To Whom It May Concern:
We, the undersigned, express no confidence in Ithaca College President Tom Rochon for the following reasons, among others.
Also, we wish for this statement to correct President Rochon’s problematic and self-aggrandizing claims about “collaborative leadership” in his recent commentary in The Chronicle of Higher Education (“Why Embattled Leaders Should Be Stepping Up, Not Stepping Down,” November 16, 2015).
Nick Kowalczyk, Associate Professor, Writing; Maura Stephens, Associate Director, Park Center for Independent Media; Peyi Soyinka-Airewele, Professor, Politics; Stewart Auyash, Associate Professor and Chair, Health Promotion and Physical Education; Carla Golden, Professor, Psychology; Women’s and Gender Studies Coordinator; Patricia Rodriguez, Associate Professor, Department of Politics; Patricia Zimmermann, Professor, Media Arts, Sciences and Studies; Rebecca Plante, Associate Professor, Sociology; Jeff Claus, Emeritus Professor, Department of Education; Linda Hanrahan, Associate Professor and Chair Graduate Program, Department of Education; Asma Barlas, Professor, Politics; Bruce Henderson, Professor, Communication Studies; Peter Martin, Associate Professor and Interim Chair, Department of Education; Raj Subramaniam, Professor and Chair Graduate Program, Health Promotion and Physical Education; Mary Bentley, Associate Professor, Health Promotion and Physical Education; Hayley Cavino, Dissertation Diversity Fellow, Women’s and Gender Studies; Todd Schack, Associate Professor, Journalism; Jennifer Spitzer, Assistant Professor, English; Janice Levy, Professor, Media Arts, Sciences and Studies; Michael A. Malpass, Dana Professor, Anthropology; Claire Gleitman, Professor, English; Zillah Eisenstein, Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence, Professor, Political Theory and Anti-Racist Feminisms; Matthew Holtmeier, Postdoctoral Fellow, Media Arts, Sciences and Studies; Michael Twomey, Dana Professor, English; Annette Levine, Associate Professor, Modern Languages and Literatures; Kelly Dietz, Assistant Professor, Politics
“NO CONFIDENCE” IN PRESIDENT ROCHON: EXPERIENTIAL EVIDENCE
- TOP-DOWN, OUT-OF-TOUCH LEADERSHIP
- President Rochon came to Ithaca College in 2008 hosting “strategic visioning listening sessions” but since then rarely has solicited faculty, staff, or student input before creating top-down, all-campus initiatives and cultivating faculty buy-in through various meetings and task forces (e.g., IC20/20 and Blue Sky Kickoff).
- Months after his arrival, still unfamiliar with the campus and the greater community, Rochon censured a recent journalism grad for her firsthand essay in ICView about a summer spent in the Occupied Territories. He also forced the magazine’s editor to issue a public apology (which was posted and quickly redacted to remove the editor’s comments about journalistic integrity and the importance of shining a light on stories of marginalized people). This resulted in a huge, overwhelmingly unfavorable outcry against the president.
- Rochon assaulted media freedom with the abrupt announcement that he would block student journalists from direct access to top-level administrators. The resulting furor caused him to rescind the misguided policy.
- Rochon consolidated control and reduced access to administration by eliminating the position of Vice President of Student Affairs and Campus Life and moving those responsibilities under the Provost (academic vice president).
- Ten successive Student Government Association Presidents & One Student Trustee have publicly critiqued the President for disregarding student voices and inclusion and for deploying “top-down leadership,” “corporatism,” and “we know best” governance.
- Rochon continues to show disregard for faculty and has yet to request a meeting to discuss the range of faculty grievances against him despite public articulation of faculty concerns and an upcoming faculty vote on confidence.
- DISREGARD FOR MINORITY COMMUNITY MEMBERS
- Despite the modest increase in diversity, Rochon has failed to initiate the structural reforms needed for a welcoming, secure and fair environment for minority students, faculty and staff to thrive. Examples include his ineffective responses to longstanding complaints of discriminatory treatment of minorities by campus police and administrators, and the implicit demands on minority faculty and staff to serve as a ‘diversity voice’ on several of the college’s most time-consuming committees, in a system that leads to fatigue and overwork, but not necessarily tenure and/or promotion.
- He has failed to fund meaningful programs to retain ALANA faculty and students.
- In Fall ’14, student protesters asked IC to implement a Native American Studies minor. Rochon replied he “didn’t have the power” to do so. Later he issued a press release in which he said, “Following up later that day, I learned that we already have a Native American Studies minor.” Protesters later publicly corrected Rochon: The minor exists only on paper, as Rochon’s administration has never funded it.
- He ignored the recommendations in the 2011 campus racial climate study by Honors student Joyti Jiandani and others.
- He failed to release the results of the 2012 campus climate survey until he publicly was pressured into doing so…in 2014. And he now claims his current “diversity action plan” is addressing the problems the report highlighted and made suggestions to combat.
- He offended students of color by responding to POCatIC’s multi-point indictment of his leadership at the all-college meeting on Oct. 27, 2015, by saying, “I’m glad they read my book” after 1,000+ audience members walked out, in protest.
- He and his advisers undermined the messages of POCatIC speakers who disrupted admission events with the intention of getting their own messages out.
- BLURRED VISION AND MISDIRECTION
- Rochon created a climate of fear and uncertainty by announcing that there will be 40+ staff cuts this year.
- He has cycled through several Provosts and interim Provosts since his arrival. Benjamin Rifkin is his fifth.
- Under Rochon, several Vice Presidents have left IC or come and gone, turning Ithaca College into an academic way-station where relationship-building and long-term planning are nearly impossible.
- Since Rochon’s arrival, the deans of all 5 schools have changed over—sometimes more than once.
- Rochon affords inadequate resources to the counseling center despite an increasing need among students for support.
- He affords inadequate resources to the Student Health Center, a building in much need of renovation.
- Under Rochon, the college’s primary staff working on sustainability, the issue for which IC had gained a favorable national reputation and which is critical at this time of exacerbating climate change, have been reassigned or let go.
- Rochon repeatedly organizes sessions for “visioning,” “imagineering,” “Blue-Sky Reimagining”—all featuring corporate language, corporate guests, and vague goals, which lead to nothing that matters to students and faculty.
- Faced with student protests, he announced suspension of the IC20/20 project and Blue Sky Reimagining and abruptly announced a new plan for faculty training in cultural competency—without input from faculty who teach these subjects.
- BOARD STACKING THAT’S UNREPRESENTATIVE OF THE COLLEGE’S MISSION
- In 2007-2008, the year before Rochon came to Ithaca College, the Board of Trustees (the president’s “bosses”) had a corporate-tied membership of roughly 40 percent. The bulk of the board of trustees came from the worlds of social services, education, media, arts, small business, etc., in line with the college’s progressive mission and vision. Since Rochon, the board has become 81% corporate. Of the two other board members who are connected to higher education, one is a retired high-level administrator (vice president), and the other is a dean at New York University where her faculty voted No Confidence in the president, yet this board member still backed the NYU president.
- Since Rochon’s arrival, the board of trustees has added former U.S. Attorney Michael Battle, who helped to keep an Algerian man imprisoned for five years after this man was cleared by the FBI of all charges. Mr. Battle later resigned due to a national scandal involving political corruption in the Department of Justice. Now Mr. Battle—the only African American man on the board of trustees—is a partner in a law firm that defends corporations accused of white-collar crime.
- It has added Thad Fortin, CEO of the largest chemical management services company in the world.
- It has added David Giannotti, “environmental” attorney who litigates pollution cases for fossil fuel corporations.
- It has become 21% female, whereas it had been 36% female.
- It includes not a single music or theater performer or direct human services professional, or teacher. Its only member who was a longtime teacher (and now works in philanthropy) was on the board before Rochon’s presidency.
- Rochon’s complacency in recent interviews shows his sense of security with this board of trustees—a governing body that is unaccountable to the campus community, in that there are no mechanisms for students, faculty, and/or staff to collectively remove board of trustees members or demand changes in the Board’s bylaws to make it more inclusive, transparent, and focused on education rather than the bottom line.
- Rochon acts as if faculty are not already providing innovative and powerful forms of education.
- When asked to act to address campus racial dynamics, Rochon can’t even articulate the more successful efforts already on campus; he apparently is unaware of these existing programs.
- When asked to propose solutions, Rochon fails as a former scholar to conduct even the most basic research by drawing on eight years of reports and recommendations that involved countless hours of work by students, faculty, and staff, or by accessing the many demands that have been addressed to him and gone unanswered.
- The recordings of his 10/23/15 meeting with POCatIC and of his interview with the Ithacan on 11/12/15 show he clearly plans to do more “talking” and pass off onto faculty the blame for Ithaca College’s problems of institutionalized racism, sexism, and classism…a tactic that effectively diffuses any efforts for structural, policy, or leadership reform.
- In a commencement speech, Rochon described globally revered human rights activist (and democratic socialist) Nelson Mandela as “the CEO of his own life,” a dismissive reframing of this Black leader’s noble and self-sacrificing life’s work.
- HOSTILITY TOWARD CRITICISM
- Rochon took more than two weeks to respond to student and faculty anger over the “Blue Sky” kickoff.
- His op-ed to The Ithacan in response to the “Blue Sky” kickoff evaded the blatant acts of racism and sexism, and utterly failed to respond to faculty charges of anti-intellectualism.
- Faced with frequent adversarial coverage (a hallmark of good journalism that is taught in the Park School) in The Ithacan, Rochon rarely praises (or even mentions) this newspaper, even though it consistently wins national awards and brings honor and recognition to the college.
- In the weeks leading up to the Spring ’15 adjunct faculty vote to unionize, Rochon’s administration put together a highly misleading “Union Choice” page which, under the guise of providing allegedly objective facts about adjunct unionization, contained slanted talking points and links to anti-union propaganda. When faculty criticized this, Rochon published an op-ed in The Ithacan containing the gratuitous accusation that critics of the page were trying to suppress free flow of information.
- Rochon acknowledges that faculty do not trust him, but blames them instead of questioning his own privilege and reexamining his behavior over the last seven years.
- LOW CAMPUS MORALE
- Faculty members will hold a vote of no confidence.
- Student government is holding a student vote of no confidence, a rare, perhaps unprecedented, event in higher education.
- Staff are stressed, with layoffs ongoing and no one knowing whose job will be next on the chopping block.
- Rochon’s failed leadership has led to student demonstrations at recruitment events for our tuition-driven college.
- We have not seen this degree of widespread distress, anger, and dissatisfaction since President James Whalen’s years (1975-1997).