ITHACA, NY – Ithaca College President Tom Rochon, who announced his retirement on Thursday, seems to have no intention of quietly riding out his final year and a half.

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Related: Ithaca College President Tom Rochon announces retirement

When the Ithaca Voice interviewed Rochon in November, he answered our first question with conviction, saying: “Resignation has never crossed my mind.”

He admits that it is perhaps splitting hairs when he points out that his recent announcement was one of retirement, not resignation.

“Though I also did not think at that time that I would be retiring,” he says. “Before the fall semester I did expect to be President past 2017.”

Rochon said that the winter break gave him time to get away from the day-to-day, reactionary stance he had been in since the turmoil began and take a more critical assessment. Taking the longer view, he saw two paths:

The first would be a reinvention of his presidency. “Rochon, Act II, if you will,” he said. The alternative would be to welcome the energy of a new president.

Rochon says that while he was prepared to fully commit himself to the first option, he thought that the second path offered a better likelihood of success.

Three goals for the last year and a half

Whether or not he “resigned” from his post or retired, Rochon was clear he has no intention of resigning himself to the status of an ineffectual “lame duck.”

He said there were three major things he wanted to focus on in his final time as IC’s president, the first two being in direct response to the fall semester’s turmoil:

1 – Working on the diversity and inclusion agenda action plan. Rochon said he hopes to have this fully in place by the time he retires.

2 – Greater conversation about, and reform of governance, improving the participation of faculty, staff and students in the decision-making process

3 – The ongoing effort to stay to improve administrative and organizational efficiency in order to hold down tuition increases and add to financial aid budget, keeping the college affordable for students.

Elaborating on the second point, Rochon said, “It’s very clear there are expectations about decision making that are not in alignment with the way Faculty Council, Student Government Association and Staff Council work. We need to identify expectations and create organizations and decision-making processes that align with those expectations.”

Related: Mixed reactions from Ithaca College Faculty on Rochon’s retirement

While some have suggested that his retirement announcement will leave him unable to be an effectual leader, Rochon disagrees.

“These are priorities the community really wants. I anticipate we’ll be able to work together to do as much on those as possible,” he said.

Asked if he held out any hope for turning people’s opinion before his retirement, Rochon said, “I hope we make progress on those issues. It would be a nice side-effect if that improves people’s opinion, but that is not the goal.”

What does retirement really mean?

Some students and faculty had criticized the timeline of Rochon’s retirement – he will continue to serve until July of 2017. Those critics suggest that he is merely serving out his contract, but Rochon insists “the timeline is based on what is best for the college.”

Related: Ithaca College student Pres. describes Rochon resignation as “bittersweet”

Rochon explained that the Board of Trustees had made it very clear to him that they wanted Ithaca College to have an orderly transition without an interim president. He said it takes a full year to a search for a permanent replacement in place.

“That drove the timeline. It was not about reaching nine years of service or a contract,” he said.

Rochon said that others had suggested the “retirement” angle was purely a public relations move to not have to use the other “R” word. He pointed out, however, that when his term is up in 2017, he will in fact be approaching the age of retirement.

My wife and I feel that Ithaca is our family’s home. Never say never, but we assume that we will stay here, in retirement, raising our family,” said Rochon.

Lessons and opportunities

Rochon also spoke to one of the major regrets of his eight year presidency: “I feel in retrospect that I should have spent more time on the campus and with the campus. Not just last fall, but over the whole period, as opposed to getting wrapped in other demands or off-campus demands.”

“I spent a lot of time on campus,” he added, “but I could’ve spent more, building relationships and creating a positive campus environment.”

Looking ahead, Rochon said that his feeling was one of enthusiasm. “This campus has the opportunity to come together in a special way. Last semester was painful, but also an expression of aspirations of what we want to be like together,” Rochon said.

“I believe that the Ithaca College community can be more like those aspirations. The campus can greet a new president with a very different frame of mind than what we have today.”

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.