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Ithaca College president to retire. Did racial incidents push him out?

Tom Rochon had recently received a vote of 'no confidence' from students and faculty.

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The president of Ithaca College in central New York state said on Thursday he would retire in 2017, an announcement that comes following protests for his handling of racial issues on campus and a no-confidence vote from students and faculty.

Tom Rochon said on the institution’s website that he will leave his position in 18 months, after serving as the school’s president since 2008.

Protests began in September for alleged incidents of racism by college police, joining a flurry of similar flare-ups and protest by student activists frustrated with racial issues at college campuses across the United States. One result of this college activism was the president of the University of Missouri resigning in November.

In a statement, Mr. Rochon did not specifically mention campus dissatisfaction over his management of alleged racist incidents at the college but did insinuate the topic needed to be addressed.

“I recognize that colleges evolve through eras defined by new opportunities and challenges,” he said. “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.

An activist group named People of Color at Ithaca College noted the school president’s response to at least three racially sensitive incidents led to a demand among students for Rochon to step down.

The first incident allegedly took place in August, when two college safety officers conducting training for residence assistants made aggressive and “racially insensitive" comments, according to The Ithacan. Those involved in the training session told the newspaper two officers dismissed concerns over racial profiling. 

Several minority students reportedly left the training session in disgust. Silent protests ensued in September, as more students joined with concerns over the treatment of people of color on the campus, the newspaper reported.  

Two other incidents some say involving racism reportedly took place with members of the school alumni last year. 

Students and faculty also criticized a tepid response from Rochan on the issues. By November, roughly 600 students conducted a walkout demanding Rochon leave his job, followed later by a "no confidence" vote from students.

In December, staff members wrote an open letter to Rochon laying out their concerns. The Ithaca College Faculty Council released the results of their own ballot, of which more than 300 full-time faculty among 460 at the school voted no confidence in Rochon. 

“Since Rochon arrived on campus in summer 2008, faculty have issued many public statements, petitions, letters to the campus newspaper, and op-eds articulating their opposition to his autocratic leadership style and other grievances,” a statement posted on Facebook said. “This semester’s vote of no confidence is the product of several years of profound faculty dissatisfaction.”

Rochon said that he would spend his remaining time in office “working in a constructive and collaborative way making progress on issues of diversity and inclusion, shared governance, and decision making.

“I look forward to working with the campus community in the months ahead, and to supporting the board in any way I can during the search and transition to a new president,” he said. 

[Editor's note: The original version of this story misattributed a statement made on the Faculty at IC Facebook page.]

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