Vote features participation by a majority of faculty
After 71.75 percent of student respondents voted no confidence in President Tom Rochon at the end of November, faculty at Ithaca College have followed suit, with 77.8 percent of faculty respondents voting no confidence in the embattled leader.
The results of the vote, which were released Dec. 14 following a voting period of Nov. 30 through Dec. 11, featured just 22.2 percent of faculty respondents expressing confidence in Rochon’s leadership.
The no confidence votes by students and faculty have come after a semester of turmoil surrounding Rochon’s presidency. The group POC at IC, which stands for People of Color at Ithaca College, has demanded Rochon’s resignation for failing to create an inclusive and safe campus climate. Additional issues, such as a perceived top down, dictatorial leadership structure, have been raised by faculty members regarding Rochon’s leadership.
In the faculty vote, 86.6 percent of eligible faculty voted. In contrast, 54 percent of the student body responded to the student vote of no confidence. In total, 316 faculty members out of the 469 that received the poll voted no confidence in Rochon, coming out to 67.4 percent of the entire full-time, continuing faculty population at the college.
Derek Adams, an assistant professor in the Department of English, said he was surprised and heartened by the number of faculty that participated in the vote.
“I had assumed that roughly 50 percent of the faculty might be respondents to the referendum,” Adams said. “So I think more so than seeing the 77 percent and then the 22 percent either for or against, much more surprising to me than that breakdown was the fact that our respondent [rate] was in the 80 percent range.”
Adams said that response rate mattered to him because of criticism he had heard of the percentage of students who voted in the student vote of no confidence, which Adams said some believed was indicative of a lack of engagement by students. However, Adams said he defended the student vote, saying students did a good job generating turnout for the referendum.
Following the faculty vote of no confidence, Rochon issued a statement. The statement gave no indication that Rochon is considering resigning despite pressure being put on him to do so.
“The message that has come through to me in the form of the student and faculty votes has been a difficult one to hear, but I am listening,” Rochon wrote. “I understand that many people on our campus are frustrated with the pace of change and with my own role in effecting it. I remain determined to improve Ithaca College’s culture for the better, and that includes improving my own approach to collaborating with our faculty, staff, and students. l am committed to working with every faculty member, every staff member, and every student who desires to make Ithaca College a more welcoming and inclusive community. That is how I can best serve the college, and it will continue to be the focus of my efforts and attention.”
In addition, Tom Grape, the chair of the Ithaca College Board of Trustees — which has the power to determine whether Rochon stays or goes — released a statement regarding the vote:
“As we outlined earlier this month, over the last couple of months we have actively engaged with students, faculty, staff, alums, and parents to gain as full an understanding as possible of our community’s perspectives about the best path forward for Ithaca College in light of recent events,” Grape wrote. “The votes of campus constituencies represent one way, along with the many interactions we’ve had on campus and by phone and email, for students and faculty to make their views known to us.
“We will brief the full board of trustees on everything we have learned and we intend to share an update with the IC community early in the spring semester,” the statement continued. “We know that in many respects this discussion has been difficult, yet we also believe that it demonstrates our community’s strong dedication to building a better future for Ithaca College. As the discussion goes on, we ask that all of us in the IC community conduct it with respect for one another and with a commitment to the open exchange of different ideas and perspectives.”
At 11:40 a.m., following the release of the results of the faculty no confidence vote, the group Faculty@IC distributed a press release regarding the referendum.
In that press release, Peyi Soyinka-Airewele, a professor in the Department of Politics, is quoted as saying: “This vote is an absolute indictment of failed leadership. It is a signal of our unity and a clear statement from our newly empowered voice. President Rochon can now aspire to his finest hour by honoring the will of the campus and standing down with resolve and some dignity.”
The press release also included a section titled “An Appeal to the Board of Trustees” in which Faculty@IC expressed their appreciation that Grape and David Lissy, vice chair of the Board of Trustees, had spent time on campus meeting with different members of the community and that the two Board of Trustees members have said they are committed to working with the campus community to solve the issues with the college’s governance.
While he relayed his gratitude for the involvement of Grape and Lissy, Nick Kowalczyk, an associate professor in the Department of Writing, said the Board of Trustees has a clear path forward after the results of the student and faculty vote.
“For the long-term health and viability of our college, it is clear the only way for the trustees to de-escalate the turmoil on our campus is to remove President Rochon, effective immediately,” he said in the press release.
Asma Barlas, a professor in the Department of Politics, said the results of the vote show that Rochon’s presidency has run its course.
“It’s time for the [Board of Trustees] to let Rochon go,” Barlas wrote in an email. “With over 70% of both the students and faculty saying they have no confidence in him, I can’t imagine how he can stay on and make any kind of headway on any issue.”
Barlas added that the erosion of Rochon’s moral authority to deal with the issues at the college is beyond repair.
Robert Sullivan, an associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies, said he has no confidence in Rochon. Sullivan said he was encouraged by the faculty turnout for the vote and added that he hopes the Board of Trustees will act in the best interests of the campus community.
“I hope that the Board of Trustees acts wisely,” Sullivan said. “We have obviously come to a situation where neither the faculty nor the student body has confidence in the president’s ability to get us out of this situation.”
Sullivan said the vote is not the end of the faculty’s role in the situation, however.
“A vote doesn’t relieve us of our responsibilities,” he said. “Now is when we have to turn around and readjust our focus away from what the president’s been doing toward what we have to do in terms of making this the best place we can.”
Mat Fournier, an assistant professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, said he was not able to participate in the faculty vote because he is on a fixed-term contract and Faculty Council determined that no fixed-term or part-time faculty could participate in the vote.
In an article published on Nov. 12, The Ithacan quoted Peter Rothbart, chair of Faculty Council, as saying the general consensus within Faculty Council as the rationale for why part-time faculty were not allowed to participate in the vote was that part-time faculty are “somewhat transient.”
Fournier said he wishes he, and others in his position, had the opportunity to vote along with full-time faculty.
““I would have rather been able to vote,” Fournier said. “Absolutely. I think because there are many people in my situation, and I think we are part of the community and we have … issues that are the same as other faculty.”
Adams said he doesn’t know what the next steps are regarding Rochon and his presidency at the college. However, Adams said his focus will be on students who are feeling burnt-out by the events occurring on campus.
“I think personally, what I will do in terms of my own response moving forward is continue working with students who feel like they’ve been overwhelmed and exhausted by the things that have happened on campus this semester,” Adams said. “Trying to encourage them, especially this week, to engage in self-care.”
Evan Popp is a sophomore journalism major. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.