Fighting austerity and demanding transparency
In a world where you are one click away from a seemingly infinite amount of information and a global pandemic is pulling at the economy, it can be difficult to understand why Ithaca College continuously refuses to share its financial records and recently announced the termination of 116 full-time equivalent faculty positions. These same questions are echoed by IC Open the Books, a coalition organized by students, alumni, faculty and passionate neighbors. They define themselves as a group of “Ithaca College students, faculty, staff, and alumni demanding an immediate end to layoffs and real decision making power,” according to their Instagram bio.
The decision to downsize the college was a result of the Academic Program Prioritization Implementation Committee, who believe that the student-to-faculty ratio should be changed from 9.4:1 to 12:1. Their full recommendations regarding the size of the college, which were finalized Feb. 18, can be found in “The Shape of the College” document on Ithaca College’s website. Even though the decisions have been made, third-year English and sociology major Julia Machlin, a leader of IC Open the Books, says the organization “will continue trying to have our voices and the voices of our faculty and mentors heard.”
In a message addressed to the Ithaca College community, President Collado deems this change necessary in order to “continue to prioritize student success and sense of belonging, to better respond to student interests, and to offer a high-quality experience that is accessible and affordable.” However, as the existence of IC Open the Books proves, the college is doing the opposite of supporting its students by reducing its faculty. Mint Cadigan, a member of IC Open the Books and a second-year Writing for Film, TV & Emerging Media and English major at Ithaca College, agrees.
“Moving forward with the Shape of the College will undermine the faith our student body and community have in the administration,” said Cadigan.
The phrase “open the books” has been used to call for financial transparency. In relation to IC Open the Books, this phrase demands that the college present granular financials not viewable in the 990s, tax forms that tell the public about the financial information of the organization. They want to know why the college is deciding to lay off an alarming number of professors, especially in the middle of a global long-term crisis. The college community will not only lose mentors, advisors, supporters and leaders; those laid off will lose their livelihoods as well. The pandemic does not make employment easy for those in higher education. Aware of what’s at risk for fired faculty and staff, IC Open the Books doesn’t want to just know why these layoffs are occurring—they want the college to halt these layoffs entirely.
Another vital question is how many fired faculty and staff will be BIPOC, NTEN or of junior ranking. These are the staff Ithaca College needs now more than ever. They help shape the future of students that see themselves in them. Cadigan acknowledges that the professor who “guided me down the path of actually choosing to do a dual degree and become an English major” was one of the many being fired.
IC Open the Books is not just about this current moment at Ithaca College; they want to change how decisions are made. As they state in their #OpentheBooks letter to the college linked on their Instagram, they want to “be full partners in the decision-making and goal-setting processes for our college.” In other words, they wish to make decision-making more equitable, and to include those impacted by the decisions in the discussion.
The coalition has held multiple protests and rallies asking for transparency and a halt to the plans made by the college. They have circulated an active document in which fired faculty may volunteer their names, departments, identities and any involvement in the IC community. They have demonstrated through social media and in front of Peggy Ryan Williams their disapproval of the college’s plans. On Feb. 22, two bills were passed through IC’s Student Governance Council, one that asks for financial transparency and another that announces no confidence in the APPIC’S recommendation.
If you are interested in becoming involved, IC Open the Books has meetings every Tuesday. They supply the link on their Instagram, which is @icopenthebooks.
Kristen Gregg is a third-year writing major who wrote this whole article in Sharpie. They can be reached at [email protected].
Art by Carolyn Langer.