Vacancies in the college cause anxieties about leadership
Over the last year, Ithaca College has faced a number of controversies and leadership failures that have greatly reduced the faith in the administration for both the faculty and the staff. Several Ithaca College faculty and staff members have either stepped down or resigned in the last year, many citing a lack of support from the administration and a general lack of collaboration and shared goals.
One such professor is Thomas Pfaff, who will be stepping down as the director of the Honors Program at the end of the semester. Pfaff, who will be staying on in his capacity as a member of the mathematics department, said there already was some tension between the faculty and the administration. He said the failure of the Blue Sky Initiative last fall, both with the poorly handled racist comment during the initiative kick-off event and the general lack of input from faculty in the initiative, was the “proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.”
“When you think about trying to build trust and collaboration, it is a cultural behavior,” Pfaff said. “Either you have it or not. I would say right now, we’re in the not. We’re not having anything.”
Senior culture and communications major Natalya Gioiella agreed, saying in an email, “I think that there is a lack of trust with the current administration and the president, [and that] from what I’ve witnessed, collaboration only occurs between members of the same department,” she said.
Pfaff added he feels the administration is not presenting a clear strategy or goal moving forward, apart from President Tom Rochon’s continued focus on cost cutting, even at “the cost of quality.”
According to The Ithacan, Pfaff is one of two faculty directors who left their role of director along with Patricia Spencer of the Office of Civic Engagement. Various administrators have stepped down from their administrative positions in 2016 as well, including Benjamin Rifkin, former provost and vice president for educational affairs; Gerald Hector, former vice president for finance and administration; Keith McIntosh, former associate vice president of Digital Instruction and Information Services and chief information officer; and John Bradac, former Career Services director wrote Sophia Tulp of The Ithacan in an Aug. 25 article.
Chris Biehn, the college’s vice president of the Division of Institutional Advancement and Communications (IAC) said a culture of trust, collaboration, and shared processes and goals has always been something that he has strived for in his division. At a recent bi-annual division retreat, those views were once again stressed during a team building exercise run by FranklinCovey. FranklinCovey is a “global company specializing in performance improvement [that helps] organizations achieve results that require a change in human behavior.” According to their mission, the company has expertise is in seven areas: “leadership, execution, productivity, trust, sales performance, customer loyalty and education.”
The IAC has taken further steps to ensure that all of its over a thousand volunteers are getting training in diversity and inclusion. It brought in Craig Clayton, an executive consultant who specializes in diversity training, unconscious bias, corporate bullying and workplace respect, to work with IAC volunteers. While the IAC at least seems to be actively engaging a problem on campus, and appears to have been for several years, Pfaff said the same cannot be said for the rest of the school. This presents the question of whether or not the team building exercises and attempts to create and maintain a culture of trust and collaboration will be effective.
Ben Dattner, a workplace consultant and an industrial and organizational psychologist who founded Dattner Consulting, told NPR: “For years, companies and other organizations have gathered groups of employees for out-of-office retreats aimed at fostering closer ties. But these team-building exercises often have the opposite effect.” The FranklinCovey method might actually foster closer ties because it seems to avoid the critical mistake that Dattner told NPR such retreats often make, activities which “bring out hostility and conflict rather than building any sense of shared mission.” While “offsite events” can be good for short term interpersonal relations, “a couple of days after, people return to the workplace, [and] the impacts and the benefits are not usually enduring,” Dattner said.
Furthermore, in her article, “Why Team Building Doesn’t Work & How You Can Build Your Team,” Hildy Gottlieb writes: “Team Building proposes that it is possible to build trust and engender positive working relationships among people who obviously aren’t feeling any of those feelings to start with.” While this does not seem to be the case in Biehn’s division, this does present a problem for the administration if it attempts the same strategy with the rest of the college. Biehn said the deans of the individual schools are working with faculty in terms of increasing diversity and inclusion efforts, but the level of trust appears to be very low.
While the culture of trust, collaboration and diversity is something the IAC claims to promote, as Pfaff stated, it is not an explicitly stated goal of the institution as a whole. It remains to be seen if these team building retreats and other such projects will be successful in appeasing students, faculty, administrators and staff alike, and preventing any more people at the college from jumping ship.
Otto Bonk is a third year politics major who is concerned about the absence of lessons being learned outside of the classroom. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.