Virtual All-Faculty-and-Staff Gathering Brings Community Together

By Robin Roger, April 1, 2020
College is developing creative solutions to new challenges to ensure long-term stability.

Nearly 1,100 employees logged on to view Ithaca College’s first-ever virtual all-faculty-and-staff gathering on March 31 to receive updates on the state of the college. President Shirley M. Collado was joined by members of her senior leadership team, four of whom addressed the community remotely via Zoom.

Collado acknowledged that we are experiencing a historic moment in our society and in our sector of education, with the coronavirus pandemic creating unprecedented challenges in the way colleges around the country are operating. While Ithaca College is no different in experiencing those challenges, she said that IC is poised to take them on from a position of strength.

“This moment demands the very best of us,” she said. “It forces us to solve pressing issues in a compressed amount of time; things we were putting on a timeline of three to four years. Unlike other institutions that will not survive this pressure point, we were already in a position where we were gearing up for major change that will allow this institution to prevail into the future.”

“We are ready for this, and I am asking you once again to step up, to be bold, to be realistic, and most importantly, to do this with a commitment to our values: academic excellence, respect and accountability, innovation, sustainability, and equity.”

President Shirley M. Collado

The vice presidents announced some immediate actions that are being taken to ensure the financial stability of the college, and some actions that will be considered in the future, depending on how the situation unfolds. Among the most significant measures are workforce reductions for both staff and faculty along with a hiring freeze; deferral of most remaining capital project expenditures for the remainder of this year and next year; and the suspension of the Ithaca College London Centre and ICNYC programs, along with affiliated study abroad programs, for the 2020-21 academic year. There are no plans at this time to suspend study at the Ithaca College Los Angeles program.

“We need to remain nimble in an ever-shifting situation in order to be strong over the long term,” Collado said. “We are making short-term decisions with limited visibility in a dynamic and volatile environment to ensure the longevity of our institution. This is our greatest goal so that we can weather this storm no matter how long it lasts.”

Collado noted that the college was already facing a budget challenge prior to the coronavirus crisis, due to a need to recalibrate its size, the demographic shift across the country and student retention rates. Meanwhile, the college has been focused on building a comprehensive marketing and enrollment strategy, as well as a philanthropy strategy, and identifying new revenue streams as part of its five-year strategic plan, Ithaca Forever. Although the goal of the college is to retain the most talent and individuals in its workforce, she said, it’s now even more crucial to align all positions, programs and resources with the goals of the strategic plan.

“The health crisis is an economic crisis effecting everyone, and we are not immune.” 

Bill Guerrero, vice president for finance and administration

“I want to acknowledge very clearly that, given our situation, it is inevitable that we will have a workforce reduction — some temporary and some permanent — while maximizing the timing of opportunities provided by state and federal resources for our employees.”

Collado pointed to many positive markers that indicate the college’s potential to weather the storm: the college’s cash reserves, its manageable debt, and its well-maintained physical plant. Work has already begun on several goals of the strategic plan, such as recalibrating the size of Ithaca College, creating a curriculum that’s relevant to today’s students, embracing the need to be a “student-ready” campus, delivering the curriculum across time and space, and shoring up resources so they’re aligned with the goals of Ithaca Forever.

“What this moment has created for us is a stronger sense of urgency around expediting those goals in a way that can feel scary but, in a way that if we get it right, we will be able to launch into the future, which is exactly what we’ve been trying to do all along,” she said.

Academic Update

La Jerne Terry Cornish, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, announced that student statements, used in evaluating the performance of faculty members, would be suspended for this spring semester due to the unusual nature of the semester and the effort it took to move to remote instruction in a short period of time.

“Faculty, please know that I know you are doing your best to deliver instruction remotely,” she said. “You shouldn’t have to worry about the impact of student statements in your personnel file on your tenure and promotion eligibility.”

Cornish also noted that anyone who wishes to postpone tenure and promotion review for one year, because their teaching, scholarship or service have been impacted, may do so “without penalty or prejudice.” With very limited exceptions, all faculty sabbatical leaves will be suspended for the next academic year.

Enrollment Update

Laurie Koehler, vice president for marketing and enrollment strategy, outlined the industry-wide challenges to recruiting future classes of students, including changing demographics and enrollment patterns, nationally declining yield rates, and the added pressures of a global pandemic and a possible recession.

She noted that IC was one of the first colleges in the country to publicly announce the extension of its enrollment deposit deadline from the traditional May 1 to June 1. The college is also ahead of the curve with its Yield Action Group, which had already developed several innovative approaches to yield, most of them involving direct outreach. Last Sunday, for instance, the college hosted roughly 300 admitted students in an online webinar.

In place of Ithaca Today, the college’s signature admitted students’ program, starting April 20 the college will hold “Ithaca Week,” an online experience that will replicate the energy and enthusiasm of the in-person event and provide virtual programming for admitted students as well as their parents and caregivers.

The college is also focused on retaining current students.

“Our goal is to ensure that every IC student hears from a member of our community that we care about them and want them back, whether that’s this fall or later,” she said.

Finance Update

Bill Guerrero, vice president for finance and administration, began by thanking those who are working remotely to support students, as well as those essential personnel still coming to campus every day to ensure that the few students remaining on campus are fed, protected, cared for and have clean facilities.

He noted that the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the extreme budgetary challenges the college was already facing.

“The health crisis is an economic crisis effecting everyone, and we are not immune,” he said.

The college community had already conducted some difficult work to help maintain a forecasted break-even operating margin for this year’s budget. Guerrero listed some short-term measures taken by the college, including suspending travel, pausing hiring, minimizing procurement, and working on refinancing debt and increasing credit lines. He said the college will be mindful of any financial relief opportunities that might be available, including through insurance claims, the CARE Act and FEMA.

“But even with a strong balance sheet, we still need to plan for the what-if and worst-case scenarios,” he said.

Human Resources Update

Hayley Harris, vice president for human resources and planning, addressed questions about the impact of the crisis on IC’s workforce.

“Ithaca College will still be here when we are cleared to reopen, and we will need many of our staff and faculty to be here with us, because you make the college what it is,” Harris said. “However, we do need to address the realities we're facing in the meantime. But we plan to do so in a humane and compassionate way that keeps the long-term future of the college and the immediate needs of our community in mind.”

To help reduce the workforce, the college will consider options such as retirement incentives, phased retirement and voluntary effort reductions, as well as layoffs and furloughs. And given the need to conserve resources, the senior leadership team is recommending that the college not award merit increases this year.

“We will, however, recommend that a modest fund be set aside to address equity issues that may arise should some employees take on significant new responsibilities,” Harris added.

The college will extend the period of pay for all employees through April 19, regardless of their ability to work remotely or report to work. It will also offer 14 days of paid leave for anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 or under quarantine or isolation orders. She said the annual performance review process for employees will be suspended for this year, with plans to introduce more agile review strategies moving forward.

The college plans to host virtual faculty/staff gatherings every two weeks in order to remain transparent and maintain an open dialogue, as the situation remains fluid and dynamic. Opportunities will also be provided for a variety of stakeholders to address the community in real time. The next all-faculty-and-staff virtual gathering will be held on Tuesday, April 14.

“We are ready for this,” said President Collado, “and I am asking you once again to step up, to be bold, to be realistic, and most importantly, to do this with a commitment to our values: academic excellence, respect and accountability, innovation, sustainability, and equity.”