Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

October 23, 2016   |   Ithaca, NY


Open Letter: Ithaca College staff break public silence

The students have spoken, clearly and loudly.

The full-time faculty have spoken, forcefully and resoundingly. Even some part-time, unprotected faculty members (those in the unionization movement and others) have spoken and are considering a vote of their own.

Many alumni have spoken out and written in support of POC at IC and their demands.

Two trustees have visited campus to gather information; the entire board of trustees is meeting in special session this week.

The president has spoken, too.

But there appears to have been a deafening public silence from one major constituency whose participation in the running of our beloved Ithaca College is equally important: staff. The Ithacan has urged Staff Council to speak out, and many employees have heard from students dismayed at the lack of public comment from Staff Council and non-faculty employees.

Staff comprise one third of the internal stakeholders of Ithaca College, and we are writing to correct any interpretation of this seeming quiet as lack of action, and offer some perspective.

We must point out that we signers of this document are speaking broadly, but on behalf only of ourselves.

We do feel comfortable, however, speaking on for all Ithaca College staff on one key point:  We consider our primary charge to be giving students the best possible living and learning experience. Their well-being is our primary concern, whether we work on HVAC systems, groom the grounds, counsel and mentor them, heal them, feed them, train them, clean up after them, help them navigate technology or any of the numerous other tasks we perform every day on their behalf.

When students are distressed, we feel it very deeply and want to help.

With our collective experience and combined centuries of dedicated service to Ithaca College, staff, like faculty, are deeply invested in the long-term success of the institution. We contribute critical brainpower, emotional intelligence and brawn to the running of this college we love. Among us are many alumni, parents of alumni and donors. Many of us volunteer time to the institution, beyond paid time, because we believe in its stated mission. We are also engaged in our professional disciplines and in the greater Ithaca community and beyond.

We are aware of and committed to eradicating institutional racism and intimidation, and to ensuring justice and equity in all experiences of our students of color and all other marginalized communities. We are committed to continuing and strengthening our existing efforts in the areas of mission, strategic planning and programming to create positive change.

Atmosphere of Fear and Uncertainty

A traditional hallmark of Ithaca College has been its warm sense of community. But many staff members report that has lately turned to chill. Colleagues are describing feelings of stress and fear, especially since the All-College Meeting kicking off this school year, when we were told that 40 jobs were soon to be eliminated.

Since then we’ve witnessed entire departments being cut, longtime employees near retirement being fired with two weeks’ notice and people being reshuffled into different positions with no say in the matter. Staff members have told us about trying to get in touch with a colleague only to learn that she had “disappeared into the cornfield.”

Institutional Research statistics show 72 fewer “staff/administration” positions in fall 2015 than existed in 2014, even before the 40 cuts we were told about. Staff from different departments have reported that they’ve had to assume duties of laid-off coworkers and are often struggling to keep up.

When the Staff Council executive committee requested a list of who had lost their jobs, they were told those names and job titles are being withheld “for the protection of those who left.” We understand that employment matters are confidential, but when it appears as though people have simply disappeared, it begins to create an atmosphere of dread and fear:  Who’s next? Which department will be deemed irrelevant? Which of us will be left to take on even more responsibilities?

Despite This, Staff Are Deeply Engaged

Despite understandable fears of speaking publicly, staff are actively responding to and joining in conversations among ourselves and with students, faculty, alumni and some administrators.

Those staff who attended the Blue Sky event were as horrified as faculty by the racist, sexist comments—and even more so that they went unchallenged. That should have been an exemplary teachable moment, which did not have to be angry or confrontational, but it was lost.

At its next two monthly meetings, Staff Council discussed how staff might respond to this event, as well as to subsequent student and faculty expressions of discontent.

Because of the wide variety of roles we fill and shifts we work, and because many staff work in stretched-to-the-limit departments with hardly time for a lunch break, and because many of us have limited (if any) access to technology on campus, it is much harder for cross-campus staff to meet than it is for faculty, who have set-aside hours weekly for meetings, and for students, who mostly live on campus and can meet during evening hours.

Even so, though, we have been engaging in deep discourse about the current campus climate; in fact, results of a staff climate survey, which Staff Council members say will be used to inform ongoing discussions with administrators, were just revealed to us and should be public soon.  Under and outside the umbrella of Staff Council, staff are considering next steps. We recognize critical flaws in campus operations. There’s much agreement with the many grievances articulated so well by faculty and students. We appreciate that faculty and students understand and acknowledge staff vulnerabilities.

We want Ithaca College to heal from its recent maladies and enjoy a long-term sustainable future.  Our climate survey revealed that many staff have felt disrespected often by administrators (evidenced not least by the recent nontransparent elimination of jobs). Disrespect comes also sometimes from faculty and colleagues, and even from students. We acknowledge that staff members might also be culpable at times of disrespectful behavior toward faculty and students. Eliminating such incidents must be part of the campus healing process.

Equally important, staff want—and deserve—an equal say in the governance of Ithaca College. We’re ready, willing, and able to be part of the transformation, in partnership with faculty, students, alumni, administrators and trustees.

Maura Stephens, Associate Director, Park Center for Independent Media;
Samantha Stafford, Leadership Programs Coordinator, Office of Student Engagement and Multicultural Affairs (OSEMA);
Theresa Radley, Assistant Director of Student Involvement, OSEMA;
Lynne Pierce, Associate Director, Office of Alumni Affairs;
Shelli Mekos, Administrative Assistant, Office of Career Services;
Luca Maurer, Program Director, the Center for LGBT Education, Outreach and Services;
Nicolette Lynn, Career Counselor, Office of Career Services;
Caryanne Keenan, Assistant Director for Career Development, Office of Career Services;
Suki Montgomery Hall, Assistant Director and Psychologist, Center for Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS);
John Fracchia, Associate Director, Office of Career Services and former Staff Trustee;
Peter Scott Earle, Multimedia Lab Technician, Park School of Communications and Staff Council Representative;
Anne Carlineo, Administrative Assistant, OSEMA;
Don Austin, Assistant Director of Community Service and Leadership Development, OSEMA