ITHACA, N.Y. –– Paula Twomey has been teaching in the City of Ithaca for decades and spent the bulk of her career as a Spanish teacher in the Ithaca City School District (ICSD) and elsewhere, retiring after 32 years in the classroom to become an adjunct instructor in the Department of Modern Languages & Literatures at Ithaca College.
It was a welcome change. Twomey said she was excited to take the next step in her teaching career and ultimately flourished in the new role, authoring three activity books for college-level Spanish courses. Twomey, who is an author with the academic publishing company Teacher’s Discovery, has also written four novelas — two of which are currently in production.
“They’ve been 12 wonderful years,” she said, reflecting on her time at the College. “It’s been a very rich experience and it’s really helped me grow.”
That all changed when on the evening of Jan. 16, Twomey and her spouse were about to sit down for dinner. Without giving it much thought, she decided to check her email and opened her inbox to a message from the chair of her department.
“I saw this email from the department chair whom I’ve always liked and have always gotten along with,” she said. “I had this email saying ‘Paula I’m really sorry to have to tell you, but as of the fall, you will no longer have a position with us.’”
The shoe had dropped, but according to Twomey, the writing was already on the wall. A course that she teaches, Spanish 102, was supposed to have two sections in the spring 2021 semester. Now, it would only have one. Before receiving her own notification of job loss, an unnamed adjunct professor who had been teaching the other section lost their position in October 2020.
This adjunct professor, Twomey and many others are among those whose positions at the College have been eliminated as a result of the Academic Program Prioritization (APP) process. The gears of this plan to downsize the College started turning in fall 2018, accelerating in 2019 with the formation of the Academic Program Prioritization Advisory Committee (APPAC) and the Academic Program Prioritization Implementation Committee (APPIC) — a committee of administrators, directors and deans. The COVID-19 pandemic also exacerbated the College’s $24.5 million financial deficit, as enrollment decreased by 15 percent in 2020. According to Inside Higher Ed, the APPIC is trying to reduce this deficit by slashing non-tenure-track (NTEN) faculty positions, which will save the College nearly $8 million annually. As a result, the cuts will start by relieving the College of $7 million in pandemic-related expenses for fiscal year 2020-2021.
On Feb. 18 of this year, the APPIC announced that it would reduce 116 full-time equivalent (FTE) hours. Director of Public Relations at Ithaca College Dave Maley said that the recommendations decided upon by the administration include eliminating 31 currently filled full-time faculty positions over the next three years.
“To achieve a total reduction of 116 FTEs (full-time equivalent hours), the college will take a number of additional steps,” he told The Ithaca Voice via email. “These include not filling positions that have been or will be vacated through voluntary retirements and departures, reducing the number of hours faculty work and get paid for above and beyond their usual job expectations, and reducing the number of part-time contracts we issue each semester.”
However, for now, it remains unclear just how many Ithacans who are not full-time will be laid off as a result of the APP process.
Six days after the APPIC’s announcement, Ithaca College President Shirley M. Collado and Provost La Jerne Terry Cornish approved the recommendations outlined in the “Shape of the College” document released earlier this year
This approval created a chain reaction of meetings –– passing the buck on who would be the ones to break the news of faculty firings. Deans met with department chairs who have since notified each faculty member of their employment status.
In the span of a week or less, Twomey and dozens of other professors in the School of H&S found out they would only be able to teach for one more year. Fortunately for Twomey, the loss of her position at the College will not force her to leave Ithaca –– a consequence that others are facing in the wake of the massive cuts.
“I won’t have the inspiration of being in the classroom and being with young people,” Twomey said. “But I think I will continue to do some editorial work for my publisher and keep generating materials for students.”
The Ithaca Voice talked to seven professors for this story, five of whom are facing job loss. Many are devastated by the elimination of their positions and face uncertain futures.
One of the professors facing an uncertain future outside of just employment is Dr. Alex Moon, an assistant professor in the Department of Politics who has worked at the College for 21 years where he has taught both politics and legal studies courses. Outside the classroom, Moon has also contributed to IC’s campus culture through work on the Faculty Council, where he helped develop a plan to combat microaggressions through the diversity and inclusion task force. According to The Ithacan, the College’s student-run newspaper, Moon is currently writing a book “about the epistemic duties of citizens,” and “what they need to know to be viable political actors and respond to others who spread falsehoods, are unreasonably credulous or choose to remain ignorant.”
Moon learned that he was being fired after the APPIC published their “Shape of the College” draft. It came as a surprise, mainly because Moon had not been teaching low enrollment classes that the two APP committees deemed expendable. Rather suddenly, his modest salary, home in Ithaca and the custody of his 12-year-old daughter were all at stake.
Moon said that being laid off made it harder to enjoy everyday things as a result of feeling depressed and anxious. Something he still relishes, though, is being in the classroom; he said that teaching and fostering connections with students has been as rewarding as ever — even with his limited time at the College. Despite his broad range of expertise, it’s unlikely that Moon, 56 years old, will be able to continue his career in academia at another institution.
“The chances that I’ll be able to get an academic job that replaces even half of the income that I make now are negligible,” he said. “I’m going to have to leave the field and I have no idea what I’m going to do.”
The APP is forcing faculty members to search for new career paths at a time when employment, especially in higher education, remains scarce amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. Just seven years ago, Dr. Fae Dremock joined the Department of Environmental Studies & Sciences as an assistant professor. She was a national hire and lived in Texas before coming to Ithaca. Since then, she has become deeply embedded in the College, serving on the Faculty Council and Provost Council for Diversity and Inclusion. Dremock also made notable curricular contributions, developing courses that embolden young environmentalists to stand up for sustainability by combining their knowledge of environmental justice and communications.
“Environmental people need to be able to talk (about) the environment,” she said. “They need to be able to actually write and speak in ways that are interesting about the science that they know — and they’re not getting that elsewhere at the College.”
On the day after the APPIC released their “Shape of the College” draft, Dremock received an email from her Dean stating that effective May 2022, the distinguished environmental professor will lose her position at the College.
“This is a field and a job that I love,” she said. “When they told me I was going, I felt incredibly paralyzed.”
Like Moon, Dremock too has fallen on hard times. Neither of them can afford to stay in Ithaca without a stable teaching job at the College. And without ample employment in academia elsewhere, faculty members who once made lasting impressions and curricular contributions during their time at Ithaca College will be detached from the very calling they were hired to answer.
“It will take a lot of luck to find another job, but it’s probable that I will not be able to teach again,” Dremock said. “I’ve grown up rough and I’ve had to move, but I didn’t think I was going to have to do that this time.”
The “Shape of the College” document indicates that the School of H&S will see the most layoffs, as 20 departments will be losing a total of 41 FTE faculty positions. The greatest backlash within H&S against the College’s downsizing plan can be attributed to the Department of Politics. On Feb. 3, the department published a letter outlining the detriments of the APP process; it argued that “austerity cuts” will not only impede interdisciplinarity, student retention and global awareness, but they will also create curricular deficits. The unanimous departmental response also rejected the loss of Moon and longtime Politics professor Juan Arroyo. Collectively, the two professors have worked at the College for over 40 years.
Dr. Patricia Rodriguez, associate professor and chair of the Department of Politics, is a tenured faculty member who has been outspoken in her criticism of the APPIC through anti-austerity groups like Open the Books. Rodriguez and Open the Books have demanded financial transparency from the College for months. She and other community members have gone as far as to suggest a range of alternatives to the APP process (see coverage of this in The Ithacan). So far, the APPIC has been reluctant to engage in an open, unfiltered dialogue with the Ithaca College community about why the proposed alternatives will not be pursued in the final version of the plan.
Thanks to precise legal language, Ithaca College has also managed to override the activity agreements of its faculty members. These negotiated appointments, which are essentially contracts between an employee and their employer, dictate how many years an individual can work for. Once an employee nears the end of their activity agreement, they can typically renew it after negotiating the terms of their continued employment.
“Alex Moon has negotiated a contract that should get him through 2025, and he’s being fired in 2022,” Rodriguez said. “Three years before the end of his agreement.”
Arroyo is facing a similar dilemma, as his activity agreement doesn’t expire until 2024, and the two Politics professors certainly aren’t alone.
Anyone who isn’t tenured — contingents, adjuncts and NTENs — can retain their positions “enrollment notwithstanding.” In other words, the vulnerability of non-tenured faculty members increases while enrollment decreases. Now that the College is attempting to maneuver a pandemic-induced enrollment cliff, the vulnerability of faculty members is at an all-time high.
This outcome, as Rodriguez explained, resulted from a historic failure of Ithaca College administrations to permanently secure the positions of longtime faculty members.
“We should have been able to, throughout these years, convert those lines into tenure lines,” she said. “But that was not forthcoming from the administrations — not just this one.”
Collado and Cornish explicitly recognized the privilege granted to tenure-track and tenured faculty members in their op-ed “Now Is the Time for Hard Decisions,” which Inside Higher Ed published on Feb. 18 — the same day that the APPIC released their “Shape of the College” draft. In the op-ed, they write that the “rules guiding the elimination of faculty positions mean(s) that, in this moment, the college will lose some wonderful academics due solely to their status as non-tenure-eligible faculty. We hope that this reality will invite a conversation among faculty about faculty legislation and whether they wish to continue to privilege tenure and tenure-eligible status moving forward.”
Despite this recognition, non-tenure-eligible faculty members will continue to lose their positions at the College. This is because the Faculty Handbook has granted job security to professors with tenure and tenure-eligible status that most of the College’s “wonderful academics” simply do not have. The undisputed privilege of tenured and tenure-eligible professors became a point of criticism in a recent editorial by The Ithacan, which begged the question: “What use does a conversation about this have after the fact?”
“I’ve always known that enrollments and my job were tied together because of being in a non-tenure-line position, and that is something that is made pretty clear in the paperwork,” Dr. Kathryn Caldwell, associate professor in the Department of Psychology, said of her position at the College.
Caldwell has worked at the College for more than 15 years. Her involvement, like others talked to for this story, went beyond the classroom. She once weighed the prospects of returning to Mueller Chapel where, before the novel coronavirus pandemic, she facilitated meditations for students during the noon hour. Now, she has limited time to engage with students who have made her time at the College worthwhile. Caldwell enjoyed collaborating on research projects almost as much as she liked teaching courses in developmental and conservation psychology.
“I have always known in the back of my mind that I was more vulnerable,” she said. “I started to feel more vulnerable than ever this summer; that just continued with the discussions in the fall.”
Inevitably, she received the call —for her, again like her colleagues, the call came shortly after the APPIC released their “Shape of the College” draft. Despite preparing herself psychologically, she couldn’t help but feel stunned. Caldwell called the elimination of her position an enormous loss, adding that she felt like her time at the College was cut short; she was befuddled and found herself searching for answers, so she met with Dean Stein.
“I had a long list of questions and I never felt very satisfied with the answers,” Caldwell said. “She really didn’t give me an adequate explanation.”
This inadequacy spilled over into conversations with colleagues, with some advising that she not to take the loss of her job personally.
“I think about how antithetical that is to everything the College is about,” she said. “The College certainly touts the fact that we are personal in our relationships with students — that is what we are about, that personal connection. So, how could it be then that the relationship between (…) administrator and faculty isn’t also personal?”
Caldwell, a 53-year-old, said that she may be forced to leave academia for good and expressed concerns about finding a new job. She is currently living locally with her spouse and their teenage daughter.
Some faculty members remember the inauguration of Ithaca College President Shirley M. Collado fondly. She hosted lavish receptions with food, drinks and live performances to entertain guests — occasionally boosting morale with speeches about the bright future of the College.
But now, those same faculty members see the current administration in a different light.
“She has made a stupendous show of being open and friendly — I loved her at first,” Dr. Harriet Malinowtiz, lecturer in the Department of Writing and the Women’s and Gender Studies program, said of President Collado. “It just seems like when people become administrators they think in fiscal terms and they just forget that they’re there for education.”
The APPIC recently laid off Malinowitz and, as a result, she will not be able to continue with her ongoing research project.
“Once we’re gone, we’re not going to have access to a research library anymore,” she said. “And we’ve asked if they could create a position like ‘research associate’ which costs them absolutely nothing (…) they just categorically said ‘no.’”
Fortunately for Malinowitz, the loss of her position at the College will not be forcing her into dire financial stress. Although she only has a year left in the classroom, she hasn’t let this discourage her from honoring the liberal arts spirit. She teaches an academic writing course in propaganda, and has since prompted students to evaluate discourse regarding the APP process. They have been working with an excess of primary sources from the APPIC to apply what they’ve learned in class; these students have a critical eye for “God terms” like “shared governance,” “rightsizing” and even “transparency,” which the administration has used to describe the APP process.
When she’s not teaching or working on research, Malinowitz is chronicling the stories of recently laid-off faculty members for The Ithacan. In an interview with The Ithaca Voice, she criticized the inaccessible format of faculty webinars hosted by the Ithaca College administration. She said that these “Town Halls” prompted administrators with vetted questions that faculty members could not follow-up on. Those in attendance could not unmute themselves and speak freely, nor were they able to use the chat function on Zoom. Additionally, the administration barred The Ithacan from attending the faculty webinars. Although President Collado and other members of the administration reduced their salaries for fiscal year 2020-2021, the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) has not revealed: their current annual salaries, the percentage decrease to their salaries, or the number of SLT members who opted for the reduction.
The SLT has worked to provide opportunities for Ithaca College community members to offer feedback on the APP process. Collado has been hosting open office hours to connect with students who have questions or comments regarding the College’s downsizing plan. Ithaca College administrators also requested letters from a multitude of departments and programs following the release of the “Shape of the College” draft, specifically requesting each of them to denote the curricular value they offer to the institution as a whole. In a recent Q&A with Madison Fernandez, contributing reporter at The Ithaca Voice and Editor-in-chief of The Ithacan, President Collado said that the status of the College’s endowment and its audited financials have been made public. Dave Maley said that although 60% percent of the endowment’s net assets do not have specific donor restrictions, “the endowment is a financial asset that is intended to sustain the college for the long term.”
“Dipping deeply into that resource on a one-time basis would do nothing to resolve existing, ongoing structural imbalances, and would mean the loss of that [principle] and its ability to generate investment income,” he said in an email. “As it is, the college regularly draws 4.5% of the endowment to apply toward the annual operating budget. This translates to approximately $15 million in funds each year to support ongoing operations and student financial aid.”
On Feb. 17, the Faculty Council Executive Committee (FCEC) published the results of a survey measuring the percentage of faculty members in support of the now-finalized recommendations. They found that an overwhelming 248 of 319 respondents opposed the cuts, with many questioning the strategic calculus of the APPIC. Although the survey is “far from scientific and does not capture all faculty voices,” the FCEC concluded that “many see the reductions as untethered to a clearly articulated vision for Ithaca College.”
Malinowitz echoed the need for a more constructive, open dialogue between the administration and the Ithaca College community.
“They let us say things and none of it gets factored into what they decide to do,” she said. “We need people to think in fiscal terms, but we don’t need people who only think in fiscal terms.”
In fall 2019, the Contingent Faculty Union at Ithaca College was roughly 300 members strong. But after the APPIC finalized their plan to downsize the College, only a few dozen union members remain. Rachel Fomalhaut, former chair and current steward of the Contingent Faculty Union, is one of them. Come May 2022, she will no longer have a position at the College.
“I’ve been depressed by this because it’s just really demoralizing to see people in power who make a lot of money themselves — like well over $200,000 — to just be treating people so cavalierly during a crisis,” she said, also lamenting the “complete disconnect from the administration’s rhetoric to what’s actually happening.”
The Contingent Faculty Union has spent months requesting information on the College’s granular financials even as the Collado administration asserts that this information is already available to the public.
“They have to see just how shattered the morale is amongst their employees, a lot of their students and a lot of their alumni,” Fomalhaut said.
“A lot of us make our lives here,” she continued. “We want to be local; that’s not everybody but that’s a lot of us — there’s something particularly Ithacan about that population.”
The administration’s definition of “shared governance” is different from that of the community’s. Many Ithaca College community members are frustrated to see the haste of the APP process as it moves forward with approval from President Collado and Provost Cornish. Students, faculty, staff and alumni want to collaborate with the administration to develop an equitable plan for the College’s future. For them, it isn’t enough that the APPIC is deciding what is and isn’t possible. They want to know why these changes are absolutely necessary. Without transparency from the administration, distrust may persist between community members and the APPIC — administrators who will ostensibly impotize their institution’s pedagogy.
Ithaca Voice intern Steffani Farquharson contributed to this reporting.
Photos by Alisha Tamarchenko
UPDATE: The original story contained an error saying that the “Faculty Handbook makes one distinction overtly clear: the administration will be completely shielded from the impacts of economic downturn.” This issue has since been addressed, as there have been cuts to the administration because of the APP process.