Connecticut College president resigns under pressure

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Connecticut College president Katherine Bergeron is stepping down in the wake of student protests and widespread calls for her resignation over missteps on diversity, equity and inclusion.

Bergeron made the announcement Friday morning, writing in a statement that she would formally step down “at the end of the current semester.” Students, faculty and staff have been calling for Bergeron’s ouster for weeks; students occupied the administrative building last month after Rodmon King, the dean of institutional equity and inclusion, resigned in part over the college’s decision to schedule a fundraiser at Florida’s Everglades Club, which has long been accused of discriminating against Black and Jewish people. While Connecticut College ultimately canceled the event, the move came too late, prompting King to step down.

In his resignation letter, King blasted the president for bullying and creating a “toxic administrative culture of fear and intimidation.” His letter and abrupt departure brought to the surface long-simmering tensions over Bergeron’s leadership. As the controversy continued, faculty members overwhelmingly issued a vote of no confidence in Bergeron’s leadership in early March.

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The local newspaper also wrote an editorial calling on Bergeron to resign.

Faculty members have complained about what they see as Bergeron’s administrative overreach, micromanagement and lack of transparency—issues they said they raised with the Board of Trustees beginning in 2017, to no avail.

College employees and students alike have criticized Bergeron in the wake of the incident, arguing that she could have prevented King’s resignation by heeding his warning and canceling the event sooner. They have also castigated the president for refusing to meet with student protesters who occupied the administrative building unless they agreed not to record the exchange.

Now Bergeron is out, and the search for a new president is on the horizon.

The Announcement

Bergeron did not address the specifics of the controversy in her resignation announcement.

“Certainly, the road has not always been easy. It never is, when the work is so important and the goals so ambitious. The past several weeks have proven particularly challenging, and as president, I fully accept my share of responsibility for the circumstances that have led us to this moment,” she wrote in an emailed statement to the campus community Friday morning. “For the past nine and a half years, I have devoted myself to advancing educational excellence and equity at this College. I care deeply—and I always have—for the success of our faculty, the well-being of our staff, and above all, the intellectual, social, and professional development of our students. My decision to leave at this moment is for the good of all these things.”

Bergeron continued, “For my part, I have thought hard about the events of the past weeks, and I know I will continue to learn from them. I hope it is possible for everyone to do the same, for there are many lessons here. It is only through careful, honest discernment that a community can grow towards peace, wisdom, and justice. That is my wish for Conn.”

The Connecticut College Board of Trustees also issued a statement Friday, praising Bergeron’s work over nearly a decade at the institution and pointing to her track record in curriculum development, strategic planning, fundraising and establishing the Division of Institutional Equity and Inclusion, whose dean ultimately played a role in ending her presidency.

“Over the last several weeks our focus has been drawn to areas in which the College can better execute its mission, including the area of equity, inclusion, and full participation. Constructive dialogue among students, staff, faculty administrators, and trustees has already begun to clarify an approach to the next phase of work we need to do to improve the Conn College experience for everyone,” board chair Debo P. Adegbile wrote in a statement to the campus community Friday. “The Board remains committed to providing additional resources to advance campus DIEI work, and to assess ways to support the community more broadly as plans come into sharper focus. Our College is at its finest, after all, when students, staff, faculty, administrators, and trustees work together to deliver an exceptional educational experience for all.”

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Calls for Transparency

A college spokesperson declined to answer questions about the next steps for the Board of Trustees, including when an interim president will be appointed and the start date for a search to find Bergeron’s successor.

The board itself provided scant details on what comes next.

“We will now begin the process of selecting a new President. As is customary, this will involve appointing a representative search committee that includes faculty, staff, students, and trustees,” Adegbile wrote. “We will also be naming an interim president who, upon President Bergeron’s departure, will work with the Board and the senior administration in assuming the daily responsibilities of the office and in connecting constituencies across our College family. We will provide more information about the transition and the search process in the near term.”

Faculty members told Inside Higher Ed that they hope to see an open presidential search; they allege that during past executive searches, the Board of Trustees has not been fully transparent.

Chris Steiner, a professor of art history and anthropology and director of the museum studies program at Connecticut College, said an open search can help restore trust in leadership.

“I would also stress that there are many structural problems at the college that need to be recognized by the [Board of Trustees] and acted on quickly. Change in leadership is a big step, a welcome step, but it’s only the first step,” Steiner told Inside Higher Ed by email.

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