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Connecticut College president will step down after weeks of protests

Hundreds gather on the Connecticut College campus for the faculty rally
Brian Scott-Smith
Hundreds gather on the Connecticut College campus for the faculty rally.

After weeks of student and faculty protests at Connecticut College, President Katherine Bergeron has announced she will step down.

In a letter to the school Friday, Bergeron said she would continue her position as president through the end of the semester. Her last day will be June 23.

After 10 years in the position, Bergeron said she had thought hard about the events of the past several weeks, and would continue to learn from them and hoped others would too.

She was criticized for scheduling, and then canceling, a college fundraiser at a Florida club that faces allegations of racism and antisemitism. The school’s chief diversity officer, Rodmon King, resigned in protest. Faculty also accused her of bullying in leadership.

“The past few 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,” Bergeron wrote.

As the campus community returned to school after the spring break, Bergeron's resignation has already sparked many more questions from students.

“Will she be speaking at graduation at the end of the semester? You know, how are her duties to the college and how will we begin the work of starting a new administration with better goals and better initiatives — while she’s still here?" said Sam Maidenberg, co-editor of the student newspaper, The College Voice. "I think there’s still a lot of questions left unanswered, but I think it’s generally what students have been asking for has been addressed."

Maidenberg said some students feel that Bergeron’s letter failed to acknowledge her shortcomings that were highlighted by faculty and staff, especially about her management style and alleged bullying behavior.

The Board of Trustees also failed, Maidenberg said, by painting an overly positive picture of Bergeron and her time at the school.

“Forty-six days since Dean King resigned from his post until President Bergeron resigned from hers," he said. "Forty-six days of struggling for a lot of students, of protesting of missing classes and missing extra curriculars of the musical being cancelled."

"If she was going to resign, which was inevitable in my opinion under all the pressure, should it of come sooner and it would have eliminated a lot of struggle that came about in the last month and a half," Maidenberg said.

The Student Voices for Equity, an advocacy group that was formed by the student body at the college, released a statement on Friday following Bergeron’s announcement, recognizing the work of staff, students, and faculty. “There is no doubt that our efforts have led to this institutional change at Connecticut College,” the group said.

Theater Professor Virginia Anderson agreed that Bergeron’s departure is part of a much wider problem.

“There’s a mix of emotions. Some people feel relief, some people are excited to simply rebuild and move on. I find myself a bit surprised perhaps in that this brings no relief to me, that I know that the problems that have been raised they’ve been long standing,” Anderson said. “Our Board of Trustees has been aware of them for some time — this goes so far beyond just one person.”

In a separate letter to the school, the Board of Trustees said it will begin an immediate search for her successor and would name an interim president.

The board also promised to “better execute its mission, including the area of equity, inclusion and full participation” among students, staff and faculty.

Art History Professor Chris Steiner said there’s still the thorny question of how much Bergeron’s departure will cost the college. In 2001, Connecticut College was left in the lurch with mismanaged funds, a burgeoning financial crisis, and then-President Clare Gaudiani resigning with a large severance package.

“We potentially are leading into financial uncertainty right now,” Steiner said. “And I think that the question of financial compensation will become an issue.”

An award-winning freelance reporter/host for WSHU, Brian lives in southeastern Connecticut and covers stories for WSHU across the Eastern side of the state.