When students returned to Manhattanville College last month for the new academic year, the senior vice president for student affairs, Mary Corrarino, was in her usual active role. But the day after she was giving speeches and schmoozing with students, she was gone. Students received an e-mail message noting that a new person would be serving in Corrarino's role on an interim basis, but there was no explanation given for why the position was vacant.
The sudden departure of the popular administrator -- widely believed to be a firing and unexplained by college officials -- has infuriated both professors and students. Last week, the faculty of the liberal arts college in Westchester County, N.Y., voted 71-2 to demand a special outside investigation into her dismissal. The faculty also voted no confidence, by a margin of 60-4, in President Richard Berman.
Students rallied outside a special meeting of a committee of the Board of Trustees on Wednesday and have organized a Facebook group called "Where in the world is Mary Corrarino?" that contains student testimonials about Corrarino's impact on their lives. After the board meeting, an outside spokesman hired by the college released a short statement saying in part: ""The Board of Trustees met today to review the circumstances surrounding the departure of one of its senior executives. After long and thoughtful discussion, the majority confirmed their support and confidence in the president's leadership."
The spokesman said that because the issue was one involving a personnel matter, he could say nothing more. Corrarino did not respond to messages.
David Adams, associate professor of business and the elected chair of the faculty, said that professors were unable to speak about the situation because lawyers were involved in the dispute. He confirmed the two faculty votes, but declined to comment further. The Journal News reported that Berman told professors that he had "irreconcilable differences" with Corrarino.
Lindsey Keller, a senior at the college who helped organize Wednesday's protest, said "Mary is the one you go to here if you have a problem, and she solves it."
Keller said that while she has been at Manhattanville, students were concerned about inadequate education about how to prevent sexual assaults and Corrarino organized a program. Students were frustrated by the way exams were being scheduled and Corrarino got students and professors together to work out a solution. Students were angered by prices in the cafeteria and Corrarino got them changed. "She relates directly to students," she said.
Corrarino didn't always do what students wanted, but they praised her as honest and decisive. "I would always go to her. She will make a decision and get things done whether it is in my favor or not, but she's the one you go to," Keller added.
One student who has known her from birth is Mary Ogorzaly, her goddaughter. Ogorzaly, who organized the Facebook group, said that Corrarino graduated from Manhattanville in the same class as her mother and has deep ties to the college. "She has so much invested in this school," she said, adding that she had not spoken to Corrarino about her sudden departure.
For the college to get rid of someone whom so many students rely on -- without any explanation -- is deeply insulting, Ogorzaly said. "There's way too much secrecy," she said. "They don't think they can trust us. It makes us all feel like they think we are little children."