There is a key constituency on campus that has been mostly quiet regarding recent student protests against a racially insensitive campus climate, and that is the voice of Ithaca College’s staff members. Now, the Staff Council will be launching a survey following its Dec. 15 meeting to gauge whether the staff wants to move forward with a no confidence vote. This new involvement in discussions of the campus’s current issues is necessary, but it is long overdue.
It is understandable why staff may not have gotten involved sooner. Staff members face job insecurity, as evidenced by the several occupied staff positions that were cut from the 2014–15 budget for the first time since 2009. Because of this, there is a stronger fear of speaking out among staff. But as individuals, staff members should have the right to speak out about their beliefs without fear of retaliation.
The role of Staff Council, however, is to represent and share the concerns of all non-faculty staff and “to make recommendations on all matters affecting the welfare of its constituency,” according to the Staff Council’s statement of purpose. If the concerns of staff are that they wish to express solidarity with the student movement but do not know how or feel uncomfortable doing so, then it is the duty of Staff Council to communicate these concerns and be the voice of the collective group. As a representative body, Staff Council’s making a public statement in support of the protests would not impede the job security of any particular individuals.
Even part-time faculty have come together to speak up for themselves publicly in an open letter to The Ithacan with regard to being excluded from the faculty vote of no confidence in President Tom Rochon, just as they rallied a vote to unionize last spring. This is a group for whom job security is also a concern, as none of them are tenure-track faculty.
Members of Staff Council say they are having discussions about staff members’ opinions on workplace satisfaction, having recently initiated a survey for staff addressing these questions. This is a step in the right direction, though the council should have considered it sooner, in addition to making more concrete efforts toward a no confidence vote weeks ago.
With its position as a representative body, Staff Council should have the courage to go further. These conversations have been happening among students and faculty all semester, and it’s past time for the leadership of Staff Council to step forward. It should follow the example of the Student Government Association, Faculty Council and part-time faculty by making a public statement about the student justice movement, whether this means expressing a stance on the movement or making a no confidence vote available, and it should do so without the fear of administrative backlash.