October 22, 2021

Vision takes focus

A year in, Montague plans TC3’s future

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Tompkins Cortland Community College president Orinthia Montague stands Thursday in her office, which overlooks the new construction of the Arthur Kuckes Childcare Center. Montague has completed her first year as TC3 president.

DRYDEN — At Coltivare in Ithaca, the farm-to-table restaurant of Tompkins Cortland Community College, a green cocktail is named after TC3 President Orinthia Montague.

Called simply: “Orinthia” — it has pineapple vodka, Midouri, sour mix and pineapple juice, a nod to Montague’s taste for sweet cocktails.

Over breaks from campus interviews over a year ago, she would frequent the restaurant and ask the staff to make her a fruity drink; that’s what they came up with.

A year into her presidency, Montague’s tastes haven’t changed — she still enjoys sweet drinks — but some of her goals and visions for the college have.

While Montague’s idea of creating a campus that has regular dialogues about diversity and gender issues remain, she now has a clearer view of what course offerings would benefit the college.

From her campus office Thursday, where she has a sweeping view of the ongoing child care center construction, Montague said she envisions a college in the future that offers more career programs.

Classes where students will learn skills to enter technical fields after graduating, opening doors for students who may not want to transfer credits to another institution, she said.

This could enhance the local work force, she said, with graduates qualified as machinists or welders.

Montague said space at the college could be repurposed to accommodate these classes. She wants to forge partnerships with employers to help, but has yet to have those conversations.

Montague said she’s committed to keeping education affordable and for the first time in 24 years the college held tuition flat at $4,950 for full-time students or $181 per credit hour.

This came at a cost in the $40.7 million budget — two layoffs and 11 other job eliminations, a practice Montague says won’t be sustainable, but she hopes to continue eyeing efficiencies. Some jobs haven’t been evaluated in more than 20 years, she said, and can be updated.

The campus still uses a courier to relay messages between main campus and its extension centers — a task that could be done digitally.

“In my experience we went away from that a long time ago,” she said. “If you get a message you can scan it or secure Dropbox it.”

Provost John Conners, who is retiring in August, will be replaced by a more junior provost, at a cost savings. Two previous positions of dean of instruction and dean of institutional research will be consolidated into a single associate provost position and two faculty office suites that used to employ four secretaries will now share three.

Montague also hopes to reverse the trend of declining enrollment.

In 2016-17, the full-time equivalent student enrollment was 3,477. In 2017-18, it was 3,460.

It’s a difficult tide to turn, she said, but she hopes by increasing marketing efforts — there are new billboards up along Route 13 and elsewhere — and paying more attention to student life services for students who choose to live on campus, it will get there.

She’s also hoping in the future the sponsoring counties of Cortland and Tompkins will increase their contribution. This year’s budget included no increase in contributions from them — Tompkins County’s share is $3 million and Cortland County’s share is $1.7 million.

Montague has also started a series of diversity dialogues on campus, having more than 20 staff and faculty become trained facilitators — conversing often with students about equity and diversity.

A book she recommended to guide those conversations was, “A good time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota.” Montague was previously chief diversity officer at Normandale Community College in Bloomington. It’s not specific to Minnesota, she says; it offers an insight into race relations everywhere.

After reading it, she said, people can “better help visualize and understand what people bring with them.”

Conners said he has been struck by the rapport Montague has with students, saying it is clear she genuinely cares about them and they respond to that.

“Her background in student life has served her and the college very well. She has emphasized the importance of the quality of the student experience, and that emphasis has been the foundation of all of her decisions,” said Conners in an e-mail last week. He expects this focus on students will be a major element of the college’s strategic plan, which Montague will lead in developing next year.

Montague finds the college to still be as welcoming and supportive as a year ago.

“When I interviewed here I felt it was a good, supportive culture, people were committed and I’m glad that it’s true,” she said. “Every day that I come back I find that to be very true, people are very committed to this college and want it to be successful.”