December 1, 2021
Ithaca, NY | 37°F

Opinion

Open Letter from Open the Books, Fall 2020

Back to the Beginning: Real Shared Governance

When planning began in earnest for the “Ithaca Forever” and Academic Prioritization Process (APP), assembled community members were given the overarching goal of “right-sizing” Ithaca College; we—tenured, tenure track, NTEN, and contingent faculty as well as staff and students—were asked to deliver plans in the service of that goal. But we were never consulted about the goal itself. Why is getting “leaner” the right path forward for Ithaca College? 

The wealth of our goodwill toward our new administration prompted us to move forward with the planning process; we placed our trust in our new leaders because they brought fresh perspectives and many welcome, necessary changes to our college. We delivered ideas about how to reach the goals they set for us. 

The creation of the APP guiding principles proceeded similarly; we were told to give feedback about how to assess programs that should be targeted for growth, reorganization, or sunsetting. We weren’t asked to weigh in on whether this was the right set of goals or the right process for IC. We trusted the administration. We did all we could to inject some humanity and care for our community—faculty, staff, and students—into the vague and often frustrating guidelines. 

Since the pandemic began, we have moved from “sunsetting” to “lights-out.” We’ve grown more and more concerned about “right-sizing” and the APP because this swift change to our community promises to do more harm than good. The faculty have now been asked, via a survey, to recommend each other’s departments for “Reorganization,” “Consolidation,” or “Discontinuance.” Department chairs and program directors have been asked to justify their program’s value to the institution. This is not faculty feedback; this is pitting us against each other to fight for scarce resources. 

Let’s pause, and go back to the beginning; what resources do we have? How can we leverage our brilliant community of scholars, workers, and learners? What imaginative solutions or different goals could we produce to make Ithaca College thrive “Forever” and turn our budget and enrollment numbers around?

What might we do, at the very least, to slow the process of cuts so that students don’t lose their mentors and supporters, so that staff and faculty don’t lose their jobs and health insurance in the middle of a global health crisis?

Transparency over Confusion: Which crisis are we in?

Are the 2019 and 2020 enrollment dips why we are told that we need to get “leaner,” now? Judging from presentations by Bill Guerrero and Laurie Koehler over the last 6 months, and judging by the following sentence of the Senior Leadership Team’s recent email message, the answer is yes:

 “The most sobering of [Koehler’s] reminders, at a national level, project diminishing numbers of college-going students leading to an “enrollment cliff” in less than 10 years, and, at IC, show a steady pattern of lower enrollment over the past decade.”

 Yet President Collado says that our right-sizing is “not because of an enrollment crisis… It really is about shoring up that we’re a leaner organization so that we can be sustainable over time but, most importantly, that we can really commit to protecting financial aid and growing it.”

 So is it an enrollment “cliff” or not? Bill Guerrero has at least twice presented the following misleading graph to the faculty:

The Y-axis on this graph has been cut to accentuate decline, and the yellow line has no mathematical relationship to the data. The AIR data to which President Collado refers in her email shows a decline in 2019 and 2020, but if you measure our enrollment from 2008-2018, we had a net increase. Clearly, we need to think about what happened in 2019; we know what happened in 2020 (COVID campus, anyone?). And we need to think carefully about our future.

 We continue to receive mixed messages about enrollment. We would like to have a sustained conversation about what we—as a whole community of faculty, staff, students, and alumni—can do to promote outreach and drive our enrollment numbers back up.

 If we cut 130 FTE faculty lines in the next few months or even by spring 2022, will we have the energy to do that vital outreach? What will happen to our capacity to offer financial aid then?

#OpenTheBooks

There are many examples nationally of colleges of different sizes and ranks that have followed the advice of the book “Prioritizing Academic Programs and Services.” We respectfully ask the administration to provide us with examples of institutions who have followed this process and have come out the other side stronger, more vibrant, and better able to support their students, faculty, and staff.

 We respectfully ask the administration to engage with us in meaningful dialogue about what our community stands to lose in this process. BIPOC staff and faculty in the contingent, NTEN, and junior faculty ranks face losing their livelihoods. Current BIPOC students and alumni face losing their staff and faculty mentors. Both faculty and students lose vital supporters, advisers, and guides when staff members lose their jobs. How can we claim to value equity, justice, and diversity without protecting and supporting these vulnerable members of our campus? How can these be our values if we do not uphold fair labor practices?

 We respectfully ask the administration to #OpenTheBooks so that we can see granular financials not readily available in the school’s filed 990s and surface-level presentations. #OpenTheBooks so that we can be full partners in the decision-making and goal-setting processes for our college.

 We respectfully ask that the college value its people over its budgetary bottom line: we need to take a hard look at our values, especially “Respect and Accountability” and “Equity,” and then put our money where our values are.

Solidarity for the Future of Ithaca College

Click here to sign or copy/paste: https://forms.gle/7paZA8RGd5sSjPme6

(962 total signatures)

 

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