In what it is calling an “alternate briefing” to the Ithaca College Board of Trustees, a group of faculty and staff presented a letter to the board at its May 19 reception, asking the board to conduct a performance review of Benjamin Rifkin, provost and vice president for educational affairs, and consider immediately removing President Tom Rochon from his position, among other action items.
More than 60 faculty and staff members across all ranks signed the letter, found below, which also urges the board to prevent Rochon from taking “any further policy or programming action”; acknowledge the administrative role in recent tensions surrounding the Honors Program and the Office of Civic Engagement; maintain the position of faculty director of service learning as at least a faculty-administrative hybrid, if not a full-time faculty position; ensure that no curriculum changes will be made without full faculty approval; and support an assessment of the board itself on the part of students, faculty and staff.
Sarah Grunberg, lecturer in the Department of Sociology, and Patricia Rodriguez, associate professor of politics, led the short presentation of this letter at 4:30 p.m. in Clarke Lounge, in the middle of the board’s reception.
“We are going to keep losing invaluable members of our community at IC until we begin to bring the focus back to education,” Grunberg said in a press release regarding the meeting with the board. “The corporatization of higher education is hurting students and faculty nationwide, and it’s incredibly sad to see its effects on IC. As an alumna and now a contingent faculty member, I hope that we, as faculty, can work with the Board of Trustees to make IC an institution that values continuity, equity and students.”
However, Maura Stephens, the outgoing associate director of the Park Center for Independent Media who was part of the small group that stood with Grunberg and Rodriguez, said she does not expect the letter and presentation to be effective in terms of the specific action items.
“I hope that, should this fail — or when this fails — people who still think they can work within a broken system will be somewhat better educated,” she said.
Rifkin and Rochon declined to comment. Tom Grape, chairman of the board of trustees, said in a statement via email that the board has read the letter and is committed to strengthening relationships with the various groups on campus. He said he communicated to them at the reception that he appreciates their critiques.
“I noted that we all have the same common goal of helping Ithaca College become the collaborative and respectful institution that we all believe it can — and must — be,” Grape said.
The text of the letter is as follows:
To the Ithaca College Board of Trustees,
A semester after a majority of the campus voiced “No Confidence” in his leadership, Tom Rochon continues to make decisions that negatively impact both the short and long-term health of our college. We are experiencing a sharp decline of morale, an escalation in the exit of invaluable faculty, staff and administrators, as well as erratic policies that lack vision and are detrimental to the college’s reputation, fiscal well-being, prestige and long-term viability. We can no longer be bystanders to this downward spiral occurring at our institution.
Therefore, as concerned faculty and staff, we want and expect the Board of Trustees to take the following actions:
1) Tom Rochon should be prevented from taking any further policy or programming action. In line with the demands of students, faculty, and staff, clearly articulated in the votes of “No Confidence” in fall 2015, the removal of Tom Rochon from office immediately should be reconsidered by the Board at this time.
2) Acknowledge that there is considerable discontent around administrative changes made to existing faculty-run programs. Tom Rochon and Ben Rifkin have undermined the Honors program, Study Abroad programming, the Sports Studies program, the China Center, the Center (Office) for Civic Engagement, and similar programs and offices by interfering with faculty arenas of decision-making. These errors have all been publicly documented, and such interference must cease. The administration should respect the previously documented judgments of faculty task forces working in these areas.
3) Because there are many serious concerns about Ben Rifkin’s ability to function as the leader of academic affairs, support an immediate review of his performance to determine if he should remain as the provost. The review committee must be faculty led.
4) Open the presidential search to the entire campus community. The decision about a final candidate must be open, not closed, and not made solely by the Board of Trustees.
5) Affirm that the position of Faculty Director of Service-Learning, led in recent years by Patricia Spencer, must continue to be held by someone who has the opportunity to teach as well as administer the program; if not a full-time faculty position, it must at least be a hybrid position encompassing teaching duties. While faculty-administrative hybrids are less convenient for the administration, they help maintain an interface between faculty and administration that is sorely needed at this point in time.
6) Agree that no decisions on planning and development of future program policies affecting curriculum will be made without the full and equal partnership of faculty.
7) Support faculty, staff, and student assessment of the Board of Trustees composition, constitution, and functioning as a means to strengthen governance, self-reflection and community.
Ithaca College is above all a place of education. As such, every decision made should have the students in mind. The programs at stake here are critical ones for the students, and therefore for the College. Faculty input is essential for the rebuilding of trust needed between the administration, the faculty, and the students that we serve in our programs.
Sarah Grunberg, Lecturer, Department of Sociology; Asma Barlas, Professor of Politics; Stephen Mosher, Professor, Sport Management and Media; Thomas J Pfaff, Mathematics; Nick Kowalczyk, Associate Professor, Writing; Stewart Auyash, Associate Professor/Chair, Health Promotion & Physical Education; Patricia Rodriguez, Associate Professor, Politics; Harriet Malinowitz, Lecturer, Department of Writing; Maura Stephens, Associate Director, Park Center for Independent Media; Alicia Swords, Associate Professor, Sociology; Peter Martin, Associate Professor, Education; Mary Bentley, Associate Prof. Health Promotion/Physical Education; Todd Schack, Associate Professor, Journalism; Anthony Di Renzo, Associate Professor, Writing; Deborah Wuest, Professor, Health Promotion & Physical Education; Adam Walden, Assistant Professor, Writing; Jonathan Laskowitz, Associate Professor, Sociology ; Raj Subramaniam, Professor, Health Promotion & Physical Education; Janice Levy, Professor, MASS; Thomas Shevory, Professor, Politics; Kelly Dietz, Assistant Professor, Politics; M Louise Cannon, ESOL Lecturer, Writing Department; Hadley Smith, Assistant Professor, Writing; Brody Burroughs, Lecturer, Art; Chip Gagnon, Professor, Politics; Mary Beth O’Connor, Assistant Professor, Writing; Name Withheld, Untenured; Cory Brown, Associate Professor, Writing Department; Eleanor Henderson, Associate Professor, Writing; Joslyn Brenton, Sociology ; Rachel Kaufman, Lecturer, Writing; Marlena Grzaslewicz, Ass. Prof. MASS; Annette Levine, Associate Professor, Modern Languages and Literatures; Susan Allen-Gil, Professor, Environmental Studies & Sciences; Matthew Holtmeier, Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow, Screen Studies; Zillah Eisenstein, Distinguished Scholar in Residence, Professor Emeritus, Politics; Candace Edwards; Mark Baustian, Lecturer, Department of Biology; Tom Schneller, Lecturer, School of Music; Megan Graham, Lecturer, Writing; Rachel Gunderson, Instructor, Health Promotion & Physical Education; John Burger, Health Promotion and Physical Education, Lecturer; Sally McCune, Lecturer, Music Theory, History and Composition; Erin Francisco, Lecturer, Writing; Patricia Capaldi, Assistant Professor Art & Design; Sue-Je Gage, Associate Professor, Anthropology; Tom Kerr, Associate Professor, Writing; Kathryn Caldwell, Assistant Professor, NTEN, Psychology; Tahlia Fischer, Lecturer, Womens and Gender Studies; Name Withheld 2, Contingent Term full-time faculty member, School of H&S; Jim Stafford, Assistant Professor, Writing Department; Kenny Christianson, Lecturer, Economics; Mara Alper, Associate Professor/Media Arts, Sciences, Studies; Fred A. Wilcox, Associate Professor, Writing, retired; Patricia B. Spencer, Faculty Director of Service Learning and Assistant Professor, Writing; Carlos Figueroa, Assistant Professor, Politics; Susan Monagan, Audience Services Supervisor, Department of Theatre Arts; Alan Smithee, Untenured, Fear Retaliation, IC Unionize Now
This story has been updated with a response from Tom Grape, chairman of the board of trustees.