A Quarter Century of Commitment and Caring

By Dan Verderosa, May 10, 2019
Retiring Executive Vice President Nancy Pringle reflects on 25 years at IC and asks, “What am I being called to do next?”

A lot can change in 25 years. When Nancy Pringle started her tenure at Ithaca College as college attorney during the 1993-94 academic year, the internet was in its infancy and the Senior Splash was an unsanctioned event. Nearing the end of a decades-long career, the executive vice president and senior advisor to the president sat down with IC News to reflect on what’s changed during her time at IC, and what comes next.

IC NEWS: How has IC changed over the course of your time here? How does that reflect broader changes in higher education?

PRINGLE: I’ve seen a real evolution in terms of higher education needing to be much more attentive to strategic decision-making. For example, during the period from around 1996 to until around 2008 or 2009, we experienced the golden years of higher education. Every institution in the country was raising its tuition by 5, 6, 7% and campuses were expanding their physical plants in directions that were responsive to record enrollments and new student demands. Then the financial markets crashed, and families became much more financially aware of affordability. Suddenly, we had families who were not able to afford an Ithaca College education, and to meet this need our discount rate began to rise. Coming off 2008-09, we realized that families were not in a position to keep pace with the rising cost of attendance that had developed during those golden years. As a tuition-driven institution, we didn’t have the large financial aid budget or the endowment that could sustain the necessary increases in financial aid. I think that was a pretty pivotal moment. We realized that, moving forward, things were going to have to change at the institution, including a greater emphasis on philanthropy and the raising of money for scholarship support of students.

A woman smiling

Nancy Pringle started her IC career as college attorney during the 1993-94 academic year. (Photo by Jaimie Voorhees/Ithaca College)

IC NEWS: What was the most challenging issue or event that you worked on during your time at IC?

PRINGLE: I would say 2015. That was just a really, really hard year for me both professionally and personally.  I had been at the college for a long time, and to realize the institution that I knew and loved was failing our students of color in such profound ways — both in and outside of the classroom — was a pivotal moment for me of a renewed personal and professional commitment related to my work on diversity, equity and inclusion. To realize that we had a large group of students who felt like they didn’t have a space at Ithaca College to grow and to be celebrated, to come face to face with the anger and disenfranchisement of our students as a member of the the senior administration was powerful. For me, it was a moment of thoughtful introspection and was a clear personal and professional call to action for me to turn the dial in a new direction in my commitment to work to effect the changes necessary to alter this experience for our students of color.

I think for those of us who were here at the time, we made our own commitment, both personally and as a senior leadership team, to do better. And that meant working with our staffs on diversity and inclusion, working on ourselves as a leadership team on those topics, and working with the board of trustees on those topics.

For many, many years to come, that year will be defined as a very important moment in this college's history.

IC NEWS: Looking back on your career at IC, what are you most proud of?

PRINGLE: I don’t think of my work that way. I think of my work in terms of what I have brought into this space. What I think I bring into this space, I hope, has been doing my work with respect for everyone on this campus regardless of title or position. I think I have been a very good collaborative partner. I didn’t necessarily always agree with opinions that were being presented, but I was always willing to work through it with people. I have always wanted to be helpful to people. By that I don’t mean just giving people what they want, but giving them insights into issues and challenges and helping them to identify ways to move through difficult matters. I’ve really tried to do my job with integrity and truth. I think people valued that in my work as a general counsel, and in my work as the secretary to the board.

“I have always wanted to be helpful to people. By that I don’t mean just giving people what they want, but giving them insights into issues and challenges and helping them to identify ways to move through difficult matters.”

I’ve staffed the board for three presidential search committees, and I’ve worked for four presidents. I feel really good about the work I did in that space. Although I was not a member of the committees, I was very attentive to what the needs were on campus and made sure that we were being attentive to those needs, and that the board had what it needed to make the right decisions at those particular points in time.

IC NEWS: Can you tell us about the changes to the fountain jump tradition that you helped oversee, taking it from an unofficial student-led act to a fully sanctioned college event?

PRINGLE: That informal tradition was already in place when I got here. And I’ll never forget my first time witnessing that event. Now remember, I’m the attorney. I remember watching this crowd of students coming down with the floats, and the beer, and the jugs of alcohol, and I was like “What on earth is happening here?” I remember being so concerned that someone would be injured, and that we would have to deliver a heartbreaking call to a parent in the final days of a student's time with us.

It went on for another five or six years, and the last year I remember vividly. We had a lot of planning going up to the event and trying to mitigate some behaviors to make it a safe event. And that year was just horrible. The event started early in the morning, so everywhere you went on campus there were students who’d had too much to drink, students hanging off balconies. We had damage to the buildings and we had classes interrupted. We had a debrief with the same people who were meeting beforehand. It was a cross section of the campus. Every person from each area of the institution shared what their experience was like. The students were the last ones to speak, and what I remember was them collectively saying, “We had no idea this is what was happening. We had a great time, but we had no idea that while we’re having a great time, this is what’s happening all over campus.” And the students said something needs to be done about this.

The following year, the student government president and President Peggy Ryan Williams put their heads together to do something different with the event. It was really challenging when it was decided that “fountain jump day” would no longer happen. I recall the decision required skillful collaboration between President Williams and Nick Tarant, the Student Government president. Today, the event is known as Senior Splash, and it has an entirely different feel and one that everyone on the campus enjoys watching as we celebrate our graduating seniors during senior week.

IC NEWS: You arrived at IC just as the internet was becoming more and more a part of daily life. How did that affect the college and your work?

PRINGLE: I think it has drastically changed how we work. Some of that is for the better, and some of that is not. I feel like we’ve lost our capacity for personal interactions, sitting down and talking. You have to really work to find the time. You would think that the internet gave us more time, but it hasn’t at all. It’s just made us work at a much quicker pace. We don’t have time to think and we don’t have time to reflect, to process all that we’ve put into our brains. There’s probably a balance, and I don’t think we have found that balance yet.

IC NEWS: What do you see for IC in the future — say in the next five years?

PRINGLE: I’ve seen probably more than most — outside of the strategic planning committee and the working groups — about where the strategic planning thinking is taking us, and I think it’s very exciting for the institution. There are some ideas in the draft strategic plan that are in fact transformational for Ithaca College. I think elements of the plan will challenge some members of our community, but if we can weather through it, I think it’ll be amazing for the college and all who will come to study here. It feels to me we can’t afford to do anything but enter into this moment of transformational change, because of what’s happening outside around us. One of the things I’ve always noted about living in this community is that it is a great place to live and the quality of life is really high, but I do think that sometimes it’s too isolated, and we don’t really see what’s happening out in the country and in the world. That’s something that I hope the strategic plan will bring into the forefront.

IC NEWS: And what about you? How will you spend the next few years of retired life?

PRINGLE: I’m looking forward to just a bit of downtime, thinking, reflecting, planning the next step of the journey. I know this is not going to be a retirement where I just sit around and put my feet up. I know that about myself. The real question is, “What am I being called to do next?” And the way I get that is by finding time to be quiet and listening to that voice from somewhere beyond me that has always guided me in the stillness to take risks and try new things. So I’m looking forward to doing that, and I don’t know where it’ll take me. I have a few hints — it may take me back to who I was in my twenties, only with a lot more wisdom and life experience — so stay tuned.

“I know this is not going to be a retirement where I just sit around and put my feet up. I know that about myself. The real question is, ‘What am I being called to do next?’”

IC NEWS: Who were you in your twenties?

PRINGLE: I was passionate about activism and justice issues. I think we have plenty of issues needing that type of energy right now. The question for me is, “Where will my energies best be spent?” I don’t want to do a job like I’ve been doing. I have loved my job. I think I’ve had the best job in the world as an attorney. But I also know that there’s more to be done in service to creating a more kind, compassionate and just world. You may be seeing me at protests on TV. Who knows? I’m looking forward to being able to step into a different space in a different way.

Past and present colleagues reminisce about working with Nancy Pringle

  • “Nancy paved the way for many women in higher education by occupying space at a senior level of the academy at a time when women’s voices in leadership were either unheard or nonexistent. Her relentless dedication to her work, her sharp intellect, and the incredible depth of her expertise have not only served the college well, but have been absolutely critical to me in the first years of my presidency at Ithaca College.” 

         – President Shirley M. Collado

  • “It was my pleasure to work with Nancy through the years, in the good times and the not so good times. We always had each other’s back when we were responding to a crisis or working on a college-wide problem or project.”

         – Brian McAree, former vice president for student affairs

  • “Serving on the Ithaca College Board of Trustees from 2006-2016 was quite a privilege, and one of the highlights of my life. Nancy not only provided members with relevant materials and timely communications, but offered thoughtful insights that enabled the board to be well-informed and positioned to act responsibly. Her wise counsel was always welcomed!”

         – Susan Pervi, former Ithaca College trustee