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Dear Ithaca College Community,
Today, Tom Rochon announced his retirement at the end of the 2016-17 academic year, marking nearly a decade of leadership of the college.
One of the hallmarks of Tom’s presidency has been his deep commitment to Ithaca College. As Tom has pondered the appropriate timing for retirement, he and the Executive Committee of the board have discussed the importance of succession planning to ensure we have an orderly process to select a new president. With Tom’s announcement, it is time to set that process in motion.
The higher education landscape has changed dramatically over the last 10 years, and Tom has given the board the time it will need to shape the role for the college’s next leader, thoroughly review candidates, and, finally, select our new president, without the need for an interim leader. The search process will likely begin this summer. While the board will retain the responsibility for choosing the next president, we are committed to soliciting input from students, faculty, staff, and alumni throughout the process.
When Tom accepted the presidency in June 2008, he did so knowing that we were seeking someone who could drive transformational change and position Ithaca College as a national leader in private higher education. Tom met these challenges and has made significant and lasting contributions to IC:
The next 18 months are an opportunity for the board, Tom, and the community to collaborate on solutions to campus issues in a way that unites us and enables us to attract a world-class leader as our next president. We must focus on the serious and important initiatives underway to promote diversity and inclusion on campus. At the same time, we must also address the broader set of concerns raised by faculty, staff, and students over the last semester around the areas of college governance, campus culture, shared values, and a more engaged leadership with all levels of the IC community.
Over the course of the past few months, our community members have raised some legitimate concerns. That is why we have engaged actively with and heard from many students, faculty, staff, parents, and alumni and will continue to seek their feedback and perspectives so that we can better understand the issues driving the discussion on campus. Our two-day visit in early December with a wide range of campus groups, for example, allowed us to gain many valuable insights into the campus community. We will find more opportunities for this type of board engagement with the community going forward.
We applaud the administration (and join them) for making diversity and inclusion a priority, and believe the action plan being led by Dr. Roger Richardson, our interim chief diversity officer, is a good start. We strongly urge all campus constituencies to engage in this effort. We will also conduct a self-assessment of our practices and begin work immediately on improving our cultural awareness and effectiveness through a combination of board training and increased diversity recruitment efforts for new trustees.
In order to move forward, we must first acknowledge that the challenges we face are not the result of any one person, and that each of us has a role and responsibility in achieving progress. The articulation of concerns from students, faculty, staff, and alumni has been and will always be welcome on our campus. That said, we must build a campus culture that encourages mutual respect for differing points of view and where our disagreements are aired through civil discourse.
Unfortunately, from our perspective, some activities on campus during the last several months have lacked important elements necessary for building and strengthening our community. At times during the unrest on campus last fall, some community members engaged in personal attacks, promulgated misinformation, and promoted tactics on social media that sought to harm our college.
We also heard from some who felt silenced for expressing opinions that differed from those of their peers or leaders, or that were not in sync with the loudest voices on campus.
The board looks forward to working with everyone who cares deeply about the future of Ithaca College, and we will remain open to engaging all voices and viewpoints. However, we cannot engage with those who choose to promote actions aimed at hurting the well-being of the college.
To help us make progress toward shared goals, early this semester we will ask everyone in the community to engage with one another to develop a statement of values that will provide a framework for collaboration on campus. By developing this statement, we hope and believe the campus will be better prepared to pursue our common goals around diversity and inclusion, building a common set of values and creating a stronger shared governance structure.
Our Provost, Ben Rifkin, comes to us from an institution that is respected for many of its shared governance processes. Provost Rifkin has formed a group represented by faculty, staff, students, and members of the administration with the specific goal of helping us devise new ways to foster more collaboration within our community. We recognize that there has been past work in this area, and we expect that the ideas generated from those efforts and many new ones will be part of what the group considers in the months ahead. We expect Provost Rifkin to brief the board at its next two meetings this year on the process to develop a shared governance structure for the academic year.
Strengthening the Ithaca College community will ultimately require that all of us – trustees, the administration, faculty, students, and staff – work cooperatively with one another.
The past few months have been hard for many in our community, and it has been very painful for us to watch the college we love experience such challenging times. It is often during difficult times, however, that the true character of an individual or institution is revealed. We are confident that as we unite to take on the challenges we face, the true spirit of Ithaca College will not only be apparent, but will drive our mission to make our community a place in which we can all be proud.
Tom Grape ’80
David Lissy ’87
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