Shirley M. Collado, president of Ithaca College, announced Thursday that she will step down early next year after four years in the role. News of her departure comes amid significant budget cuts and a sizable reduction in faculty members at the private liberal arts college.
Collado is leaving Ithaca to become president and CEO of College Track, an organization focused on helping low-income and first-generation students complete their college education.
“This move is not something that I was looking for,” Collado said. “I’ve been very, very focused on Ithaca.”
La Jerne Terry Cornish, provost at the college, will serve as interim president beginning Aug. 30, 2021. Collado will stay at Ithaca until Jan. 10 and will serve as a senior adviser to Cornish and the Ithaca College Board of Trustees.
The board will use the next six months to determine what qualities and experience it wants in the next president and how best to approach a search process, according to a statement from David Lissy, chair of the board, and Jim Nolan, vice chair of the board. They did not provide a timeline for the next presidential search.
Collado’s presidency was celebrated when it was announced in February 2017. She made history as the first college president to have attended college through a program funded by the Posse Foundation, an organization that sends groups of disadvantaged students to enroll together at various colleges.
She said leaving the private liberal arts college in upstate New York four years after her arrival is bittersweet.
“Timing is never good,” she said. “It’s a hard thing to transition from a place where you’ve been really invested and loved to something that’s just as extraordinary.”
Collado received wide support from the board throughout her tenure.
“On behalf of the board, we offer our most sincere congratulations to President Collado on her appointment at College Track and express our deepest appreciation for her service to Ithaca College over the past four years,” Lissy and Nolan wrote in the statement. “While we are saddened that she will be departing the college, we are pleased that she is being given this extraordinary opportunity to help support college access for deserving students -- a personal and professional passion that she has brought to all her work at IC.”
The reaction among rank-and-file faculty members was more mixed. Collado, Cornish and the Ithaca administration came under fire last year after announcing layoffs of more than 100 of the college’s 547 faculty members, with the cuts concentrated on part-time adjunct and non-tenure-track faculty members.
Rachel Fomalhaut, a writing and women’s and gender studies lecturer at the college and chair of the Ithaca College Contingent Faculty Union, said some faculty members were upset by Collado’s announcement of her departure and said she was abandoning the college right after wreaking havoc among faculty ranks. Fomalhaut was among those laid off. She is teaching summer courses but will not return to Ithaca in the fall.
“I, like a lot of folks, have been predicting that this was what was going to happen,” Fomalhaut said. “Because what we see across higher ed is that administrators come in, they make huge paychecks, they gut programs, they fire a bunch of faculty like President Collado did, and then they leave onto their bright future and they leave a mess in their wake.”
Other faculty members were taken off guard by Collado’s announcement.
“Most of the emails I’ve received today from faculty express surprise,” Dan Breen, an associate professor of English and president of the college’s American Association of University Professors chapter, wrote in an email.
Breen said he hopes that the Ithaca community will use the transition to think about ways to include all campus constituencies in college decision making.
“The important thing for faculty and staff here is to remember that a lot of the issues we experienced last year have a lot to do with the governance structure at Ithaca College,” Breen said. “That’s something that’s pretty deeply rooted and has less to do with the tenure of any one administrator and more to do with longer-term shifts in the culture of higher education in the U.S.”
Collado's departure from academia is not unusual, said L. Jay Lemons, president and senior consultant at Academic Search.
“For most folks, a college or university presidency is the capstone of their career,” he said. “Yet there are lots and lots of examples of people who have had second acts that have taken them into the world of adjacent organizations like foundations, think tanks and organizations that might more broadly serve higher education.”
Still, Collado’s tenure is relatively short -- the average college president spends 6.5 years at an institution, according to a 2016 study from the American Council on Education.
Lemons said he wouldn’t be surprised if the stress of the pandemic causes another decline in the average president’s tenure.
“I worry a lot about the high cost of living through this pandemic, in terms of wear and tear on presidents who already have big and challenging jobs,” he said.
Collado said she made the decision to leave Ithaca on her own and was not pressured by anyone to step down.
“If you’re beloved by everyone and there’s no tension around any decisions, you can’t be leading an organization in a remarkable way,” she said. “Regardless of views on campus, I feel really grounded that I have done what I need to do and thinking about that long-term view of placing students first.”