Ithaca College AAUP Statement on Presidential Search Process

By Dan Breen, March 9, 2022

The Ithaca College chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and affiliated faculty welcome the news that the College has a new president, Dr. La Jerne Terry Cornish.

Significant concerns remain, however, about the nature of the search process, and about the disposition of the Presidential Search Committee (PSC) and the Board of Trustees toward the campus community more broadly.

On September 20, 2021, IC AAUP released a statement requesting that the presidential search be open rather than closed; that the College not use a search firm; and that the College allow its constituencies to elect members of the Search Committee rather than have those members appointed.  On September 21, Faculty Council passed a resolution making similar recommendations.  

The Board and PSC did choose to use a search firm, and did not permit staff, faculty, or students to elect representatives directly to the PSC, without offering a public explanation of either decision.  On October 7, 2021, IC AAUP released another statement identifying these decisions as cause for serious procedural concern.  That statement noted in addition that the Board and PSC had yet to announce publicly whether the search would be open or closed.

Such an announcement never came.  Faculty groups who asked informally whether there might be a third possibility—a search that remains publicly closed but still provides the opportunity for small groups of staff, students, and faculty to meet with finalists—did not receive a direct answer to this question.

The conduct of the search by the Board and PSC typifies the disposition of the Board and upper administration toward the rest of the College over the last decade.  When the Board or upper administration engages with other constituencies, they do so primarily on their own, largely monologic terms:  in lengthy presentations that leave no time for meaningful discussion; in smaller meetings and listening sessions for which there is little to no follow-up; and in surveys and questionnaires that produce results typically shared directly with only a small number of employees.

Unsurprisingly, in an atmosphere where constituencies are not heard—in fact, are not even acknowledged—on their own terms, campus morale continues to be poor.  Faculty and staff are coping with the emotional and professional effects of layoffs and cutbacks that for faculty occurred last year and that, for staff, have been occurring since the last years of President Rochon’s administration.  Students are facing overwhelming challenges related to mental and physical health while attending a college that can do less for them, both in terms of instructional and support resources.

The installation of a new president is a powerful reminder that this atmosphere has not been and does not have to be a permanent characteristic of the College.  Many of the challenges we face are best addressed through approaches that support collaborative working relationships linking different constituencies.  But true collaboration can occur only when all participants have a role in defining the problem at issue, and in designing and implementing solutions. 

If morale is to recover; if we are to find collective, collaborative solutions to the problems IC faces, then the Board and the College’s senior officers must re-establish responsiveness and transparency in their behavior toward their constituencies.  Faculty, staff, and students must be able to articulate their concerns on their terms to members of the administration and the Board, and to expect meaningful engagement in response.  Faculty and staff must be able to work in an employment atmosphere in which their positions are secure and appropriately compensated, and students must be provided with the academic and support services they need.

Perhaps most significantly, the Board and the College’s senior officers must work to restore a culture of truly equitable and collaborative shared governance, particularly in areas such as the constitution and staffing of academic programs, in which such collaboration has been largely absent recently.  Genuine collaboration begins with multifaceted dialogue, which in turn begins with the assumption that the positions of all participating constituencies will be respected in their own right.

The welcoming of such dialogue would, in our view, constitute a strong beginning for this next chapter in the College’s history.