Reflections on Leadership, Governance, and Trust

By President Shirley M. Collado, October 11, 2017
I announced in late September my decision to create the Division of Student Affairs and Campus Life, a decision that resulted from many thorough and honest conversations I had with people across our campus about how to strengthen the student experience.

This decision also aligned with the findings and results from the Campus Climate Survey, the Middle States accreditation self-study, and many other reports about student success and retention.

In making this announcement, I also shared that Rosanna Ferro will lead this new division. Rosanna’s skill set, energy, and experience will move our work in student affairs forward—and her hiring does something else: it demonstrates my deep investment in building a high-performance leadership team. My success as president, and the college’s success as an institution, depends on my ability to identify the strengths we need at the leadership level, and my ability to act decisively to bring the necessary talent to our campus or develop it in places where it exists already.

These two decisions greatly affect our institution, and they give me an opportunity to open a conversation with you about my thinking around the intersections of leadership, shared governance, collaboration, and transparency. 

As president, I have a responsibility to make decisions that represent, protect, advance, and empower all students, staff, and faculty on this campus. My ability to be a thoughtful leader requires me to listen to and understand the needs of our college community while being flexible and nimble as I make important decisions on behalf of our institution. For me to be effective, I must be transparent, open, and collaborative. At the same time, I must be direct, driven, and decisive. These are core components of my leadership—and they are not mutually exclusive.

I recognize that our Ithaca College community is deeply invested in creating an environment that honors the values of shared governance, and this is a value that I also share. In the fall of 2015, the college’s board of trustees charged the provost with creating a Shared Governance Task Force, and over the course of nearly two years the group fulfilled its charge, and created a charter of shared governance, which outlines a vision of shared governance at Ithaca College.

I have met with the members of the task force, and I applaud them for their thoughtful, sensitive efforts around a difficult topic. Their work has been highly informative to me as I reflect on the evolution of shared governance at our institution.

I believe that, in many ways, the work of the task force was aimed at solving a symptom of a deeper challenge: the lack of trust within our community between different constituent groups and organizations, and a lack of trust in the college administration. My intention as president is to focus on creating solutions to this underlying challenge—to mobilize our community around the rebuilding of trust.

The building and earning of trust is a living thing that we each cultivate every day, and it is so important to our collective work that our relationships are strong and rooted in the understanding and the expectation that we engage in our work together authentically and honestly, and that we each have expertise and knowledge that should be honored. You cannot have shared governance if you do not have trust.

True shared governance provides for open, transparent decision-making, but it does not require that everyone participate in that process. Shared governance ensures that every voice is heard, valued, and taken into account, but it does not mean that there is equal authority among all members of our community to make major decisions. Finally, I feel strongly that intentionally cultivating a culture of increased trust happens through open dialogue, through the activation of a strong leadership team, and through regular communication among the members of our community. I have full faith that if we build trust and we build a culture of true shared governance, we will move our community to a place where we can create a strong vision for our institution; one that we all participate in creating and for which we are all collectively accountable.

The coming years will require us to lean in to many important conversations and difficult decisions, some of which will push against the grain and make us uncomfortable. We must be courageous in these moments, and engage with one another respectfully and boldly to move our institution into the future. I look forward to doing this important work with you.