During the Board of Trustees meeting last month, I hosted and participated in a panel discussion with Jeff Selingo ‘95, trustee and former editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Tompkins Cortland Community College President Orinthia Montague, and Dana Professor of Physics and Astronomy Luke Keller. Our moderator was junior Grace Elletson, a politics major and BOLD scholar.
Through the course of our wide-ranging and lively discussion, we touched briefly on a topic that will be increasingly critical to the future of higher education and to student success: cross-sector and cross-institutional collaborations. I believe that Ithaca College is perfectly poised to be an institution that blazes a path in this important area.
I recently read an interview with Andrew Delbanco, professor of American studies at Columbia University and incoming president of the Teagle Foundation, an organization that supports innovative efforts in the liberal arts. He makes the case that liberal education is “the best rehearsal we have for democracy,” and that colleges and universities have an obligation to prepare students for not just a job or a career, but also engaged citizenship with the larger community.
I agree with Andrew’s assessment. In my inaugural address last November, I spoke about the college’s deep roots in the liberal arts, and the power of a liberal education. But I also spoke about the positive impact that the addition and expansion of professional programs had on our institution, and how that combination contributed to our singular evolution as a small, private college that offers a comprehensive and innovative education. This blending doesn’t just make IC unique among our peers—it puts us in a position of strength as we envision the future of our institution, and as we envision, in particular, the continued promise of Ithaca College as an innovator and a valued partner in cross-sector collaborations within our community and beyond.
As our society’s economic, political, social, and educational landscape shifts to accommodate a more global and integrated focus, cross-sector partnerships hold incredible potential in helping municipalities, businesses, community organizations, and educational institutions find functional solutions to increasingly intertwined challenges. “Collective impact” is often cited as a benefit of cross-sector collaborations, the phrase reflecting the reality that broad challenges require big thinking by a wide swath of stakeholders. Issues like ecological and social responsibility, embracing an increasingly diverse society, and balancing freedom of expression with the maintenance of a humane, respectful culture are not specific to a particular sector, nor should they be addressed by one.
IC: A Valuable Partner in Enriching our Communities and World
At Ithaca College, we have a tradition of interdisciplinary pedagogy and scholarship. And as our institution has grown, that tradition has encompassed not only the diversity of our programs and courses, but the diversity of who’s doing the teaching and who’s doing the learning. As a community, our students, faculty, staff, and alumni live and embrace a multi-faceted and collaborative way of being that can be a springboard as we think about how Ithaca College can play a role in the advancement of our culture and our communities.
One of the key ways we can move the needle is to continue to expand the pathways to the professoriate and to leadership roles on our campus, and be intentional in our efforts to look in unlikely places and value different types of knowledge. We do this already in specific disciplines, prizing knowledge gained both through the academy and through professional practice. But when we magnify the potential of this paradigm, we become increasingly capable of bringing to bear the promise of different strategies and diverse conversations that create connections beyond our campus.
We know that inspiring things happen when members of our college community participate in opportunities with off-campus partners. We’ve seen it in the collaborations that individual departments, programs, or schools have with organizations as wide-ranging as NBC, Longview, and the Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport. Our next important steps should not only deepen those existing collaborations, but focus energy on the creation of new partnerships that connect our community more significantly to our areas of interest and expertise within the private and public sectors.
We also see faculty, staff, and students engaging in our neighboring communities in an organic way, to represent their personal interests and values and, in a broader conceptual sense, to represent our institution by volunteering or sitting on boards of nonprofits, businesses, and municipalities. Individually and in pockets on our campus, we are already doing the important work of cross-sector partnerships. The difference moving forward must be that we make this type of work a key institutional priority.
One of the first decisions I made when I came to IC was to create a staff position to enable our institution to formalize and prioritize government and community relations. In January, I was thrilled to welcome Paula Younger, a long-time member of Tompkins County government, into this role. Paula’s work is just getting started, as she begins to build collaborative strategy around IC’s outreach. One of the first opportunities I am excited about is both acknowledging and embracing the rich educational ecosystem our institution resides within. I have been and continue to be incredibly excited by the potential of partnerships our institution can build with the Ithaca City School District, with Tompkins-Cortland Community College, with Cornell University. Ithaca College is Ithaca’s college, and what better place to start building our momentum than in our own backyard.
In this year that we celebrate our 125th anniversary, we are seeing our history with fresh eyes, honoring our traditions as an institution. This type of reflection is critical as we think about our collective values, and extend those values in new ways to create our institution’s future. Within this context, we are also gearing up to embark upon a strategic planning process. This process will call upon all members of our campus community to be visionaries, to come together and conceptualize not only the future of our institution, but the world we want to live in and the kind of investment we need to make in realizing the power and the position of Ithaca College within that landscape.
As our greater society looks ahead to increasingly interconnected issues, we at Ithaca College must not simply parachute into the moment to offer expertise and advice. As an institution of higher education and as Ithaca’s college, our students, faculty, and staff are a part of our local, regional, and national communities. Cross-sector partnerships are not about “us” helping “them.” They are collaborative relationships that reach across boundaries and dig into our collective challenges. When we approach our collective work in this way, we at IC can serve as a trusted, capable partner in the advancement of our communities and our world.