The president of Ithaca College in New York announced he will retire next year, brought down by protesters who say he hasn’t done enough to handle racial issues on campus.
Tom Rochon was one of several college presidents last fall besieged with demands he resign for race-related reasons. He’s the second, following University of Missouri president Timothy Wolfe, to actually give in to those demands, although Rochon’s departure will be far more drawn out. In his announcement, Rochon says he will remain on the job until July 1, 2017, while the school conducts a thorough search for his successor.
No single issue is to blame for Rochon’s downfall. Instead, much like Wolfe, he was attacked for a variety of incidents protesters say exposed a toxic racial environment at the school. In August, for instance, several students claimed they were emotionally triggered after campus police officers denied engaging in racial profiling and said they would shoot a student wandering around publicly with a BB gun. Later, in October, students were outraged after alumni speaking at a panel event called a black student a “savage” after she described herself as possessing a “savage hunger” to succeed. Lastly, a fraternity on campus provoked outrage when it invited students to a “Preps and Crooks” party, where the “crook” attire was described as including baggy shorts and “bling.”
Rochon’s response to these events left activists unsatisfied. For instance, after the “savage” incident, he issued a statement noting that Ithaca “cannot prevent the use of hurtful language on campus.”
In November, as mass protests were simultaneously erupting at the University of Missouri, Yale University, and elsewhere, Ithaca students staged “solidarity walkouts” demanding Rochon’s immediate departure.
In December, the students were joined by Ithaca faculty, 78 percent of whom approved a “no confidence” motion against the president.
After more than two months of intense pressure, Rochon has finally given in.
Rochon’s retirement announcement obliquely references the protests the campus has seen in recent months.
“I believe it is best for IC to be led in the future by a president chosen by the board specifically to make a fresh start on these challenges, including those that became so apparent to us all last semester.
While Rochon’s departure is still more than a year away, protesters celebrated his retirement as a big victory.
“There is power in the collective,” the group POC at IC said on Facebook. “We did it!”