A dispute at Goddard College escalated last week when the school’s board of trustees told an alumni group to stop making “potentially defamatory” statements in a cease-and-desist letter.
In an Oct. 20 letter obtained by VTDigger, the board of trustees also seeks to compel the Goddard College Alumni Association to stop using the school’s name in its materials and threatened to “bring legal action to address these issues should these actions continue.”
The letter, which is addressed to eight Goddard alumni and a current graduate student, is a dramatic escalation of a dispute that burst into public view less than a month ago.
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Tensions between the Plainfield liberal arts college and a group of alumni surfaced Oct. 13, after the Goddard College Alumni Association announced a “vote of no confidence” in the college’s board of trustees and new president, Dan Hocoy.
In an 11-page letter uploaded to its website, the alumni group said Hocoy had “overstated” his previous leadership roles and exhibited “dishonesty” about his experience at Kansas City’s Metropolitan Community College and SUNY-Erie. Hocoy called those claims “completely untrue.”
But when they brought their concerns to trustees, alumni said, they were rebuffed.
Trustees “demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of the unique pedagogy of the college, a disregard for the college’s mission and values, and a failure to uphold their duties as trustees,” the letter reads.
In response, Goddard’s administration accused the group of spreading misinformation. Officials also said the group was not an officially recognized alumni organization.
In an interview this month, Hocoy said the alumni were publishing “inaccuracies and falsehoods,” but said the college does “invite discourse and dissent and activism.”
“Even this small group, it does show a lot of initiative, and we welcome their comments and their opposition to some of the positions of the school,” he said.
A week later, the board of trustees sent alumni the cease-and-desist letter.
The letter, which was sent by an attorney with Boston law firm Morgan Brown & Joy, tells the alumni council that the name “Goddard College” is trademarked and instructs the group to “cease and desist the use of this protected mark without expressed permission.”
The attorney also instructs the alumni group to stop making “misleading, incorrect and potentially defamatory” statements that “appear to intend to intentionally interfere with the business relations and activities of Goddard College.”
In an interview Friday, Gloria Willingham-Touré, chair of the Goddard board of trustees, said the school has “no sanctioned relationship” with the alumni group, although they have previously partnered to hold events and fundraisers.
The alumni group, she said, is spreading “misleading information” that is “digging into how we operate the college itself.”
“We can’t just sit back and not say anything about that,” she said. “We cannot do it.”
Kailina Mills, lead organizer for the Goddard College Alumni Association, said she was “pretty disappointed that the board would take this action.”
The alumni association, Mills said, was created with the blessing of the college, and has a mailing list of over 7,000 alumni, she said.
She was unsure if the group would obey the cease-and-desist.
“We have to talk about that together, and figure out what our next steps are, and what the legal repercussions of this [are] and whether it holds any merit or not,” she said.
Hocoy, Goddard’s fourth president in 10 years, took the helm of the 158-year-old low-residency school over the summer, amid ongoing worries about the school’s financial viability.
Goddard, which also has campuses in Washington state, has struggled with its finances for years. From 2018 to 2020, Goddard had been placed on probation by the New England Commission of Higher Education, which warned the school could lose its accreditation if it did not find a more stable financial footing.
In an interview Friday, Hocoy said he had no part in sending the cease-and-desist letter, but maintained that the board was within its rights to do so.
“We do love seeing the passionate commitment to the college,” he said, but “there are appropriate limits to what can be said.”
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