ALBANY — Student and faculty leaders at The College of Saint Rose on Thursday called for answers about a spate of recent resignations from the college’s Board of Trustees.
Among the departures is the board's chairwoman who, in her resignation letter, said: “The president no longer enjoys my confidence.”
Three trustees resigned in the past week, and at least two others have resigned since Nov. 1 — the latest sign of wavering support for the school’s president, Carolyn Stefanco, who has stirred controversy since she took the helm in 2015 and set out to close a budget deficit and focus on growing student enrollment beyond the Capital Region.
In her resignation letter, former board chair Judith Calogero described a board divided over Stefanco’s ability to lead the school out of its dire financial situation and improve a deteriorating campus climate.
Calogero cited high turnover in top administrative positions — the college has had four provosts in two years, she wrote — as well as a slew of departures across the campus in recent years. She highlighted tensions with faculty and wrote that campus leadership “has no plan to correct that or improve” faculty relations. The Saint Rose alumna wrote she “can no longer serve on a board that does not support the change that is so visibly needed.”
“The board of trustees is deeply divided in our governance and our charge and supervision of management,” Calogero wrote in the letter. “We’ve committed an enormous amount of time and effort over the last few years to help improve the leadership and management effectiveness, but with no success, and the trustees are divided over taking any corrective action.”
Sister Mary Anne Heenan was named board chair on Wednesday. On Thursday, she acknowledged that board members had resigned with concerns about leadership, but she also said the board was committed to working with Stefanco to improve the college financially and culturally.
“As with any group or board, there are always differences of opinions in terms of the best ways to meet the challenges that are faced,” Heenan said.
She also said many of the financial challenges facing the college predate Stefanco’s tenure, and that controversial decisions to cut positions and programs were approved by the trustees.
“Carolyn has carried out the things we as a board have asked her to do,” Heenan said. “The board is committed to working diligently with her to move the college forward and deal with the multiple challenges that face Saint Rose.”
Over the past two years, especially after Stefanco, in December 2015, announced plans to cut academic programs and faculty positions, faculty members and students have protested the president’s leadership. In February 2016, the faculty overwhelmingly approved a motion of “no confidence” in Stefanco; in April, the faculty approved a resolution calling for her removal. Trustees expressed support for Stefanco after both of those votes.
“If anything, confidence is lower than when we passed those motions,” said Kathleen Crowley, president of the faculty association, when reached Thursday. “I don’t know how she [Stefanco] recovers … I don’t see her able to re-establish a sense of community — a sense of confidence.”
Longtime Saint Rose faculty member Mary Alice Molgard said staff received a memo Wednesday that stated Heenan had been named the new board chair but provided few other details.
“We have received no more information than that,” Molgard said. “That is one of the things that probably disturbed the faculty the most — the lack of transparency. We get very little communication on important issues until long after the fact; that is a long-standing issue.”
Student Association President Vito Van Dunk also said Thursday that he would like to see answers from the college’s leaders about why the trustees resigned and what the leadership’s next steps are, adding, “It does seem a little off,” that so many trustees would resign around the same time.
“I feel there should be some level of transparency,” he said. “We should be more aware of what has occurred and what the issues are that board members who resigned may have had.”