At the Ithaca College All-College Meeting on Aug. 18, President Tom Rochon took the opportunity to focus on two commitments to the campus: diversity and inclusion, and shared governance. He spoke to faculty and staff about working together to address issues of diversity and inclusion that were brought to light last year.
However, Rochon made no mention of the specific critiques against his leadership that emerged throughout the student protests and open letters last fall. Rather, his address set the tone for how he would look upon this new year, his final year: business as usual.
In the months since the protests, numerous faculty and staff have come forward with critiques of Rochon and his leadership: his insensitivity to racial issues, his lack of engagement with the campus community and his top-down, authoritarian leadership style that leaves faculty and staff out of many decision-making processes. Coverage in The Ithacan about faculty members’ thoughts on Rochon’s continued presence on campus, with his planned departure in July 2017, shows that these critiques of Rochon’s leadership have remained.
Rochon still has not explicitly addressed these concerns. In an interview with The Ithacan during the spring semester, Rochon admitted to issues of communication between his administration and campus constituents, but did not go far enough to recognize that it was his leadership style that exacerbated this issue. He then admitted that he would have “done hundreds of things differently” over the course of his presidency, but remains mute on what these “hundreds of things” are. Then, during a meeting with the Student Government Association on Sept. 19, Rochon admitted that he has had less of a physical campus presence in the last three years, but this is not the source of the issues.
Rochon is tiptoeing around this issue by giving ambiguous responses to questions that demand serious answers. Forming a strong relationship and engaging with the campus community is not simply defined by the number of hours physically spent on campus, it is about caring about the input from the community and showing an effort to maintain these relationships.
Rochon owes it to the campus community to address these issues, so the college can begin to move forward in a constructive way. He could use his final year at the college to seriously acknowledge his administration’s strained relationships with colleagues, who have voiced their frustrations clearly. There might be many whose trust has been damaged beyond repair, but an effort to come clean about the past would not be wasted. Perhaps doing so would make the campus community more inclined to work with the future administration, allowing the new president to enact the change that is sorely needed.