ITHACA, N.Y.—The Ithaca College administration moved forward Wednesday with the school’s “Shape of the College” plan, the cost-cutting initiative that the school has been formulating for the last several months which will, crucially, include the cutting of 116 full-time-equivalent faculty members in reaction to falling student enrollment at the school and the overall economic downturn, particularly centered on the coronavirus. The process has generally been known as the Academic Program Prioritization, or APP, which has become a cursed term in the minds of its opponents in the IC community, both students and faculty.

The decision was made, seemingly, quite quickly considering the backlash that has accompanied the process. The administration, specifically President Shirley Collado and Provost La Jerne Cornish, announced their decision to accept all recommendations made for the final report on Wednesday, Feb. 24, a week after the recommendations were submitted. The Board of Trustees also voted to support Collado and Cornish’s decision.

The plan calls for a reduction in full-time-equivalent faculty members from a range of schools (shown below), going from 542 to 426. Going into the 2019-2020 school year, the school had 612 full-time-equivalent faculty members. It also signaled the discontinuation of three departments and 17 undergraduate degree programs, which the school’s report claims produce about 38 graduates per year. There are other course changes and such, but they mostly have to do with restructuring and reorganization instead of financial reductions.

Opponents have argued that the cuts are unnecessarily cut-throat and motivated by increasing profit margins for a school that could do so in other ways less harmful to the academic offerings, while the school’s administration has repeatedly stated that reduction in faculty is a necessary evil of sorts to keep the school sustainably healthy long-term. Likely in an effort to get ahead of the bad headlines to come, Collado and Cornish wrote an op-ed in Inside Higher Education explaining their reasoning and defending their need to make “hard decisions.”

“Transformative change is difficult and frequently personal, and we understand that the changes to come for our academic programs and the changes that have already happened in our nonacademic programs profoundly affect the lives of our colleagues, friends, students, and alumni,” the statement announcing the decision read. “We have made our decisions with the full weight of this understanding and with the knowledge that we must find a sustainable size and an appropriate equilibrium that ensures the continuation of this institution and its ability to serve our students and our community in perpetuity.”

Ostensibly, this is the first step in a three-part process that will be followed by phases on “restructuring and reorganization” and then “growth in strategic areas,” overall coined the “Ithaca Forever” plan. Hopefully, that will mean that the 116 jobs lost during this phase will be the last mass staff cuts faced by IC employees, though over the summer the school also introduced certain cost-cutting initiatives which influenced some faculty members to either leave or take retirement deals.

The plan has generated plenty of controversy in the IC community, spawning groups of current students, faculty and staff (the #OpenTheBooks movement) and those who have already moved on (IC Alumni Against Austerity). The #OpenTheBooks campaign, specifically, has held events on and off-campus rallying support for their cause. #OpenTheBooks published a statement in the wake of the decision, continuing to argue that the school’s approach to the cuts has been shrouded in secrecy because of its refusal to engage more openly with those who oppose the cuts and question the need for them entirely.

“We have made clear that the APP goes beyond the ‘sustainability’ of Ithaca College; beyond an artificial fear of a ‘student enrollment cliff’ quickly approaching on the horizon; beyond the ‘right-sizing’ of a college which never felt too big, or too small, but felt like home,” read the statement from #OpenTheBooks, which has scarcely been addressed by administration since gathering momentum in the late fall. “The decision made today proves that the Ithaca College administration does not ‘prioritize student success and sense of belonging,’ as President Collado stated in today’s announcement. Cutting programs and educators that bring diverse perspectives and unique opportunities in favor of a profit-centered education model directly contradicts the values that Ithaca College promised students they would uphold. The implementation of drastic cuts ahead of any perceived long-term enrollment decrease, leaving students with larger classes and fewer opportunities for one-on-one engagement, is a recipe for disaster. Put more plainly, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy which guarantees the very student enrollment cliff which senior administrators fear so much.”

A chapter of a faculty advocacy group working on behalf of IC’s full-time faculty had already submitted a petition on Monday, Feb. 22 calling for the APP process to halt and reconsider its recommendations before moving forward. Yet with the decision to advance, they issued a follow-up on Wednesday. (Correction: The AAUP chapter is an advocacy group at IC, not a union with collective bargaining power)

“The Ithaca College chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is extremely disappointed by the College’s decision to accept the recommendation in the ‘Shape of the College’ document calling for the elimination of 116 full-time-equivalent faculty positions,” wrote chapter president Dan Breen. “Our objections, articulated in a petition that received 219 Ithaca College faculty signatures, were not addressed, nor were they even acknowledged; despite being delivered electronically Monday morning to the Provost, the President, and the Board of Trustees, none of the recipients has acknowledged receipt. The College insists that it has surveyed IC community feedback carefully, but we have yet to see any sustained engagement with a series of as yet unanswered questions. Why must the College’s enrollment be 5,000? If we are not in a state of financial exigency, as the case seems to be, then why are faculty positions being eliminated? And why must all of this happen now, when faculty colleagues will find themselves without employment during a global pandemic?”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com