University President Ron Liebowitz wrote a Jan. 17 open letter defending his former colleague, Ithaca College President Shirley Collado, who pleaded no contest to a 2001 charge of misdemeanor sexual abuse. The open letter followed a Jan. 16 article by student newspaper The Ithacan, which detailed the abuse accusation made by a former patient.  

“I am writing to express my unequivocal support for Dr. Shirley Collado as she confronts the resurfacing of decades-old allegations that impugn her reputation,” Liebowitz’s letter begins.

Collado began working at Middlebury College while Liebowitz was president in 2007, serving first as vice president for institutional planning and diversity and later as dean of the College and vice president of student affairs. Liebowitz discussed hiring Collado in the open letter, writing, “Shirley was quite candid in discussing a legal action lodged against her when she was in her twenties and the fraught decision she made to seek a resolution rather than fight the baseless charges.” 

Liebowitz also praised Collado’s work, asserting that her years at Middlebury were “characterized by her deep empathy for our students and colleagues, her championing of creating an inclusive learning environment, and a commitment to assisting those less advantaged.”

According to the Jan. 16 article in The Ithacan, the newspaper received an anonymous set of court documents from 2001 in December 2017 that described Collado’s alleged sexual abuse of a patient she was treating for post-traumatic stress. The article explains that Collado pleaded no contest for the charge of “placing her hand on the patient’s clothed breast with sexual intent while Collado was [the patient’s] therapist.”

Collado denied the allegations, telling The Ithacan, “I didn’t have the legal resources; I didn’t have the financial resources to, and I didn’t have the emotional wherewithal to really take this on the way I would have preferred. … This happens all the time, where you make this really difficult choice, even if it goes completely against the truth of who you are.” Collado also provided a lengthy account of the relationship between the patient and herself in a statement on the Ithaca College website, also published on Jan. 16. 

In an email to the Justice, Liebowitz wrote that he composed the open letter as “someone who hired her while I served as president of Middlebury College, and as someone who worked closely with her from for more than 6 years, including on many challenging issues.” 

Because the letter was written in a personal capacity, Liebowitz said he did not work with the University’s Office of Communications. Liebowitz added that he has not received any feedback from the Brandeis community regarding his letter. 

Liebowitz concluded his letter of support for Collado writing, “Ithaca College is lucky to have someone like Shirley as President. … She is dedicated to making a difference for the students, faculty, and the campus community she serves.”

—Natalia Wiater contributed reporting.