Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

October 25, 2016   |   Ithaca, NY


Commentary: PT student challenges Rochester relocation

You can’t expect to properly teach a television-radio major without professional quality equipment and studios, or outdoor adventures majors in a concrete-walled classroom by showing them slides of maple trees and animals. For students like me in the Ithaca College Physical Therapy Department, the relocation of the Rochester Center has left academic excellence in the PT program abandoned, and hundreds of students asking for an honest answer to the question, “why?”

Physical therapy seniors have already invested more than $150,000 in a program that was meant to end at the finely honed point of a graduate year in Rochester, N.Y. We came to the college under the impression that we would have priority access to 13 affiliated hospitals in the Rochester medical community, as opposed to just one in Ithaca. The faith we had in our future was dependent on the facility’s rock-solid, time-tested reputation that was held in high esteem with countless physical therapy clinics across the nation.

Before President Tom Rochon made the decision in June, students spoke with him in February about relocating the Rochester Center. About 25 students completing their sixth year in Rochester made the two-hour drive to Ithaca and urged Rochon to keep the facility. They made their concerns abundantly clear through statements outlining how the Cayuga Medical Center was not equipped to deal with more serious care, like ischemic strokes or brain injuries. Students were also concerned about the smaller medical community in Ithaca to provide speakers and networking opportunities comparable to Rochester. While there was no indication of relocation after this session, the decision was made without warning.

President Rochon and the provost have tried to convince the student body that the academic integrity of the program will not be affected by relocating to Ithaca. Despite many emails, they haven’t given us any facts to support that statement yet. Furthermore, there hasn’t been a single opportunity to provide the president and provost feedback for seven months.

I fought all summer for this program, publishing well-researched essays and planning to circulate petitions and organize protests for when students returned to campus. Then, I learned the facts that made me feel betrayed and hopeless. The 10-year lease that was in effect until 2016 between the college and Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, where the PT program in Rochester was housed, was terminated by President Rochon less than two months after the relocation decision was made. The lease wasn’t even allowed to expire, and, as a consequence, we have lost every single Rochester affiliation. In addition to the early lease termination, three experienced professors, who may have helped smooth the transition of the program to Ithaca, have retired. Without a lease and time-tested professors, there’s no going back.

Now, I’m left with a tale that isn’t dissimilar to the story of many of my peers. I could have gone to an equivalent doctoral physical therapy program back in my home state of Maine for $20,000 less per year. After financial aid, my education would have been free. I passed that up, because I knew that the college’s Rochester program was worth the money. Now it’s gone, and I’m needlessly left thousands of dollars in debt. I’m considering leaving the life I’ve built here to transfer back to Maine for an education I deemed less valuable, because the given reasons for relocation don’t make sense. When Rochon said the decision “is rooted first and foremost in the long-term educational benefits to the program, the School of Health Sciences and Human Performance and the college as a whole,” and the facts prove otherwise, then our understandably confused community deserves an honest, believable, fact-based answer to the question we’re still asking: “why?”