Move comes after protests calling for his resignation
Ithaca College President Tom Rochon announced Jan. 14 that he will retire on July 1, 2017, after the upcoming 2016–17 academic year, writing that it will be most beneficial for a new president to lead the college and address the challenges that have emerged at the institution.
The message, sent out to the campus community through Intercom, comes after a semester of upheaval at the college in which the group POC at IC, which stands for People of Color at Ithaca College, spearheaded protests demanding Rochon’s resignation due to their belief that Rochon had failed to foster an inclusive and safe community for people of color, among other issues.
Protests became a regular part of the fall semester as POC at IC held a rally on Oct. 21, protested at an Open House admissions event on Oct. 24, occupied the stage at the Oct. 27 event “Addressing Community Action on Racism and Cultural Bias,” staged Walk-outs on Nov. 11 and Dec. 11 and occupied the Peggy Ryan Williams Center — the main administrative building on campus — from Dec. 7 through Dec. 13 demanding that Rochon resign.
These actions were spurred, in part, by a number of racially charged incidents at the college. Early in the fall semester, resident assistants protested when Public Safety officers made racially charged comments during a training session. In addition, many were upset after the fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi announced a “preps and crooks” themed party, which many found to be racially offensive. Anger at Rochon was also expressed after the Blue Sky Reimagining Kick-Off event on Oct. 8 during which two white alumni referred to a woman of color alumna as “the savage” multiple times without any move by the administration to stop the use of the term. Rochon later said he regretted not stepping in and stopping the use of the word “savage.”
Following these events, the Student Government Association and Faculty Council organized student and faculty votes of no confidence in Rochon. In the student vote of no confidence, in which 54 percent of students voted, 71.75 percent of students expressed no confidence in Rochon’s leadership. In the faculty vote, 77.8 percent of faculty voted no confidence in Rochon in a vote where 86.6 percent of eligible faculty members voted. Staff are in the process of holding a no confidence vote in Rochon.
Rochon also drew the ire of many faculty members for his perceived top-down, dictatorial approach to leadership and introduction of initiatives such as Blue Sky which many felt to be a waste of time and an action that undermined the work faculty do in the classroom.
However, it has not just been this semester that the campus has expressed qualms with Rochon’s leadership. In the 2014–15 academic year, students protested over the lack of a structured Native American studies minor on campus, which many felt was unacceptable given the fact the college is built on what used to be Native American land.
In addition, protesters during the 2014–15 year called for Rochon to speak out about police brutality after the killings of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and other black individuals at the hands of police officers. Rochon declined to speak about the issue of police brutality at that protest. Those protests, and others during Rochon’s tenure at the college, sowed the seeds of the massive upheavals the campus experienced during the Fall 2015 semester.
In his message to the campus community on Jan. 14, Rochon wrote that the 2017 retirement date will allow the Board of Trustees to find a suitable replacement for him. Tom Grape, chair of the Board of Trustees, and David Lissy, vice chair of the Board of Trustees, also released a message to the campus community on Jan. 14. In their message, they wrote that since Rochon will be staying on as president until 2017, there will be no need for an interim president at the college.
Shortly after the announcement, POC at IC posted on their Facebook page: “And there it is: Tom Rochon announces his early retirement from his position effective July 2017.
There is power in the collective.
We did it!
Students @ IC did it!
Faculty @ IC did it!
Staff @ IC did it!
IC Alumni did it!
As of 3 p.m. on Jan. 14, over 260 people had liked the post.
Rochon had previously said on multiple occasions that he was not considering resigning and even wrote an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education titled “Why Embattled Leaders Should Be Stepping Up, Not Stepping Down,” which was published on Nov. 16. However, Rochon wrote in his statement on Jan. 14 that he came to the decision after much reflection over the winter break. He wrote that he was proud of his accomplishments as president, specifically citing the implementation of key elements of the IC 20/20 strategic plan.
In addition, Rochon also touted his economic stewardship of the college.
“Perhaps most important in this era of economic constraints, we have introduced administrative and operational efficiencies that preserve first-class, student-oriented service while enabling us to hold tuition increases down to historically low levels and more than double the college’s financial aid budget to nearly $120 million projected for next year,” he wrote.
However, Rochon did acknowledge the gravity of the challenges that emerged during the fall semester.
“I believe it is best for IC to be led in the future by a president chosen by the board specifically to make a fresh start on these challenges, including those that became so apparent to us all last semester,” he wrote.
Rochon added that he envisions working with the campus community during the remainder of his time as president in a collaborative way to make headway on “issues of diversity and inclusion, shared governance, and decision making.”
Faculty Council released a statement regarding Rochon’s announcement, saying that it looked forward to working with all members of the campus community to further the goals of the college during the transition period.
“This has been a tumultuous year at many institutions of higher learning, including Ithaca College. This fall, strong voices raised issues vital to the health of our institution and our society; we as faculty have much work ahead of us. Faculty Council will work with the entire faculty and benefit from our colleagues’ diverse perspectives to build for the future in collaboration with the broader campus community,” the statement read.
The message to the campus community released by the Board of Trustees praised Rochon’s tenure at the college. The Board of Trustees also wrote that the search process for Rochon’s replacement will likely begin this summer and made clear that the Board will retain the responsibility of selecting the new president, although the Trustees pledged to listen and seek out the input of members of the campus community throughout the process.
The Board also pledged to work toward trying to address the challenges brought up on campus during the fall semester and wrote that legitimate issues had been brought up by the campus community.
“We must focus on the serious and important initiatives underway to promote diversity and inclusion on campus,” Grape and Lissy wrote. “At the same time, we must also address the broader set of concerns raised by faculty, staff, and students over the last semester around the areas of college governance, campus culture, shared values, and a more engaged leadership with all levels of the IC community.”
However, the message also criticized some of the action on campus during the fall semester.
“Unfortunately, from our perspective, some activities on campus during the last several months have lacked important elements necessary for building and strengthening our community,” Grape and Lissy wrote. “At times during the unrest on campus last fall, some community members engaged in personal attacks, promulgated misinformation, and promoted tactics on social media that sought to harm our college.
“We also heard from some who felt silenced for expressing opinions that differed from those of their peers or leaders, or that were not in sync with the loudest voices on campus.”
The Board of Trustees also wrote that it will be working with Benjamin Rifkin, provost and vice president for educational affairs, and a group made up of faculty, staff, students and members of the administration to devise methods of shared governance at the college.
However, Asma Barlas, a professor in the Department of Politics and one of the leading community members advocating for Rochon to resign, wrote in an email that the Board of Trustees’ statement regarding Rochon’s retirement sends the wrong message.
“For me, this is bad news,” Barlas wrote. “Basically, Rochon is being allowed to serve out his remaining term which was set to expire in 2017 anyway. And, in the interim, the Board has issued a rather disciplining sort of an ‘alert’ scolding various unnamed people and making it clear that it will be backing Rochon’s policies even though students and faculty had rejected some of these last semester, like having a new chief diversity officer.”
Barlas wrote that it is unacceptable for Rochon to be allowed to stay for another year and a half after the students and faculty both expressed no confidence in his leadership.
“What does it mean for Rochon and the Board to ignore that the overwhelming majority of students and faculty who voted said they have no confidence in him?” Barlas wrote. “How are we supposed to ‘follow the leader’ whom we have basically rejected for another year and a half? This is a farce and an insult.”
Rochon has served as president of the college since July 2008.
Evan Popp is sophomore journalism major. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.