A proposed fundraiser event by a small liberal arts school president has incited an avalanche, calling for the resignation of a school dean and drawing the Board of Trustees into the muck as 120 faculty pressure the Board to begin its new president search immediately.
Dr. Rodmon Cedric King, Connecticut College’s former Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion (DIEI), insisted President Katherine Bergeron avoid hosting a fundraising event at a Florida venue King knew had a reputation for racism and antisemitism. His advice fell on deaf ears, and as quickly as he was ignored, he resigned.
“I regret our decision to schedule an event at a location whose history and reputation suggest otherwise,” Bergeron wrote in an open letter. “We made that decision believing that our values were clear. But the decision to proceed came across differently, and we recognize now that we were wrong.”
It may seem like a knee-jerk reaction to give up one’s position as a college dean because of the president’s singular misstep, but in his letter to the Board King cited Bergeron’s “bullying behaviors” as the foundation for his decision. He also stressed how her “toxic administrative culture” instilled fear among faculty and crippled their efforts to hold collaborative, successful school meetings.
Students fueled the fire, criticizing Bergeron’s response to King’s resignation as lacking accountability and measures to improve.
“How could she be ‘shocked’ to receive the news when countless staff members and administrators have attested to the ‘toxic’ work environment she has fostered throughout her presidency?” wrote one student in an op-ed for Connecticut College’s student newspaper.
As students continued to object to King’s resignation, many of the school’s departments issued statements in solidarity with students and supporting protests that lead to social change, drawing the campus community into direct conflict with the school’s leadership.
The Board of Trustees attempted to do damage control, penning a public statement empathizing with them. However, their response proved too meek for the faculty.
“Hiring a team of consultants strikes us as a classic media relations move to deflect attention from the core issues by essentially postponing any actionable commitment to change and relying instead on a corporate PR strategy aimed at ‘reputation rehabilitation,’” read a letter signed by 120 faculty members.
The letter went on to suggest that the relationship between leadership and the campus community undergo “a fundamental change,” and called on the Board to hold an open forum during its campus visit on Friday, Feb. 24, noting that input from “committees and ‘leaders’ is not sufficient at this point.”
One student noted that in his “three or four years at Conn,” King is the third DIEI Dean to have arrived and departed from the position there.
“There clearly is a disconnect between the higher administration and the DIEI office,” said student Sam Maidenberg. “And that position has just been on a constant revolving door.”