Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

October 21, 2016   |   Ithaca, NY


Commentary: Former Board of Trustees chairs call for action

In view of Tom Rochon’s recent decision to resign after next academic year, our mission is clear: to unite in real and responsible communication that helps to shape the future ahead. A new era for our college awaits.

As former chairs of Ithaca College’s Board of Trustees, it’s as tempting for us as for anyone to live in our institution’s past. Transitional moments like this can make us feel nostalgic for elements of our college’s past that we hold dear, just as they can also make us feel vigilant about old conflicts or issues. But we must remember that both leadership and education are fundamentally about the future. As John F. Kennedy once remarked, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

Defining Ithaca College’s future will require the best of each part of the campus community, from the board to students, from faculty to staff, from alumni to other supporters. We must be civil in voicing our concerns, and sincere in listening to them. Most of all, to build the best Ithaca College we can we must believe in what is best in each other. A college’s purpose — our job, each of ours, is to find it and draw it out.

We must do so in the classroom, on the quad and in conversation. And we must do so by redoubling our commitment to diversity and inclusion. While we’ve heard serious concerns about issues of justice and respect, our entire community’s role going forward is to commit not just to taking these issues seriously, but also to acting on them concretely. A look around the country demonstrates that our institution is hardly alone in facing these issues. But Ithaca College can be a leader in addressing them successfully.

Our community must also work together as we search for new leadership. The board ultimately bears this responsibility, but it also accepts the responsibility to seek and to hear diverse voices, from faculty, students, staff and alumni.

As President Rochon said when he announced his decision, colleges grow and change. New challenges and new opportunities arise, making new leadership and fresh perspectives useful.    Our challenge is to unite and collaborate in a way that enables Ithaca College to attract visionary leadership.

But leadership is not the only answer. The challenges we face are longstanding and did not arise because of the actions taken by any one individual. Neither can the opportunities ahead be met by any single person, no matter how strong a leader we recruit. Every campus constituency has a role to play, beginning with making diversity and inclusion priorities and participating in the action plan being developed to help achieve the school’s goals on these fronts. Campus-wide input will also be vital in the effort to build a new shared governance structure. Vision, built on conversation and collaboration, can win the future for the college we all love.

Bill Schwab ’68
Chair Emeritus
Chair, 2006–2012

Bill Haines
Chair Emeritus
Chair, 2001–2006

Skip Muller ’51
Chair Emeritus
Chair, 1993–2001