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Exiting College Of St. Rose President Leaves Complicated Legacy

Picture of Carolyn Stafanco
College Of St. Rose
Dr. Carolyn Stefanco

The outgoing president of the College of St. Rose is leaving behind a mixed legacy.

In 2014, Dr. Carolyn Stefanco of Decatur, Georgia was chosen to serve as the 11th president of the College of St. Rose. Stefanco announced Tuesday that she will step down from the private college June 30th.

Initially college officials were confident "things would improve" at St. Rose under Stefanco's leadership.  Stefanco had been vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college at Agnes Scott College  and had visions of St. Rose building a global reach, telling WAMC  "Well, I think that there's a real advantage of bringing in a president from the outside, because, you know, someone like me has experience at a lot of different institutions across the United States as well as in other countries. But when you bring someone in from the outside, of course, that person doesn't know the community..."

But as she settled in and tried to find her place in the community, the college found itself in deep trouble. There were labor problems with adjunct professors, staff cutbacks, cuts to benefit packages and a drop-off in admissions — and a $9 million funding shortfall.

Some faculty, like political science professor and frequent administration critic Angela Ledford, had little faith in Stefanco's leadership.    "It has been a difficult time on campus. And the difficulty has certainly been the result of the financial issues the college is enduring, which are not unlike other small private institutions across the nation. Our situation was really exacerbated by President Stefanco's leadership in that from day one, there has been almost no transparency about how we were going to deal with this financial deficit."

By December 2017, six members of the College of St. Rose’s Board of Trustees tendered their resignations. 

In a call-to-arms post on Facebook, then-adjunct professor Bradley Russell shared an invitation to a "Stefanco Must Go" candlelight vigil, noting "On her watch faculty and student morale have plummeted, dozens of programs have been cut, 23 faculty have been fired, 130 employees have quit and the board and administration has been censured by the AAUP."

Today Russell, who is no longer teaching at the college, says the faculty endured a rocky relationship with Stefanco.  "It started very early on when she decided to engage in what she called 'program prioritization,' which involves really significant cuts to the number of faculty, of full time faculty in particular, as well as a large number of degree programs that that were intended to just sort of bring the school out of some financial problems. That never achieved that. Never changed the financial situation, and the financial situation has stayed pretty bad, and it's gotten essentially appreciably worse under her tenure."

Russell believes Stefanco's departure is a step in the right direction.   "I do have my concerns about some of the board members that are still there that drove her hiring and kept her in place for as long as they did, but it sounds like you know, while there was a press release saying that she was, you know, leaving and moving on, I do think that the implication there is pretty clear that they've that they've removed her from the position. So hopefully they've had a change of heart about sort of the direction that they've been trying to take the school in. I don't think it's been working for you know, their underlying goals or the educational goals."

In January, 28 College of St. Rose graduates pledged to halt donations until the school rescinds its “media blockade on students and employees." 

Not all the headlines were negative: Dr. Stefanco founded the Women’s Leadership Institute at Saint Rose and received a Helen Gurley Brown Genius Grant in 2018.

The college emailed a lengthy press release regarding Stefanco's decision to step down. It says Stefanco plans to continue to speak, write, and consult about women’s leadership in higher education.

Requests for an interview were declined. A campus spokeswoman said in an email, "President Stefanco feels she has said everything she has to say about her future plans."

Dr Carolyn J Stefanco Will Step Down June 30 2020 as President of the College of Saint Rose on Scribd

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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