PLAINFIELD – A yet-to-be formalized group of Goddard College alumni have announced they have cast a vote of no confidence in the school’s Board of Trustees and its recently-hired president, expressing concerns with the direction of the school.
The Goddard College Alumni Association announced Tuesday it had a list of demands that, if accepted, would increase the amount of Goddard-affiliated members on the board.
Kailina Mills, co-founder and lead organizer for the group, said in the news release, “The leadership has shown disdain for alumni, faculty, student and staff perspectives, input and experiences. They’ve chosen to stifle campus community participation in decision-making processes — a stark departure from Goddard’s traditional practices.”
The board is currently made up of 50% of those who have a degree from the school or are a current or former faculty member. The group wants that percentage to increase to two thirds of board members being Goddard-affiliated.
There are currently 14 members on the board, according to Goddard’s website, and the group wants it expanded to 38, the maximum amount allowed under the school’s bylaws. It wants at-large members to be elected by the school community.
The group said doing this would “ensure that individuals who have personally experienced the Goddard pedagogy are more involved in the executive decision making of the College.”
The group has also expressed opposition to Dan Hocoy, whose hiring as president was announced in June. Hocoy took over for former president Bernard Bull on Aug. 1.
The group has published an 11-page statement laying out its concerns which include lack of community input before Hocoy was hired and what his motivations might be for the liberal arts school known for its low-residency model. Current students have said they are concerned the school might be sold out from under them. The alumni group has pointed to Hocoy’s expressed interest in “naming opportunities” where a corporation can get its name on part of the campus in exchange for money.
The group said this “demonstrates an interest in corporate and capitalist partnerships that violate the mission of the College.”
These concerns are similar to the ones expressed when Barbara Vacarr was president of the school from 2010 to 2013. Vacarr was criticized by alumni and faculty for her efforts to deal with the financial issues Goddard had been dealing with, including the possibility of corporate partnerships.
Officials at the school said they are not surprised by the group’s announcement.
Gloria J. Willingham-Touré, chair of the board, said Tuesday the board has met with this group and already discussed its demands. Willingham-Touré said the board is looking to diversify the school so increasing the amount of Goddard-affiliated board members would hurt that effort.
She said changing bylaws, which the group has demanded, takes time and the board needs to gather information before possibly doing so.
“We don’t just do it because someone says, ‘Do this now,’” she said.
Willingham-Touré said alumni were included in the presidential search, which she said she believed was a first for the school and she doesn’t know where the claim of lack of community input is coming from.
She said she understands this is a group of disgruntled alumni. She noted the effort to form an alumni association started in 2018 and the current group does not yet have an official recognition from the school. She said there is no memorandum of understanding between the two bodies so the group is on the outside looking in and doesn’t have all of the information about the inner workings of Goddard.
“We definitely want a full-fledged alumni association at Goddard,” Willingham-Touré said. “We think that’s really, really important. But we have to do it right.”
Hocoy said he has been involved in a naming opportunity in the past, specifically CitiBank offered SUNY-Erie $200,000 so it could put its name on a lounge while he worked there. He said doing so was consistent with that school’s values and would not at all be appropriate for Goddard. Hocoy said he knows some of Goddard’s history and understands “bank is a four-letter word.”
But he does want to look into partnerships that would be in keeping with Goddard’s values and suggested the school might partner with a credit union.
He said Goddard recently reached an agreement on a five-year contract with faculty to preserve Goddard’s unique pedagogy and there are no plans to sell the school.
“We, meaning myself and the Board, have no intention of selling the campus or engaging in a merger or acquisition. Absolutely not,” he said.
The group has criticized Hocoy for hiring two provosts which it said would be expensive for the school. He said the added expense is not true. Hocoy said he moved a dean and associate dean to provost and associate provost, at no additional cost to the school, so that they would have greater oversight over the school’s functions and be on campus regularly when before they had been working primarily out-of-state.
The campus is aging and there are mold and plumbing problems in some of the buildings. The school has offered to take in Afghan refugees and the alumni group called this a “publicity stunt” because there won’t be anywhere for those refugees to stay due to the maintenance issues.
Hocoy said the school is dealing with deferred maintenance and buildings with issues have been closed off and are awaiting repairs. He said there are still residences available for both students and refugees, though not at the same time. He said he’s let refugee organizations know when Goddard can accept refugees up until January so that they don’t conflict with a residency which lasts eight days at most. He said he would provide more dates at the start of the year.
“We’re not going to give them sub-standard accommodations,” he said.