Administrative obstacles (and why they won’t work)

Rebecca Billings:
Through the last two and a half years of my life, my entire sense of self-identity, understanding of the world as a global system, and set of values has shifted. My classes and community at Ithaca College are directly responsible for these changes. Through incredibly powerful and inclusive courses, new visions and perspective from professors and peers, and the constant encouragement of student involvement and agency here at IC, I feel that I have become more intelligent, aware, and empowered.

It isn’t often that I feel disempowered, unheard, or ignored, especially in terms of an academic environment. However, over the last few days, there has been an incessant worry that my fellow organizers and I have been disregarded and our ideas trivialized.

On October 10th, we held an action outside of the first bi-annual Board of Trustees meeting, while some of our members simultaneously met with President Tom Rochon, Board Chairman Tom Grape, and Secretary Nancy Pringle. Check out the personal accounts of both here. The action and the meeting were extremely successful, and led to both a meeting with Nancy Pringle, and an interesting series of emails. In the spirit of full transparency, we have linked to this email exchange, and encourage you to divulge and draw your own conclusions.

In our first email, we requested a second meeting “to further discuss our 2015 campaign goals, to discuss moving towards socially responsible investing, and to receive a preliminary answer regarding divestment from the sixteen companies.”

Nine days later, President Rochon replied with skepticism to the legitimacy of our organization:

“…our understanding [is] that although you have specific requests for institutional divestment from 16 companies, your total program of change is still preliminary.  Given that fact, it is our sense that we should wait to have further conversations until ELAN has had time to clarify your entire agenda.  As you can imagine, it is difficult to have a wide-ranging conversation on a significant issue when that issue comes to us in incremental pieces.”

The “incremental pieces” refers to the list of sixteen companies, to which President Rochon assumed we would be adding, by providing additional companies to invest in and an explanation of what we believe “socially responsible investments” look like. The purpose of this second meeting, which we intended to hold this week, was to continue  a transparent, open dialogue and move towards collaborating  in an effort to reasonably define the terms of social responsibility. We are seeking discussion and joint participation in the forward movement of our campaign, not simply a presentation of our understanding of investing practices. We are not trying to tell the administration how to do their job, but opening up a dialogue to improve the morality of our institution’s investment practices. As we made clear in our response email, “We will not be presenting any more lists.”

Our extensive follow-up email on October 25 again laid out our request for a meeting this week, and reiterated our campaign’s original demands. Despite our frustration, we maintained a clear and respectful tone: “Our coalition believes that divestment from the fossil fuel industry is the most important work we can be doing to ensure a world worth graduating into, and we can make this call to action a reality with your help.” We sought to establish both our own agency and capacity as a coalition of dedicated students, and to make the administration’s imperative role in divestment clear.

Then we waited.

Thirteen days later, when we had still not received a response, we decided to take action. In the original meeting on October 10, President Rochon very clearly assured those present that he always, personally responded to every email he received. We checked and rechecked that our message had gone through, and then five ELAN members called and left voicemails, demanding a response to our email. Confusion ensued over the next few days, with phone conversations, forwarded emails, and administrative claims that our October 25 message was never received.

Finally, on November 12, after no direct contact was successfully made with President Rochon himself, we received a dismissive email from Nancy Pringle, Secretary to the Board of Trustees. “It is not necessary to schedule a meeting this week to meet with us,” she wrote.

Although this was accompanied by an incredibly hopeful promise that the Board of Trustees “will discuss your proposal at its meeting in February 2013,” this time frame is simply unacceptable under the circumstances of our demands.

As students at a college that puts forth ideals of environmental sustainability, social responsibility, and transparency in its practices, it is imperative that students not only be heard, but listened to. This movement is our chance to push universities across the United State towards accountability to the society in which we live.

I am tired of hypocrisy, contradiction, and the simple disregard of my own thoughts and values, especially by the administration of a school that claims to exist for the purpose of educating and building the character of both myself and my peers. We have valuable ideas, we have bright minds, and we have the honest ability and determination to bring forth the changes that our world needs.

We refuse to be ignored, dismissed, or brushed aside. President Rochon and the administration may think that we are going to give up or that we are going to slow down.

They’re wrong.

Watch out for an amazing action that you can be a part of this Thanksgiving break, a new video coming soon, and our unfaltering presence in the community of Ithaca College as a whole.

Sign our petition,
Like us on facebook,
Get involved.

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