The Feedback That Went Unheard
After publishing the Shape of College draft, which laid out the Ithaca College administration’s planned firings and department discontinuances, the administration provided opportunities for faculty to submit feedback. In doing so, the administration invited laid-off faculty to fight for their livelihoods by working within a system that had already dismissed them. It later became clear that the administration incorporated very few faculty suggestions into the final document.
The following are a letter and anonymous survey responses from a 2004 IC alum and professor of three years, who, at the time of writing, had already been given tentative notice.
Please note that this letter was originally excerpted by @icopenthebooks on Instagram.
Please also note that in the survey responses, the author originally opted to provide their name; here it has been removed for anonymity. Answers were given in response to the blanket question, “Please provide your ideas for program reorganization, consolidation, and discontinuance in the corresponding fields below,” which was followed by three text boxes labeled “REORGANIZATION,” “CONSOLIDATION,” and “DISCONTINUANCE” respectively. Each text box imposed a short word limit, so this faculty member chose to email their responses instead.
The third response was a follow-up to the initial survey in which the administration asked respondents for additional information.
The professor was thanked by the college for their response and told it would be passed along.
I returned to Ithaca because I wanted to be in this town. A town I came to love while I was a student here.
I have always wanted to teach. When I came here and was hired by my old department, I realized I actually have a passion to teach. I realized I might be able to get good at it. I realized I might have something that I could use to help make Ithaca College a better place.
When I realized it, I immediately asked a senior faculty member if he would help mentor me to looking into how to make this a reality. He gently dissuaded me. I still don’t know why.
But I didn’t give up. I enrolled in ECEI, the Early Career Excellence Institute. I found mentorship in Judith Ross-Bernstein and my fellow faculty members there. I found resources that have already made me a better teacher and a better person.
After my first year here, I was dropped from full faculty to part-time (budget reasons I was told, my department said they wanted to keep me). Discouraged, I cried for three days. Then I decided it was worth it to try and continue. I found a second part-time job to make it work.
I kept up my enthusiasm. I kept reading Intercom, doing unpaid student advising work, making connections across departments. Two and a half years in I know students, staff and faculty from all over campus, with a wide variety of skills and interests and stories. They are wonderful, and I’m so grateful to know them.
And yet, with all the enthusiasm I have, there are limits. Since the first All-College meeting I attended, I have gently (and publicly) observed that there don’t seem to be any pathways for visiting scholars, part-time faculty or talented staff to go anywhere. There’s no movement, no upward mobility, no reward for the hard work they put in. Honestly, there’s not even a consistent schedule to get rehired, despite the hard work of the union.
(By the way, do you know how hard it was to sit from October 4th, the day we were told we may get fired, to Mid-January, when our chairs began letting us know the deal was done, and there was nothing they could do about it? Can you imagine the stress of daily wondering if it would be you? Can you imagine the weight?)
No recognition, no chance. The Faculty Excellence award? Not available for part-time contingent faculty. Dana Teaching fellows? Nope. Healthcare? Not available. So many of the opportunities listed in Intercom simply do not apply to all faculty (and less for staff). Only a few people seem to be worth catering to. Only a few faculty seem to be worth anything. More often than not the opportunities say something like, “…open to all tenured and tenure-eligible faculty members as well as long-term non-tenure-eligible faculty members.” So not me. Not many of us.
And I’m heartbroken because… I know the skills I and others have are valuable. That as a first-generation student, an alum and someone who deeply cares about student health and identity and accessibility… that I have something important to give. I know that last semester, I only received positive reviews from my students.
And I know… I know I don’t fit a specific mold. And I know I don’t have a master’s degree, or a PhD… and I came to teaching later than most.
So maybe that’s on me. Maybe that’s my failing.
But where DO we reward that work, besides in acknowledgments? The part-time professors who sponsor student organizations, who actually stand by their diversity statements, their accessibility practices, their care and attention to student mental health… The faculty members who put in the extra effort to make their spaces really open and safe. Where do we reward it? In gift baskets? In Intercom?
Seriously, where is the reward for that work? And if there is no reward, does the College really value it at all?
Does the Budget reflect our stated Values?
And how do we know if we can’t see the Budget? If we’re not truly brought in as equal members of the community? As valuable stakeholders?
And it hurts, just deeply hurts that as the College starts to do better (much-needed anti-racism trainings, land acknowledgments, etc), there are people here now that care, and they have spent years, even decades of their lives giving and giving and giving… and are just going to be dropped? In the middle of a global pandemic?
Because of… the wrong title? The wrong department?
Because of previous mismanagement by former upper administration, so a lower budget?
Because of… because why?
I don’t know why.
I just know that it feels, from here, that I don’t matter. And it hurts.
And I’ll be fine.
And I truly hope the College will be too.
But I’m hurt, and I’m hurting, and I know I’m not the only one. And I think that’s important to say. And important for others to know. And internalize.
And I hope… I hope all of this will be worth it, in the end, and that our students, and our town, and our community will come out stronger.
But right now, I don’t see any proof that it will.
I don’t see it.
Please provide your ideas for program reorganization, consolidation, and discontinuance in the corresponding fields below.
I have so many feelings about this survey, but I won’t linger on them as I don’t want to waste your time. I want to be open and forthright and honest and empathetic. I’m an alum of this institution, as is my Husband, as are most of my best friends. I care deeply about the success of this school. I believe that Ithaca College saved my life. As a young high-school graduate I was an A+ student, a prospective First Gen College student, but was also struggling with poverty and depression. Ithaca College gave me a home, a family, a career and a purpose. I believe I owe a lot to not only the institution itself, but the various members that made and make up this institution. I have reread the APP Final report from June. These words stand out to me under the heading,
PRINCIPLE: “Preserve IC’s long-term capacity to recruit and retain a quality, diverse faculty. Although some faculty wish to protect their contingent and non-tenure track faculty colleagues, the committee finds that the hierarchical tenure system allows for resiliency in times of economic stress and that it protects the college’s ability to continue to recruit and retain new faculty. Maintaining a certain percentage of assistant professors in relation to the faculty body as a whole may help guide the implementation of this principle. This principle is also connected to the previous one; if workload is excessive or inequitable we will not be able to recruit and retain faculty.”
What falls short in this description for me, is that so many of our quality, diverse faculty members, are in fact contingent! I see that the APP Final Report acknowledges that we may need to maintain a percentage of assistant professors, and I applaud that decision. I’d like to make a suggestion to do more than that. If the concern is that the College wishes to recruit and retain a quality, diverse faculty, why not offer contingent faculty paths to full-time positions? Right now, there seems to be no system in place where you can start out with a few credits, fall in love with the student body and college, and make a permanent commitment to this institution. Imagine how transformative that could be! A way for the administration to reward longer hours, emotional labor and student favor seems like it could only be a win for everyone. I propose the college adds pathways that encourage short-term contingent positions to shift to greater responsibility, greater credit loads and then if possible, full-time positions that include healthcare and benefits. Why do we keep doing national searches and taking gambles on people joining this community from another state, who may not care about the future of this school and leave after a few years? Why not start that recruitment in-house, and reward the love and institutional knowledge we already have? I think there’s ways to do this important budget work as well as create a new, better college that we all want to be part of.
My answers here are said with deep love and admiration for everyone reading this, I know there is “no joy” in this process, and I would like to contribute in some small way to the answers that are found to move IC forward. I believe that if we are going to consolidate, it is something that should include the students as well as faculty and staff. I see ways faculty are being engaged in various formats for this, but I see no way for staff or students to weigh in. It seems silly to say “out loud” but as an alum, I think it’s fairly clear that the students have a keen understanding of which faculty and staff are key to their experience here, and which are not. Even if we (importantly!) take into account some of the ideas that students perhaps don’t always see the “full picture” of why a faculty or staff member may be important to their education, they can easily tell you which advisors ignore them and belittle them, vs which professors make more time for them, which ones are key to their retention. Why not engage the students on it? Are we? I’m deeply concerned that in the (quite understandable) rush to balance the budget, that we may in fact be firing or carefully reducing the income for faculty and staff who are hidden keystones in the bridge of student life. I know we need to consolidate, I understand that, but are we taking into account the emotional labor, the student groups who are being mentored without compensation, the “above and beyond” that we talk about when we award the Faculty Excellence Award… which in fact is only available to “Faculty at the Associate Professor rank or above, whether tenured or continuing contract.” If that award, as an example, were open to those “below” that rank, or to staff… would we in fact find a whole hidden set of gems of people who are currently being left behind and possibly let go? I think it’s important to think through, I think it does matter, and I think that it’s worth exploring sooner rather than later. PS: I’ve had conversations with staff before about ways they think we can reorganize electricity and labor in ways that will save the College money, but have been told when they talk to their supervisors about this, they are ignored. Are we tapping those resources for information? I think we should!
I would like to reiterate that I think student involvement in any discontinuance is an important part of this step. If we do move to discontinue programs and classes, my hope is that we are removing duplicated classes, and duplicated programs, and not removing niche interests or special topics that may engage students in unique ways. I know when I was a student here, MANY of the classes that really held my attention, and eventually served me professionally, were rarely offered special topics classes run by individual professors who were passionate about a specific topic. I’d hate to see that lost in the rush to balance the books. I wish I had more specific information to give you, but without access to the data dashboard (I’m not full-time faculty and it’s only available to them), I don’t think I can give any kind of meaningful, detailed suggestions. This saddens me, as I believe that I (along with many of my contingent colleagues) while afraid of being lost in the transition to a smaller College, would be willing to put in the long hours and work of giving honest, thoughtful feedback on this. I gave an exit interview recently to my second job, and while the reason I left that job was because they didn’t value my labor, I still gave detailed ideas on how I thought the company could improve, where the shortfalls were and what I thought good long term planning would look like for them. Similarly, I think even when faced with fear and apprehension, many of us consider ourselves scholars and contributors to a whole. I, for one, would love an opportunity to support the College and help with these difficult decisions, even not knowing what the future holds for me here. It’s not just about me; it’s about this place, these students, this work. I don’t think I’m the only one, and I’d love for us to find a way to help out in the spirit of collaboration.
I would love to see a deeper and more frank, open discussion that includes students and affected faculty, that can drill into the concerns that various groups are bringing up. It feels like there is a disconnect between the people “on the ground” and SLT, and I am hopeful that the gap can be bridged, and the rifts that are happening in the ranks can be repaired.