With President Cole, we can recover


Sami Mirza

Interim President Ron Cole, ’87, speaks with students during a public session in the Campus Center lobby on Thursday, Sept. 22.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and ahead of Blue and Gold weekend Allegheny College erupted.
I don’t need to recap what happened on Tuesday afternoon. If you want the facts about President Link’s term and subsequent departure from the college, the first three pages of the paper have some excellent coverage that will suit.
I’m here to talk about what I witnessed on Sept. 20. We all got the email — in class, at the gym, in the library — and murmurs rippled across campus and beyond almost immediately. My mom, a ’97 graduate who lives two hours away, called me as soon as she heard. My grandparents, Meadville residents, sent inquiring texts. All around me, students talked about the implications of this latest and greatest staffing update.
Allegheny College has an extensive and deeply invested community. This is undeniable. When my mom called, it was not as a concerned parent but rather as a dedicated alum. When my grandparents reached out, it was as neighbors whose friends and family were employed by the college. There is an unfathomably large group of people across the country — the world, really — who care deeply about this little college.
For the past few years, whether it was because of Link’s ambitious plans, the pandemic, political strife or any other one of the dozen extenuating circumstances of our modern age, the student body has lost sight of Allegheny. Now is the time to get that love for our college back before it disappears forever.
Institutional memory is frighteningly short. I am a senior; Link came to Allegheny at the same time that I did. There are only a few students on this campus — some super seniors and those of us who were already familiar with the community — that remember the Allegheny of before. It was a much different, much beloved place. Now, three classes of students have matriculated into a deeply anxious, angry place where people hold up signs that say “NOBODY IS HAPPY AT ALLEGHENY” and feel no sense of connection to the administrators who are supposed to be guiding and protecting their undergraduate careers. If the emotional course of the campus community is not corrected soon, I fear that this vitriol may remain.
Let me be clear: Allegheny was never a utopia—even if Timothy Alden wanted it to be one. Such places do not exist. But there have been brighter times than the era of turmoil we find ourselves in now. It is a watershed moment in the history of this institution, and it’s up to us to rebuild the culture to protect the legacy of this college and ensure the wellbeing of what I hope will be many future generations of Alleghenians.
As one of our Editors-in-Chief pointed out earlier this month, most students feel abandoned or ignored in our current roiling system. I agree; it’s incredibly frustrating to think of the many ways that my class has been lost in the shuffle of the Renaissance Plan and COVID-19. When I think about what my Allegheny career could have looked like in the best of all possible worlds, my heart breaks.
But I cannot remain frustrated. Impotent rage does nobody any good. If my class is the sacrificial lamb, fine. If we can save the Allegheny I love in the next year, it will all have been worth it.
We need to re-engage like never before. Today — Thursday afternoon — I attended one of President Cole’s two open discussions with students. I was one of five students in attendance, and I’ve been informed that Wednesday’s event was similarly attended. The low attendance in an otherwise packed Campus Center lobby was beyond disappointing. I know that the Allegheny community is one that is passionate about any number of issues — climate change, politics, human rights. Now is the time to turn that passion inward, to bring it home.
This is a plea to my fellow students, disguised as the obligatory “we’ve got a new president” opinion piece. Give President Cole a chance. More than that, give him your support, your encouragement, your time and attention. I firmly believe that, as an alum and former longtime faculty member, he has the best interests of the college at heart. Spending some time with him only strengthened this conviction.
Cole speaks enthusiastically and eloquently about Allegheny — the good times and the bad. He believes that the culture on campus is the linchpin; that without creating a “welcoming and inclusive community” with a sense of “stability and continuity” for students, all other efforts will fail.
When asked about his priorities, Cole said: “To value and respect this campus community—the people, its mission and its vision. I believe in Allegheny College.”
I am impressed by his readiness to take on this role and encouraged by his dedication to Allegheny itself — not merely a vision of higher education dedicated to conformity and competition, but rather the unique sanctuary on the hill that nurtures and inspires class after class.
So, the onus falls upon our cohort to carry our college through this tumultuous period. We are the few who remember all that Allegheny can be, how beautiful Bentley looks on an October day and how nurturing a classroom in Arter or Carnegie feels. I feel ready. I am optimistic. Let’s roll up our sleeves alongside President Cole and get to work on this place that we love so dearly.