Hope and accountability in the Shirley Collado era
After student-led protests rocked Ithaca College during the last two academic years, there’s a new feeling on campus this Fall: one of hope.
The shift seems due primarily to the appointment of Shirley Collado as the college’s ninth president. After nine years under former President Tom Rochon, whose common response to student concerns was to ignore them until they reached an irreversible fever pitch, Collado certainly seems like a new kind of leader.
At a student media press conference in August, she talked about the need for transparency and openness between the administration and the campus community. She expressed a desire to learn about the college and speak to as many different people as possible. And she acknowledged the pain of the past few years and said rebuilding trust between different members of the college community will be priority. In its entirety, the session was an encouraging display of what responsive and dynamic leadership should look like at an institution of higher education.
Still, even though Collado said all the right things so far, students, faculty and staff should exercise caution before singing her praises. As the old adage goes, actions speak louder than words. Collado has simply not been at the college long enough to have a substantive track record of decisions for the community to evaluate.
Given this, it is important for the campus community to remain vigilant. Those in power, if left to their own devices, often lose sight of who they’re supposed to be representing. The best way students, faculty and staff at the college can ensure Collado becomes an effective president is not by blindly praising her speeches, but instead by remaining prepared to hold her accountable if she doesn’t follow through on her pledges.
However, so far the campus community — and in particular students at the college — have done a poor job of this. It’s not uncommon around campus or in classes to hear students say how much they love our new president. The general consensus seems to be that by simply not being tone deaf and closed off like Rochon, Collado is already deserving of praise and trust.
It’s fine to be encouraged by Collado’s promises of new leadership. But by simply trusting her promises of openness and transparency, students run the risk of giving a powerful figure a blank check with which to govern the college.
Collado herself has already shown the dangers of the excessive faith many have placed in her. On September 21, she announced the creation of the Division of Student Affairs and Campus Life and directly appointed Rosanna Ferro, currently the associate dean of Williams College, to head the new division. However, as The Ithacan pointed out in an editorial, by directly appointing Ferro instead of conducting a formal search process and by not disclosing where the funding for the newly created division will come from, Collado contradicted her pledge to be open and transparent. When Rochon unilaterally appointed Roger Richardson to the newly created position of Chief Diversity Officer, the negative reaction — particularly from many faculty members — was swift. Collado shouldn’t be immune from the same criticism simply because she’s new to the college and is a better politician than Rochon.
But beyond that, there’s another reason to be cautious of Collado’s ability to produce positive change at Ithaca College: she’s not technically the one at the very top.
Instead, the ones ultimately in charge of the college are those who formally hired Collado and serve as her bosses — the Board of Trustees. And the makeup of that group raises questions about Collado’s ability to push through meaningful reform.
For example, the board predominantly consists of white men. And, courtesy of Rochon, it’s stacked with people from corporate backgrounds over those with backgrounds in education or liberal arts. Because of this, it’s quite possible to imagine the board standing in the way of progressive, justice-oriented reforms and prioritizing financial considerations instead.
It also doesn’t bode well that the Board of Trustees has largely escaped responsibility for the upheaval at the college over the past few years. While Rochon was an unresponsive leader and deserved to be sent packing, as the ultimate power brokers at the college, the board also played a role in creating the conditions that led to student, faculty and staff displeasure. Yet, only Rochon was replaced while the leadership of the board remains intact. Therefore, to expect a sea change in the direction of the college when the majority of its top leadership remains the same may be unrealistic.
None of this is to say that Collado’s presidency cannot possibly lead to meaningful reforms. But Collado still needs to prove she can deliver. So while students, faculty and staff should be optimistic about the future, they should also remain cautious and prepare themselves to, if necessary, hold Collado — and the Board of Trustees — accountable for their promises to bring about change at the college.
Evan Popp is a fourth-year journalism major whose favorite President is Al Gore. Goodluck Shirley. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.