Board of Trustees must listen to student demands
On Nov. 30, the Ithaca College Student Government Association announced 2,695 students voted no confidence in President Tom Rochon, amounting to 71.75 percent of those who voted. Over half the student body — about 54 percent — participated in the vote.
The vote came about after a semester of upheaval featuring questions regarding the college’s racial climate and a perceived lack of inclusivity in decision making. Protests regarding the college’s racial climate were sparked, in part, by a number of racially charged incidents this semester including controversial remarks made by Public Safety officers during resident assistant training as well as a party theme of “preps and crooks” by the fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi that many students found racially offensive.
In addition, protests occurred after an incident at the college’s Blue Sky Reimagining Kick-off Event in which two alumni panelists referred to a woman of color alumna panelist as “the savage,” a comment many felt was racially offensive. Many criticized the administration and Rochon for taking much longer to respond to the events at the Blue Sky Reimagining than to the fraternity party and also questioned the nature of the administration’s response, which essentially said the college could not prevent hurtful language from being used.
The group spearheading the protests is POC at IC — which stands for People of Color at Ithaca College. POC at IC has advocated Rochon’s removal for failing to create a safe and inclusive campus climate, among other issues.
The Board of Trustees — which makes the decision whether Rochon stays or goes — should remove Rochon from his position, as a large number of the most important stakeholders at the college, students, have expressed no confidence in his leadership.
To their credit, Tom Grape — chair of the Board of Trustees — and David Lissy — vice chair of the Board of Trustees — came to campus in early December and met with members of the campus community. In a message sent out through Intercom, Grape and Lissy acknowledged the issues facing the college and vowed to take action. However, in an interview with The Ithacan Dec. 4, responding to a question of whether the Board of Trustees has confidence in Rochon, Grape said: “Right now, President Rochon is the president of Ithaca College, and we support the president of Ithaca College.”
It is clear, however, that if any progress is to be made, the Board of Trustees must listen to student activists and Rochon must go. Students are the ones that make this college viable as an institution of higher education. Presidents are expendable, students are not. Students opinions, which have been clearly shown through the no confidence vote, should be the priority.
However, some will likely argue as a reason for not taking the results of the vote seriously that the use of the number 71.75 percent as proof that a majority of students have no confidence in Rochon is misleading. And while it is true that the 2,695 students that voted no confidence in Rochon do not represent a majority of the entire student body — they constitute 39 percent of all students who received the link to the no confidence vote — this argument fundamentally misses the point.
It is true that 39 percent of the total student body voting no confidence sounds a lot less substantial than 71.75 percent of respondents voting no confidence. However, it is concerning that nearly four out of every 10 students on campus have no confidence in Rochon. And saying four of 10 students have no confidence in Rochon does not mean six out of every 10 have confidence in him, as only 14.7 percent of students on campus responded with confidence in Rochon.
It is significant when fewer than two out of every 10 students on campus have confidence in the president of the college and that is the number the Board of Trustees should examine when thinking about Rochon’s future tenure at the college.
Furthermore, it is particularly concerning that such a large portion of the African, Latino, Asian and Native American students at the college expressed no confidence in Rochon. Nearly 87 percent of ALANA respondents voted no confidence in Rochon and 93.42 percent of African American student respondents expressed qualms with the embattled president.
When the community of students who are saying they don’t feel safe on campus has such little faith in the leader of the institution to rectify the situation, it should be cause for concern. The Board of Trustees should take into account the degree to which ALANA students have expressed no confidence in Rochon and should take action based off the demands of POC at IC and the majority of students who participated in the no confidence vote.
In addition, it is important to recognize this is not only about Rochon, but also about a governing structure that does not feature shared governance between stakeholders at the college and allows a Board of Trustees made up primarily of business people — not educators — to have control over many of the important decisions the college makes, including whether a president the student body has clearly expressed no confidence in stays or goes. Although Grape and Lissy said the Board of Trustees passed a resolution in support of a rethinking of shared governance at the college, they have yet to prove the Board of Trustees will back this up with action.
The Board of Trustees must interpret the student actions this semester as not only an indictment of Rochon’s leadership, but also a strike at the heart of a leadership structure that often seems to prioritize the desires of the administration and the Board of Trustees over those of students and faculty.
The students are the ones paying tuition to attend this school, and their sentiments regarding Rochon’s leadership and the lack of support Rochon has with students on campus must be acted upon by the Board of Trustees.
Evan Popp is a sophomore journalism major who wishes the Board of Trustees would take a gap semester. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.