Little Evidence of Collaborative Leadership at Ithaca College

Chronicle of Higher Education

We recognize that there are times of crisis that require college presidents to “step up.” However, President Thomas Rochon’s November 16th op-ed, “Why Embattled Leaders Should be Stepping Up, Not Stepping Down,” (The Chronicle, November 16) presents a distinctly partial version of recent events at Ithaca College that have prompted the faculty to hold a vote of no confidence against the president this December. This fall’s series of racial incidents and the ensuing student activism, which earned national attention, took place in a much larger context of top-down administrative leadership, one that is characteristic of a larger trend in higher education of marginalizing faculty in favor of governing by administrative fiat. The “Blue Sky” event — not referred to in the op-ed, though our president organized it and it catalyzed the current unrest on campus — is just one of many examples of President Rochon’s tendency to launch initiatives purportedly focused on education without consultation with those of us who do the educating. Moreover, although the uninterrupted, racist remarks of one of the event’s panelists could not have been anticipated, the president showed poor judgment in placing this panelist at the center of a conversation on which he was ill-equipped to comment knowledgeably. This event brought to the surface not just racial tensions, but a profound dissatisfaction with President Rochon’s leadership that has been fomenting at Ithaca College for many years. Although the reasons for that dissatisfaction have been articulated in a variety of different and very public fashions in the past six weeks, President Rochon has to date deflected responsibility (as he does in his op-ed piece) onto “the campus climate,” rather than admitting to error in the conceptualization and organization of the “Blue Sky” event and other failed campus initiatives and controversial decisions in which he played a key role.

We agree with President Rochon that what we need now is collaborative leadership. Unfortunately, our president has given us little reason during the past seven years to believe that he is a genuinely collaborative leader, one who is willing to listen flexibly and responsively to the concerns (and there are many) of Ithaca College’s faculty, students and staff. By now, it may be too late.

Claire Gleitman
Professor of English
President, Humanities & Sciences Faculty Senate
Ithaca College

Vivian Bruce Conger
Associate Professor of History
Humanities & Sciences Representative to Faculty Council
Ithaca College

Peyi Soyinka-Airewele
Professor of Politics
Member, Humanities and Sciences Faculty Senate
Ithaca College

Asma Barlas
Professor of Politics
Ithaca College

David Turkon
Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Anthropology
Member, Humanities and Sciences Faculty Senate, Member, Faculty Council
Ithaca College

Patricia Rodriguez
Associate Professor of Politics
Ithaca College

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