2020 is a pivotal year for our IC community

By President Shirley M. Collado, February 11, 2020
As we open up this calendar year and transition to a new semester, our Ithaca College community is poised at a critical juncture.

On January 28 at the All-College Gathering, I shared my thoughts around the importance of this moment and encouraged our faculty, staff, and students to be energized by the tremendous possibilities that await us as we bring to life Ithaca Forever, the college’s new strategic plan.

Implementing this plan is calling upon us to do some very difficult work and look directly at some hard truths. To do this effectively, we must come to a common understanding about how we will do this work together. How will we align our actions with our institutional values? How will we behave, interact, and engage in difficult dialogue with one another under the tremendous pressure of change and challenge? What are the standards we will hold ourselves to as a respectful, supportive, and accountable community?

Although it’s not common practice in this space, I am sharing my remarks from the All-College Gathering, as well as a full video recording of the meeting because I want to strongly affirm a positive message that asks us to frame the certainty of change through the productive empowerment and activation of our faculty, staff, and students.

The coming years will be filled with challenges and great opportunities—some known and expected, others unforeseen. I look doing this transformative work alongside a talented, focused, and fearless Ithaca College community.

Remarks for President Shirley M. Collado, as prepared for the All-College Gathering on Tuesday, January 28.

Thank you all for making time to be here in the middle of a busy day and week. I want to welcome you back to a new semester—a new decade—and I hope that your break was as restorative and wonderful as it possibly could’ve been.

I would like to welcome specifically our new students, our new faculty and our new staff.

I want to start our time together by recognizing some of the great efforts and accomplishments of our faculty, staff and students. Kudos to:

  • School of Business, which was recently designated a ‘top undergraduate business school’ by Poets & Quants for Undergrads
  • School of Communications film program was ranked 17th in a roundup of the Top 50 film schools in the U.S. by “The Wrap”
  • MLK Scholars—this year’s cohort delivered a powerful and moving presentation last Monday, exploring, challenging, and evolving Dr. King’s legacy. So grateful to have these students as a part of our community and look forward to seeing all that they will accomplish in the coming years.
  • BOLD Women’s Leadership Network: a program near and dear to my heart that I founded when I was at Rutgers-Newark, just received another $1.2 million from the Pussycat Foundation to support another two years of BOLD scholars. Over the past three years, IC has received $3.6 million from the Pussycat Foundation for these women. I really want to thank the faculty and staff

Thank you to …

  • Our facilities department and the staff and faculty of so many departments across campus who are beginning to move their offices to improve the campus’ space utilization overall and specifically allowed our School of Humanities and Sciences to truly become the liberal arts spine of this campus. This plan will also allow the Peggy Ryan Williams Center to become a more student-centered space.  
    • This work is one example of the creative things we can do with our current resources when we implement our strategic plan and support our overall goal of making the campus more student-centered.
  • Thanks to our human resources and our finance teams for their colossal efforts around the HCM implementation. These folks have been working behind-the-scenes and around-the-clock for many months now to ensure that our HCM practices, tools, and systems are seamless for all employees.

I want to take a moment to make sure all of you saw the sad news about Carol Serling, one of our board’s honorary trustees, and a former trustee.

  • Carol, her husband Rod, and the entire Serling family are a huge part of the Ithaca College story.
    • Rod taught here on campus and inspired our School of Communication’s Rod Serling Award for Advancing Social Justice through Popular Media, which we will award in Carol’s honor this April, and there are many IC alumni in the Serling family.

I also want to let you know that our next board of trustees meeting will be held in Los Angeles from February 12-13. Meetings typically are on campus, but we occasionally meet in another location in February.

  • Trustees will be taking full advantage of their time on the West Coast.
  • They will spend an afternoon at ICLA to dive into the student experience at this important center, and
  • Host a special dinner focusing on the promise of our strategic plan for key alumni, friends of the college, and philanthropists.
    • We are very grateful that Bob Iger will be joining us at this event, and he and I will engage in a conversation about leadership and the college’s future.
    • As a reminder, Bob and his wife, Willow Bay, recently endowed the Iger-Bay Scholarship, which seeks to foster diversity in media. We are actively recruiting our first cohort of Iger-Bay scholars and will welcome them to our campus this fall.
  • Look for our board update next month. Trustees will return to campus for our May meeting.

I want to now spend the rest of my time with you talking about the state of the college, specifically our campus climate, our financial health, and our strategic plan—and the way these things are deeply intertwined. And I want to frame this discussion in a very particular context—the context of our community: our collective strength and our individual empowerment.

As you know, we closed out last semester with some honest and hard conversations about our campus climate and the classroom experience. It is undeniable that we are in a moment as an IC community and in higher ed nationally, and this moment is calling upon all of us to step up and be responsive and accountable.

I hope all of you saw the email Provost Cornish and student affairs VP Rosanna Ferro sent to our campus community on Friday, January 17.

Their email outlined some concrete actions and creative ideas, and highlighted the important work of two groups: the ad hoc committee that convened immediately after our students’ action in Dillingham Center at the end of last semester, and Campus Climate Action Group that is a part of our strategic plan implementation.

This work also affirms the powerful work that has already been building throughout the years by key faculty and staff leaders. We are building on that expertise and momentum to make us a model campus for diversity, equity, inclusion, and full participation.

I want to thank Dr. Ferro and Provost Cornish and the members of these groups for their leadership, and I want to express my deep appreciation to the members of the faculty council executive committee, who shared a message with our community making a strong statement in support of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the classroom and on our campus.

This work is important—not just for today’s students, but for those who are to come. We must approach the development of an inclusive campus climate as an ongoing dialogue and an opportunity to learn from one another—not as a punitive exercise or as a box to check.

If we want our students to show up in the world as authentic, courageous, and empathetic, then we must model those qualities ourselves.

I want to turn now to the college’s financial health. I know this is something we are all thinking about ...

As a reminder, the budget for the next academic year is approved by the board of trustees at their May meeting. This means a few things: first, we are currently in the process of planning next year’s budget, and second, we, as a community, are all helping to create next year’s operational margin through the choices and decisions we make right now.

We have all seen vice president for finance Bill Guerrero’s slide from previous meetings and his Infinity presentations, showing the decrease in our operating margin over the past several years as the college has continued to support critical areas like deferred maintenance, the student experience, and ongoing efforts to be an employer of choice.

To provide historical context, the decrease in our operational margin is not a surprise. It is a trend we anticipated and a trend that will continue if we don’t shift our business model as an institution.

Operating on a lean budget is the new normal, and the board and senior leadership team are aligned in our responsible practice of having a contingency in our budget, which is currently $4.7 million. I know so many of you do careful work to be good stewards of the college’s resources and I deeply appreciate your efforts.

At this moment, we need to lean on one another to ensure that we stay on budget and protect our resources as we close this fiscal year through June 30.

Connected to our operating margin is the fact that this institution—and many others in higher education—cannot continue to be reliant upon tuition dollars to determine our financial health. The reality is that we must shift our business model and that is going to be a sea change.

To be successful we must recalibrate our expenses, identify new revenue streams, focus deeply on philanthropy, and on growing parts of the college that bring in revenue.

This is a major part of our strategic plan and this is starting to happen right now—from our new PA program, to our new MBA in Entertainment, to the forward motion in developing a business incubator.

I want to point out that these things do not happen overnight. We are not suddenly going to be making $10 million through our business incubator next year.

The good news is, as VP Guerrero often says, the college is in a position of strength. Literally, that means our bond rating, our ability to borrow, our cash reserves and our growing endowment, which currently rests at $361 million.

Now is the time for us to act and shift together. Not in a culture of fear, but in a culture of empowerment where we can all be agents and stewards for Ithaca Forever.

Being in a position of strength means that we have time, right now, to make smart decisions about how we’re going to leverage and activate our resources. This requires an understanding that we must let go of practices that are outmoded and outdated, and embrace new ways of doing business that ensure our success and connectedness as one college.

This year and the coming years are a time of thoughtful recalibration, refocus, and self-reflection. I know this will be uncomfortable and we must have the courage to sit in that space and embrace the certainty of change so we can grow and leap from our position of strength.

There is a goal in our strategic plan that I know worries many of you—the goal that reads “Determine and maintain an appropriate size for our programs and structures, and their associated resources, at every level of the institution.” I want to spend some time talking with you about that.

The next few years are going to be about assessing our needs to ensure student success and making sure our resources align. This ties in strongly with our enrollment and retention strategy, which you will hear more about from vice president Koehler in a few minutes. We should not be chasing numbers that don’t make sense for this institution. Instead, we need to feed our strengths and realize our potential.

We need to find and embrace an emerging student body from targeted partnerships, places, and interests that are aligned with our core strengths in theory, practice, and performance.

This means that our programs—academic and non-academic—will need to get more focused for us to be able to retain the highest level of student, deliver the best experience in a residential program, have the best physical plant, and be an employer of choice.

There are two action groups that are working on academic and non-academic review. Provost Cornish is working closely with the academic group and vice presidents Hayley Harris and Laurie Koehler are working closely with the non-academic group.

Regarding the academic review, the action group is currently working to develop a rubric by which academic programs can be reviewed, taking into consideration opportunities for consolidation, reorganization, and growth.

Similar priorities are being developed for the non-academic review, and I also want to point out that non-academic review has been ongoing on this campus for the last couple of years, in the work that our vice presidents have done to assess their departments and determine the best structure to support the student experience and the employee experience.

  • Examples include: SACL, HR, IA, and Marketing and Enrollment Strategy

As the evolution of this work continues, I ask all of you to ground yourself in the knowledge that things are going to change. Let’s approach the coming years by thinking about how we can each contribute to the transformation of this institution, and commit to supporting one another as we focus our individual strengths on the good of the whole. We are in this together.

The strategic plan presents an opportunity to be activated by possibility, not fear; to reshape our assumptions about what an Ithaca College experience can mean, who our students are, and what role this college can play in our community and in our world.

I urge you to get involved and know that you are empowered to participate in this process and make your voice heard.

  • Many action groups are planning focus groups, surveys, and open sessions around year-one strategic plan objectives. Stay tuned and participate!