The Corner

Swarthmore’s President Chopp Replies to My Queries

Earlier today, in my post “Swarthmore Spinning Out of Control,” I recounted the ascent of leftist bullying and the abandonment of campus conservatives at Swarthmore, one of America’s finest liberal-arts colleges. I blamed the chaos on inaction by Swarthmore’s president, Rebecca Chopp. As promised in that piece, I am reproducing here the full text of my questions to Chopp, along with the full text of her reply. For my response to Chopp’s statement, as well as videos of the incident at the center of the controversy, consult “Swarthmore Spinning Out of Control.”

My questions:

1. One of the conservative students who pleaded with you to come to her aid and restore order after she was silenced by the students who took over the Board meeting says that while you agreed that the takeover was “outrageous,” you also shrugged and said there was nothing you could do. Is this accurate?

2. Please explain at greater length why you chose not intervene to restore order and regain control of the meeting from the students who took it over.

3. Are you concerned about the message that failing to restore order at the Board meeting, or attempting to do so, has sent to students who do not share the views of the protesters?

4. Is there a link between your failure to halt the Board meeting takeover, or to punish the students who did so, and subsequent events on campus, particularly the last-minute cancellation of the moderated meetings?

President Chopp’s reply:

As a College that honors its Quaker roots of tolerance, at Swarthmore we try to allow students to have their say, and we seek to listen to their points of view before we make decisions. Sometimes this is difficult and messy, sometimes people do not agree, and sometimes it does not work the first time.

(Now, from here on, I wish to state our point of view, rather than respond to your specific questions, because I think, with due respect, that the questions have it wrong.)

As I have stated, at Swarthmore we try to allow everyone to have their say, and we seek to listen to their points of view before we make decisions. This spirit of intellectual challenge and conversation is a core element of our educational philosophy. But so are fact-based inquiry, intelligent and deep analysis, respect, fairness, justice, the common good and civility.

At some points during the school year, as on most campuses in the country, some of these values may break down, but we will reestablish them right away, and seek to use them as learning experiences for every member of our community. The times we falter, and even fail, can provide the best opportunities for learning and improvement.

We are going to listen and talk to one another, even if it takes many times and many meetings to learn from one another and to decide the way forward.

We are in the middle of some highly contentious and complex issues, and I will listen to all voices, from the loudest to the softest, before deciding how we will proceed. Not every student will be pleased all the time, and sometimes processes will break down momentarily, but we will reestablish them. In the end, we are committed to a fair and just hearing, to civility, and to proceeding in an ethical, wise and just manner.

That is the commitment of our board, our administration and our community. And I will make sure that it transpires.

Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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