more per week than many of us will ever again make in a year or perhaps even in a decade.

This is the end of my Ithaca College story, but the knives used in this massacre are still sharp. And the perpetrators of this massacre of NTENs have become budget heroes.


Fae Dremock (she/her) is a former assistant professor  in the Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences. Contact her at

Editor’s note: This story originally stated that 116 faculty members were cut when 116 full-time equivalent faculty positions were cut.