Q&A with the New IC Board of Trustees Chair

This is shaping up to be a pivotal year at Ithaca College. Three new senior leaders began at the college this academic year: Provost La Jerne Terry Cornish; Bill Guerrero, vice president for finance and administration; and Guilherme Costa, vice president, general counsel, and secretary to the board of trustees. And, for the first time in six years, there’s new leadership on the board of trustees. Dave Lissy ’87 begins the first of a three-year term as chair, stepping into the role held by Tom Grape ’80, chair emeritus.

Lissy has volunteered on the board since 2011 and served as vice chair for the past three years. He graduated from IC with a bachelor’s in business administration with a concentration in management from the School of Business. He has put his degree to good use at Bright Horizons Family Solutions, a leading provider of employer-sponsored dependent care solutions and early education. The company experienced tremendous growth under Lissy’s guidance. It now operates in 44 states and six countries, employs 33,000 people, and has frequently been listed as one of Fortune magazine’s 100 best companies to work for in the United States. After 17 years as the chief executive officer, Lissy now serves as executive chairman.

Lissy shared some of his thoughts about the future of IC. >

Q: What does it mean to you, personally, to be chair of the board of trustees? 

A: I feel honored and incredibly privileged to be the chair of the board. It’s something that I never would’ve envisioned years ago. I’ve had the good fortune of doing things in my life that have put me in a position to contribute meaningfully to the college in this important way.

IC has meant so much to me personally and professionally. I was the first in my immediate family to get a four-year degree, and I benefitted from financial aid and other support while I was a student. Ithaca College provided that pathway for me, and I can’t imagine a more significant way to give back than to have the honor of being chair of the board at a time when we have a new president and new administrators on our leadership team, and we are embarking on a strategic planning process that I believe will be truly transformative for the college. 

Q: In what ways do you think the strategic planning process can be transformative for the college? 

A: The strategic planning process presents an opportunity for our community to tackle some of the big challenges we face. Ithaca College is largely tuition dependent, and our endowment is very modest for a college of our size. This means that we must find ways to balance this fiscal reality with the need to continue to improve the quality of our education and student experience. We have a great opportunity to make some key strategic choices that can shape our future. I think there is a lot of potential in this planning process for us to support and grow what is working well and to expand our thinking and invest in new ideas that will help to ensure financial stability and continuous improvement into the future.

I know President Collado and the strategic planning team have strongly emphasized a very real desire for the members of the college community to feel empowered to participate in this process, and there’s some good thinking out there among the college’s many stakeholders, alumni included. It’s important that we listen to all ideas and that we ultimately have an inclusive, thorough process that leads to something really exciting that we can all get behind. 

Q: What is your overarching vision for the board, and how do you see the board’s role within the Ithaca College community?

A: As I assume the role of chair, my overarching vision is to ensure that we continue to have an extremely engaged, diverse, and talented group of people on our board who have a great deal of passion for IC and who will bring the benefit of their experience—whether alumni, parents, or people in the community with a connection to the college—to serve the college and support the president and the leadership team to help them reach their full potential.

The board’s ultimate role is to act as a strategic advisor—not to manage the day-to-day affairs of the college. Obviously, we have overall fiscal accountability for the college, and we take very seriously our role in making sure the annual operating budget is appropriate and the college has sources of funding it needs to succeed. For us to do our job well, it’s important for us to really have a good understanding of what is happening on our campus and how IC fits into the larger higher education landscape. This isn’t work you can do from afar. You have to be engaged. You have to educate yourself and participate in college events—those that happen on campus and those within our neighborhoods, cities, and regions. 

Q: During the six years of Tom Grape’s leadership, he brought strategic change to the board, focusing on implementing best practices and improving engagement, expectations, transparency, and communications. What are your thoughts on his legacy?

I’d been incredibly privileged to serve as vice chair with Tom and serve on the board with him for several years before that. The college has really been fortunate to have had a chair like Tom. He is a great leader and set the board on a positive, productive course during his time as chair. I look forward to continuing along that pathway, particularly continuing his work in creating a more engaged and invested board of trustees. I am appreciative of the time I spent working alongside him and appreciative of all the support he continues to give.