ITHACA, NY – Hundreds of Ithaca College students and faculty say they will participate in a “solidarity walk out” on Wednesday, the latest in a series of protests against college President Tom Rochon.
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Event organizers are encouraging students, faculty and staff to walk out and gather at Freedom Rock at 1:30 p.m. tomorrow. At the time of this writing, over 500 people have said they will participate.
The event comes in the wake of the of resignation of the president of the University of Missouri, Timothy Wolfe. Organizers of the walk out want to pressure Ithaca College President Tom Rochon to resign as well.
It’s easy to draw parallels between the situations at University of Missouri and the one at Ithaca College. In both cases, issues of racial intolerance first called the administration into question. Claims of mishandled responses, general incompetence and a gaps in communication between the president, faculty and the student body were quick to follow.
Wolfe’s exit was perceived as being relatively graceful given the circumstances. IC student government president Dominic Recckio said, “What I loved about that is that [Wolfe] said that the campus could use this time to heal. [Ithaca College’s] administration has used that word “heal” a lot, but I think the president at University of Missouri has shown us a roadmap on how to actually do that.”
What happens next?
A vote of no confidence carries no legal weight. If a vote were to pass, Rochon would not be compelled to resign, nor would the Board of Trustees be required to remove him. However, a vote of no confidence – or even the threat of it – can make things tremendously difficult for the school’s administration to function.
In Missouri, a major tipping point in the struggle was when the university’s football team refused to play until the president resigned. With the team being a large source of pride – and money – for the university, it provided a powerful source of leverage.
Ithaca College does not have the same sort of bargaining chip, but what it does have is an activated and passionate student body. Recckio has laid out his organizations next steps, regardless of whether or not Rochon resigns.
– First, the student government will be leading value sessions to determine what the students value in a president, and will be encouraging the faculty to do the same. That list of values will be aggregated and delivered to the Board of Trustees.
– Second, the group will take a look at shared governance at the university, assessing who is involved in making decisions and finding ways to give students a more active role.
Reckkio says that if Rochon keeps his office, he doesn’t hold much hope that Rochon will be able to appease the students with promises of reform. “I certainly see a dramatic future ahead if things don’t change quickly.”
Experts Weigh In
Sean McKinnis, a PhD graduate from Ohio State University, has been studying these no confidence votes for years. He says that the IC story has some unique aspects that may serve as a useful model for other schools faced with similar troubles.
“Students and faculty are engaged together in numbers I’ve not seen…” McKinnis said. “The difference between other schools and IC is that I’ve never seen thousands of people from the student body and scores of faculty collaborate at this level… One tactic–or model–that could emerge in the future at other campuses is a type of ‘joint’ motion of no confidence, where faculty and student leadership vote on the same motion for the same reasons.”
Mae Kuykendall, a law professor at Michigan State University who has studied agreed, but also issued a warning: “Whether students can have clout has to do with whether or not they can develop a voice that can stand up to the voice of the administration…”
“[The administration] uses what I call the ‘bear hug.’ They say: ‘we hear you, we’re going to start having more collaboration,’ but all they’re trying to do is co-opt and silence the vote of no confidence… They want everyone on campus to be quiet, so they give them ways to blow off steam but do not do anything about the situation.”
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