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ITHACA, NY – Last Wednesday, over 1,000 people – including some faculty – participated in a solidarity demonstration at Ithaca College.
We asked some members of IC’s faculty after the protest to share their take on the events and their opinions on IC President Tom Rochon, who was the focus of the demonstration.
1- Below are statements from Associate Professor Warren Schlesinger, who offered some defense of Rochon and shared his opinion of why Rochon’s resignation or removal would do more harm than good for the college.
2- Below that, an we have interview with two faculty members conducted during the demonstration. Associate Professor Mary Bentley and Professor Tom Shevory shared their opinions of the demonstration their frustrations with Rochon.
“At Ithaca College we have an opportunity to demonstrate a different approach”
As IC’s faculty were deliberating about whether or not to proceed with a no confidence vote, the School of Business were alone in voting to recommend against a no confidence vote.
In an email exchange after the protest, Warren Schlesinger, Associate Professor of Accounting, wrote: “I fully support the recent student protests on issues of racism and cultural bias. The most important issue on this campus and at Missouri and Yale and many other campuses is how to make our communities less racist and more inclusive.”
“I respect but disagree with those who believe it is too late for President Rochon to provide effective leadership. That is why I will not be voting in favor of a motion of no confidence.”
Schlesinger admitted that Rochon and his administration had been “late to use their power” to address brewing racial tensions. However, he felt that with the eyes of PoC @ IC, SGA and the Board of Trustees now on him, things could change.
“Firing Rochon and finding a new president will be a long and disruptive process that will diminish the focus on ending racism and cultural bias. The University of Missouri represents one model for change. At Ithaca College we have an opportunity to demonstrate a different approach,” he said.
Schlesinger also pointed to some of Rochon’s positive accomplishments, noting that diversity among both the student body and the administration had increased significantly under his tenure (minority student enrollment increased to 20% from 12%, according to Schlesinger). Additionally, he said the administration had made a “major push” to include diversity issues in the college’s strategy.
“While Tom Rochon had to be pushed to make ending racism and cultural bias on campus the number one priority for his administration, I support giving President Rochon the chance to prove himself rather than starting over with a new president at this time.”
At the end of the exchange, Schlesinger was careful to point out a key distinction: “Voting no on a no confidence vote is not exactly the same as being in favor. It is more nuanced. But voting yes, is a big deal.”
“There’s no trust from the students and very little from the faculty”
As the crowd dispersed, we spoke with Mary Bentley from the department of Health Promotion and Physical Education, and Tom Shevory from the Politics department.
Bentley said of the demonstration, “I think it was a really wonderful display of student voice and activism.”
Shevory offered his perspective, saying, “I think part of what they’re saying is that it’s really difficult for the college to move forward on these issues until they get some new leadership at the top. He has no credibility.”
Bentley agreed, adding, “There’s no trust from the students and very little from the faculty, I would say too.”
“As long as the president is here I think it’s an impediment to the goals the students are trying to achieve,” Shevory concluded.
Both professors agreed that Rochon’s approach to leadership was lacking.
Shevory said, “He seems to respond by making another committee or appointing another VP or something, seems pretty bureaucratic and somewhat meaningless.”
“That’s exactly what the students are saying is that that particular way of addressing the issues… he decides what should happen without any input,” Bentley explained.
Shevory: “He’s never been very collaborative. A lot of it seems very top down… we had the emails, the posting saying ‘We’re appointing this person.’”
“Now we have this, see? What more do you want!?,” Bentley said, in mock exasperation.
The students frustrations with IC President Tom Rochon have been well noted, but are faculty sharing in that sense of frustration?
“It’s very frustrating,” said Bentley. “His mounting new initiatives has been at best clumsy… Most of us have been here long enough to know what might work and what might be needed, but it doesn’t seem like it’s our campus.”
Shevory agreed, noting the unprecedented level of cooperation between students on faculty on this issue. “I’ve never seen the students and faculty this together on an issue like this… This is really being driven in a lot of ways by the students, with faculty in support.”
President Rochon has made it clear that he will not resign his position. What will that mean for Ithaca College in the coming months? The People of Color at Ithaca College group have pledged to continue actions until Rochon steps down or is removed.
“I’m trying to imagine graduation,” Shevory laughed, considering the possibility of a demonstration on that day. “Next it’s alumni weekend and so on, the students have been good at organizing around these major events that the college uses to try and highlight itself.”
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