A Deepening Feud Between Goddard College and Alumni

In a cease-and-desist letter, the board threatens legal action if the alumni group continues to publish “misleading or defamatory statements” about the college.

November 3, 2021
 
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Goddard College in Plainfield, Vt.

The Goddard College Board of Trustees issued a cease-and-desist letter last week to a group of alumni that voted no confidence in the board and the college president last month. The letter accuses the alumni group of violating trademark law by using the Goddard College name.

“Please accept this letter as official notice of your infringement of this mark and as direction to cease and desist the use of this protected mark without expressed permission,” wrote Joseph P. McConnell, an attorney with the law firm Morgan, Brown & Joy.

The notice also requests that the group “cease publishing misleading or defamatory statements” about the college, its president and the board. Otherwise, the board may take legal action against the group.

In an 11-page letter, the Goddard College Alumni Association last month issued a vote of no confidence in the Board of Trustees and the president, Dan Hocoy. The group also levied a host of accusations against the board and Hocoy, including that the college abruptly canceled a planned alumni reunion event without consulting organizers, that Hocoy overstated his job experience during interviews for the presidency and that the search process through which Hocoy was selected was not transparent.

“The Board’s repeated and ongoing refusal to respond to alumni’s concerns and questions, as well as the ongoing refusal to include more alumni in conversation, demonstrates a complete disregard for the values of Goddard College,” the alumni wrote. The small private college is located in Plainfield, Vt.

The alumni association -- which is made up of about 7,000 Goddard alumni and represented by a smaller alumni council -- has no formal connection to the college, according to Hocoy.

The council is “a small group of individuals, calling themselves the alumni council, which has no official standing, authority, or relationship to Goddard College,” Hocoy said. “Any statement or sentiment from them reflects only that of the handful of individuals who comprise the group.”

McConnell wrote in the cease-and-desist notice that many of the issues raised in the no-confidence letter contained false information.

“Although many of these statements express an unsubstantiated opinion regarding Goddard College, a number are also misleading, incorrect, and potentially defamatory,” he wrote. “Further, these statements appear to intend to intentionally interfere with the business relations and activities of Goddard College.”

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Hocoy also said the no-confidence letter included lots of misinformation and that it “grossly misrepresents the board and myself.”

Save for the cease-and-desist notice, the alumni association did not receive any other communications from the board or the president in response to their letter, said Elle Stanforth, a graduate student at Goddard who works with the alumni association. She is not sure how the council will proceed but noted that she’s been told that the cease-and-desist notice is “without teeth” and extremely vague.

A representative from the alumni council was not available for comment Tuesday.

Before the council released its vote of no confidence letter, Hocoy and Gloria Willingham-Touré, chair of the board, met with the group.

“It was not a productive meeting,” Hocoy said. “It was just a series of demands from the group.”

Despite the board’s frustration with the no-confidence letter, the college values dissent and critique, Hocoy said.

“Discourse, dissent and activism has always been encouraged, and it’s part of our great tradition at Goddard,” Hocoy said. “We very much appreciate when alumni care enough to issue an 11-page statement. We love seeing that passion and commitment to the college, but there are appropriate limits to what can be said.”

Hocoy’s comments about the value of dissent feel disingenuous, Stanforth said.

“I find that very frustrating, because the [no-confidence letter] is a really well-cited document,” she said. “I really just think they don’t like the public critique.”

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