President Cole hosts open student sessions


Sami Mirza

President Ron Cole, ’87, speaks to students during the Sept. 22 listening session.

The newly-appointed Acting President of Allegheny College Ron Cole, ’87, held two events on Wednesday, Sept. 21, and Thursday, Sept. 22, for students to get to know him, ask questions and bring issues to his attention. Roughly 25 students were present over the two sessions at the Henderson Campus Center.
Cole opened by acknowledging the abruptness of the recent change in leadership. He emphasized that he is aware of the recurring uncertainties Allegheny students have endured that have resulted in anxiety and fear.
“What we now need is stability and continuity,” Cole said. “We need to be able, as a campus community, to work together and move forward.”
He continued to reassure students that even though his appointment was sudden, he feels capable of leading.
“I want you to know that I believe in Allegheny,” Cole said at the Sept. 21 meeting. “I believe in you. I respect you. I respect our faculty and our staff. I’m deeply committed, and I plan to lead on a foundation of trust.”
Cole revealed that last year he applied for multiple presidency, vice presidency and provost positions at different academic institutions.
“It was really helpful to go through that exercise because it really forced me to think about what matters, what I value,” Cole said. “My goal initially as president is to instill value and respect for students and employees here. And that to me builds trust. If we don’t have that, we can’t do other things. We can’t work together.”
Cole plans to continue working with the current presidential cabinet toward the goals former President Hilary Link set.
“The priorities we have are the right priorities centered around holistic student success, inclusive excellence and really digging into our academic brand and our community,” Cole said. “What I might try to help change is how we do the work to see those priorities realized.”
At the Sept. 21 meeting ASG Class of 2026 Senator Lorenzo Scarnati asked if Cole intended to make a career out of his new presidency.
“Well let’s see how this year goes, but I think I’d welcome it,” Cole said.
The conversation at the Sept. 21 meeting moved on to the topic of student life on campus. ASG president Veronica Green ’23, asked Cole if he is able to commit to the monthly meetings with student organizations that Link already scheduled.
“The answer is yes; I want to be available and visible — that’s important,” Cole said. “And I’m going to do the same thing for employees.”

Green suggested that Cole should utilize his office hours to get feedback directly from students, and Cole said he would be willing to do so.
In an article published by The Campus on Sept. 9, Provost Angela Haddad remarked that Cole had stated in a private conversation with her that many times, Cole “just sat there unless students were upset, and then students would come and it wouldn’t be a discussion, it would be a lot of angst.”
“There was a lot more context in my conversation with (Haddad) about those open office hours,” Cole said in response. “I never thought they were a waste of time.”
During the Sept. 21 meeting, Kamryn Dorsett, ’25, asked how Cole plans to make the campus more diverse. Cole responded by explaining some of the policies he enacted as Provost that aimed to increase diversity among staff and curriculums. He indicated that one of his priorities is building a community that encourages current students of color to stay, while also recruiting an increasingly diverse student body.
“I want Allegheny to be a place that students, everybody, employees, feel that it’s their place, that there’s inclusion,” Cole said. “And I can say that but that doesn’t matter — we have to show up and do things.”
Cole received heavy criticism from students last year after his staffing plan cut multiple academic disciplines and terminated formerly tenured Associate Professor of Chinese Xiaoling Shi, who filed a charge of discrimination against Allegheny College with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission following her contract’s termination.
“Last year was a horrible year, and I’m not proud of some of the work that I had to oversee about some of the discontinuing programs, but the reality was the number of students wasn’t enough to sustain everything we were doing, and I’m happy to talk to anybody about that at any time,” Cole said. “I had the privilege and honor (of being Provost), and I loved most of it, didn’t always enjoy it, and I never want to do it again.”
At both meetings, students and Cole talked about many other topics, including improving transparency from the office of public safety, strategic institutional investments, campus aesthetics, improving communication between administration and students, increasing future class sizes and retention rates and furthering student-faculty relationships.
A recurring topic of discussion was how to revitalize the Allegheny community. Rutendo Mavunga, ’24, shared her feelings about campus life.
“I don’t really have the sense of what college life is like; it’s more of just, like, classes, homework, call it a day, maybe a party,” Mavunga said. “I’m so disconnected from the bigger picture.”
Cole shared that he had received similar feedback from faculty and staff, who requested that he host more community events typical of colleges. Students and Cole brainstormed different events, which led to Cole’s commitment to hosting an open tab and conversation session in Grounds for Change on Wednesday, Sept. 28. Cole said he is excited to work on more events like this in the future.
Toward the end of the Sept. 21 conversation, Cole described a major challenge he feels is affecting the community in many ways.
“Allegheny needs its mojo back,” Cole said. “That’s the root cause (of many of these problems). It’s the sense of who we are, the sense of pride. So the way I believe to turn this (around) is many of the things that were suggested: community building, respect and value for each other.”
Cole encouraged more students to collaborate with him.
“What I’m hoping to do is I’m going to be visible,” Cole said. “I want to be around campus. I want to meet with students. I want to know you and I want you to know me … (ASG) is the governing structure so if students want to see change or want something done or have ideas, that’s the venue. Show up and be part of it.”
Instead of the scheduled 30 minutes, the sessions ended up lasting approximately 90 minutes and 45 minutes, respectively.
In the end, students expressed their feelings about what they thought was a productive conversation.
“To sit here and watch you take notes and leave feeling confident that you’re going to look back at those and talk about them with other administrators, it feels good,” said Class of 2026 President Sam Ault. “I know I’ve been heard.”
ASG Chief of Staff Ray Colabawalla, ’25 shared similar thoughts.
“Honestly, just having someone listen to everything earnestly is what I think makes a lot of difference,” Colabawalla said.
Cole left students with one last thought at the Sept. 21 meeting.
“I don’t need a job; I need a mission,” Cole said. “This is not just a job. I care deeply about Allegheny, and we will be successful. We’ve had challenges in the past and we’ve met those challenges, and the way we’re going to do it is rallying together.”