While addressing faculty and staff at his final All-College Meeting at Ithaca College, President Tom Rochon spoke about the progress he saw during his tenure as president and what the institution will be focusing on moving forward.
Members of the President’s Council spoke Jan. 19 about the college’s success in keeping tuition from rising substantially, a 10-year strategic financial plan, and updates on the chief diversity officer position search and the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools reaccreditation. Rochon also discussed whether the college should become a sanctuary campus, and his cabinet fielded questions about current negotiations with the faculty unions, according to faculty and staff who attended the event, which was closed to the media.
Brody Burroughs, a lecturer in the Department of Art, said a faculty member asked during the question-and-answer period why the administration treats contingent faculty members like “commodities” by hiring them on yearly or semesterlong contracts. Burroughs said Rochon responded by saying he appreciated having a discussion about faculty’s feeling respected at the college and that those issues are being discussed at the bargaining table. Burroughs said he did appreciate the amount of time the President’s Council took to answer the questions that were asked on this topic.
Tom Swensen, professor and chair of the Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences and chair of the Faculty Council, was also at the meeting. He said Rochon discussed whether or not the college would declare itself a sanctuary campus. Swensen said Rochon expressed he would be wary of that declaration because while people may personally support the symbolic declaration, it might not be pragmatic for the college to become involved in political statements.
Nancy Pringle, senior vice president and general counsel of human and legal resources, said regardless of the college declaring itself sanctuary campus or not, there has to be a lawfully issued subpoena, warrant or court order in order for the college to release information on undocumented students. She said Rochon is focused on the values the school has as a community, with or without the use of the term ‘sanctuary.’
“I think that we believe that what is important is that we get the values right for who we are, regardless if there is a sanctuary word or not attached to it,” Pringle said.
Rochon could not be reached for comment on this issue.
Janet Williams, interim vice president for finance and administration, presented the 10-year financial forecast, which outlines how the college plans to invest more in information technology and improve student-success initiatives. Williams also said the college plans to improve student–retention rates by 5 percent. The current retention rate is around 85 percent.
In a later interview, Williams said the college plans to diversify revenue sources, since 93 percent of current revenue comes from tuition. She said the college has very little debt capacity, so it is a priority to keep debt low. This would not come from cutting student programming or raising tuition, she said, but from paying off debt and not adding new debt.
Brian Dickens, vice president for Human Resources, also gave the meeting an update about the search to fill the chief diversity officer position, Swensen said. The search for the position is currently underway and will be completed by this summer.
Luke Keller, Dana professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, who was at the meeting to give an update on the Middle States reaccreditation process, said the college’s Middle States accreditation committee, of which he is the co-chair, is in the process of drafting a final report for the college. Reaccreditation is a process that determines if a college is meeting seven set standards of higher education, which are created by Middle States. In a later interview, Keller said seven working groups have drafted a self–study report that meets the standards of accreditation.
“That happened behind the scenes, but now the self-study process will become more out in the open as we ask for the campus community to comment on the report,” Keller said.
He said the committee is in the process of bringing the report to the faculty, staff and student councils at the college for their input to be heard for the draft. The final report will be available to the college after spring break, Keller said.
Swensen said Rochon also spent time during the meeting reflecting on his tenure as president. He said he felt Rochon is proud of his achievements to limit spending to preserve the financial stability of the college. Rochon began his speech by acknowledging that his past All-College Meeting speeches may have had a dire tone, given his emphasis on tightening the college’s budget and not on praising the college for what it was doing well, Keller said.
“I was actually happy that he owned that,” Keller said.
Swensen said that given the events that occurred throughout the past year at the college — with students’ protesting the lack of diversity and inclusion at the college and the college’s currently being involved in a contentious bargaining process with two faculty unions — he felt Rochon focused on the positives about the college’s being in good ranking and stable with enrollment.
Reporting contributed by Sophia Adamucci and Sophie Johnson.