Op-Ed: Open Letter to Robert Zoellick ’75

Dear Mr. Zoellick,

As concerned members of the Swarthmore Class of 2013, we would like to apologize for your treatment in the campus discourse over the past two weeks. Regrettably, we understand that this has led to your decision to withdraw as Commencement Speaker at our graduation this June. While we appreciate your sensitivity to the special nature of our ceremony, we write to ask you to reconsider your decision to withdraw. We do so not only because we believe that diversity of thought enhances our community, but also out of genuine interest in your life and career. Moral action comes in many forms and variations, and we believe that as a valued member of our community you can serve as a model for many of us.

You are no doubt aware that some students have objected to the College’s decision to honor you at graduation. What you should know is that a significant majority of students were extremely distressed with the way in which these objections were raised. A small group of students misrepresented your record and created a confused discourse of misinformation. As members of the senior class, we are embarrassed by the manner in which this conversation took place. Many Swarthmore students were eagerly looking forward to learning from your incredible and varied life experiences. We believe that your work in German unification, Darfur aid relief, and gender equality in development, among many other accomplishments, deserve our respect and attention. Your presence at Commencement would substantially enrich our experience.

Equally important, we believe that a fundamental principle is at stake: members of our community—students and alumni—must and should be treated with respect no matter their background or political beliefs. When we exclude those of different perspectives, we impoverish our discourse and the diversity of our community. Although some Swarthmore students may not share your every political belief, many view you as an esteemed role model who, as President Chopp said, “combines knowledge with service, ethics with outreach, and wisdom with a commitment to the wider world.” That an unrepresentative, vocal minority of students appealing to “Swarthmore values” can effectively exclude you from Commencement sends a troubling message to those who view your career as an inspiration for their own. It suggests that Swarthmore can be defined by a narrow set of political ideals. We believe otherwise. We believe our community should be open to a broad array of political viewpoints, and must never be closed off to those who dissent from majority views.  We believe that you are as much a Swattie as any one of us, and should be warmly welcomed at our Commencement.

We humbly ask you in this light to reconsider your decision, and to join us at Commencement this June.

Op-ed submitted by Sam Sussman ’13, Joan O’Bryan ’13, Hannah Gotwals ’13, Katharyn Schultz ’13, Daniel Duncan ’13, Jennifer Koch ’13, Sonja Spoo ’13, Tiffany Barron ’13, Yuan Wang ’13, Paul Shortell ’13, and Lorand Laskai ’13.

Members of the Class of 2013 who would like to sign the letter to Mr. Zoellick can sign here, or click here to see the most recently uploaded list of signatures.


Did you like this article? Consider joining the DG! Open staff meetings are every Monday at 6:30 p.m. in Kohlberg; or email us at editors@daily.swarthmore.edu.

67 comments

  1. 0
    Andrew Waks says:

    I have some reservations about this letter but am signing it out of general agreement with the message. Mostly, I object to the following:

    “Equally important, we believe that a fundamental principle is at stake: members of our community—students and alumni—must and should be treated with respect no matter their background or political beliefs.”

    I don’t think that we should give a free moral pass to anyone just because they’re a member of our community. The point is that there’s a certain threshold of alleged wrongdoing that needs to be crossed before we start trying to exclude someone’s views merely because we disagree. Zoellick, of course, does not cross that line— although deliberate misinformation attempted to show otherwise.

  2. 0
    Jerome Trollberg says:

    The irony in this is that Sam and Lorand’s op-ed escalated the controversy and brought it into an online forum. Without them, it’s likely that Zoellick would still be coming. Where’s the apology, guys?

    1. 0
      Lorand ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      And the alternative, I take it, is a media black out? The controversy would have exploded regardless. The Phoenix would have published its article. I suppose we should have censored that, too. Is this what politics at Swarthmore have come to? Should we not report on the happenings of our campus because our politics are too irresponsible for other to know?

      Sam and I simply responded to the accusations made public by others. Blaming us for Zoellick’s withdrawal is shameless finger pointing.

  3. 0
    Andy Reid says:

    Wow, I swore I wouldn’t be one of those alums who still spams the Daily Gazette comment threads. But to all those calling Zoellick a punk for not being willing to face the heat (have seen this 3 or 4 times on facebook), let’s check what he said:

    1. “I don’t want to disrupt what should be a special day for the graduates, their families, and friends,”
    2. “Nor do I have an interest in participating in an unnecessarily controversial event.”

    I think he just wants people to have their special day without creating some cloud over it… seems pretty reasonable to me. Though let’s be real, could anything be a more swattie graduation than one full of unnecessary controversy?

    Much love to the senders of this letter, though it’s not clear to me that the best solution would be for him to come back (an apology is kind of nice though).

  4. 0
    Irony? says:

    This is funny because I’m like 95% sure that the comment thread from the last op-ed defending Zoellick was the reason he didn’t come. God knows he’s not reading our Facebook posts. Google Alerts are a thing, people.

  5. 0
    Hold Tight To Your Values says:

    So who will be replacing Mr. Zoellick?

    Maybe better not to have speakers?

    Nominations? Who will decide? Referendum?

  6. 0
    Nina Kogekar '13 says:

    To Mr. Zoellick, my fellow seniors, and the Swarthmore community –

    I want to express my personal support for the choice of Mr. Zoellick as a commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient, as well as express support for those asking him to reconsider his decision to withdraw. However, I am not signing this letter because as of now I am not sure if I would feel correct in apologizing and expressing embarrassment for the things published and stated by the “opposition”. Please let me know if there is any other way I can show my support, though.

    1. 0
      Response to Nina says:

      Hey Nina!

      I totally understand your position, but I thought I might ask you to reconsider signing before we send the letter off on Monday.

      Though we as individuals may not have actively contributed to the misinformation and confusion surrounding this controversy, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t reflect back on us. In my opinion, Swarthmore is at risk of losing a really important element: community that stretches back to previous generations and supports those that are to come. In alienating our alumni, we damage Swarthmore.

      Since we as individuals are a part of this wonderful community, any reflections that reflect badly on Swarthmore reflect badly on us. Again, the embarrassment was not that there was an opposition; everyone and everything can and should be questioned by well-intentioned, moral people. Where it got ugly was the unfounded accusations that seemed to deny an alum a place in our community for partisan reasons. He definitely felt that way, hence the withdraw.

      My fellow writers and I found that to be shameful and unfair. It’s for that that we apologize. We are an inclusive community and we do not reject our members for their political beliefs (even when we call them out on them!;). If one member is excluded, that is the fault of the community as a whole. As individuals in that community, we felt that we should take responsibility for the way our community is perceived. In the same way that each one of us represents Swarthmore, Swarthmore represents us.

      Thanks!
      Joan

      P.S. Plz excuse any in coherency due to my writing before I’ve had coffee!!

  7. 0
    yeah... says:

    The meeting of students to discuss boycotting Zoellick at commencement consisted of 20-30 students, several of whom have commented in the Gazette that they went to the meeting without a clear opinion of the issue. On the other hand, this letter is currently signed by 56 seniors and that list continues to grow.

  8. 0
    Sam says:

    On the notion that Zoellick used a “lexicon of good and evil” that allegedly contributed to anti-Arab racism against Swarhtmore students and their families:

    When I’ve asked for evidence to this effect from students who have made this very serious allegation, all they can point to is quote in a 2000 Foreign Affairs article: “A modern Republican foreign policy recognizes that there is still evil in the world, people who hate America and the ideas for which it stands.” Beyond being self-evidently true (the article appeared 20 months before 9/11), Mr. Zoellick’s statement is unequivocally not a characterization of different CULTURES as evil, but a condemnation of particular men as such.

    Somebody please explain how that single use of the word evil in the article to which students pointed at the senior meeting can be read to characterize all Arabs as evil. Otherwise this just looks like a witch hunt.

    1. 0
      Hermione Granger says:

      You should realize that being a muggle is a position of power on this campus and that using words such as these make this campus feel unsafe to us magical folk. Check your privilege!

    2. 0
      Leak says:

      “Cambodia is one country where we can say with complete assurance that our hands are clean and our hearts are pure.”

      Because powerful White men can rest on good conscience that they have done nothing wrong, because their words don’t matter and what they do has no repercussions on the world.

      1. 0
        I need more says:

        I had to google the quote, and now I see that it comes from William Rogers, Nixon’s Secretary of State. He said it when the US was actually conducting secret bombings of Cambodia. So he was a liar and guilty of really bad things. My question is, what does that have to do with Zoellick? It can’t possibly be guilt by association, can it? The Secretary of State under a Republican president in the early 70s says one thing while doing something very bad, and so the deputy secretary of state under a Republican president 30 years later must be just as bad?

        And are you really bringing his race in as a relevant piece of information? I must be missing something, so please fill me in. No one could possibly try to discredit Truong Tan Sang, the current Vietnamese president, by referencing bad actions or words of Pol Pot and then saying that “powerful Asian men can rest on good conscience that they have done nothing wrong,” and so on.

        1. 0
          Leak says:

          Here’s a hint:

          “Somebody please explain how that single use of the word evil in the article to which students pointed at the senior meeting can be read to characterize all Arabs as evil.”

          Because it takes power and privilege to decontextualize one’s words from the broader context of the world in which those words were said and the world created by those words. Because Pol Pot, as bad as he was (and I have family stories to attest to that), he didn’t have the power to control geopolitics. Nixon and his men did. So yes, you certainly are missing something.

    3. 0
      Frustrated '14 says:

      For someone reliably calling out the use of hyperbole in reaction to criticism of Zoellick, you use a lot of it yourself, no less so than in writing in your last op-ed that he had “nothing to do with the Iraq War.” Other commenters and speakers have argued this point well, but I will say that you don’t get to be undersecretary of state in 2005 without having played a serious part in the Iraq War.

      “A modern Republican foreign policy recognizes that there is still evil in the world, people who hate America and the ideas for which it stands.” Condemning particular men as evil and going on to talk about the necessity of tapping into US military might (as the rest of the article goes onto explain) is not an argument a small mission entering a country and extracting the evil. In the case of Iraq, it was a prolonged invasion, and the same in Afghanistan. Both invasions were premised on finding and killing “evil men” (Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden, respectively) but had reverberations far, far beyond their killings. The article justifies using American military might in defeating evil. It’s not a smoking gun, Sam, but you’ve worked yourself into a tricky hole defending this article and Zoellick.

      The argument of “good vs. evil” has been entirely made up by those defending him. No one has called him an “evil man” (or, for that matter, used the word evil). They’ve made specific attacks on destructive policies and institutions he’s been a part of: the Iraq War, NAFTA, CAFTA, the World Bank.
      This isn’t a witch hunt, Sam, but you and some others have spent a lot of time trying to put people exercising their own right to free speech on a stake. Funny, in light of all of your claims that students in opposition are intolerant, that you’ve managed to include a sentence like this: “We believe our community should be open to a broad array of political viewpoints, and must never be closed off to those who dissent from majority views.” Does an “unrepresentative, vocal minority of students” also deserve a chance to speak?

      1. 0
        clarification says:

        Also, when we use American military might to intervene in Libya or argue for its use in Syria, does that make us immoral?

        There are times when things are so bad, force is necessary to make them better. Military force even.

        Had the United States gone into Bosnia earlier, perhaps the 8,000 killed at Srebrenica might still believe. Perhaps we could have prevented the deaths of 500,000 in Rwanda. There have been horrendous massacres in the last twenty years.

        Evil does exist. And it must be stopped. People are not evil, but evil manifests itself through them.

  9. 0
    Hold Tight To Your Values says:

    Many Swarthmore alums go into financial or business careers. Contributions should not be accepted from them anymore, as surely this is tainted money. Only those who live in self-sustaining environments with no monetary ties to corporate entities should be solicited. Anyone who owns stock or mutual funds must be excluded.

    President Obama eagerly endorsed the war in Afghanistan, and has been responsible for bombing civilians with un”manned” drones, so he and his administration are out.

    Beyoncé and Jay-Z own stock, and charge people for their concerts, so no-go.

    Choice for Commencement Speaker appears limited to a self-sustaining farmer who has either heard of or attended Swarthmore. Probably best if he or she squats on the land because land ownership is controversial.

    1. 0
      translation party says:

      Swarthmore alum move careers in business and finance. Dirty money employees are welcome. Live version of local governments is required. May exclude those who own stocks or mutual funds. Private support United Nations Scout drones to Afghanistan war President Obama and his sharp bomb you. Was Beyonce and Jay-z concert event. Swarthmore autonomous farmers and participating. Dispute resolution speakers land ownership restrictions are not heard.

  10. 0
    Sonja S. says:

    I just want to clarify something that people seemed to be getting confused. As one of the lead organizers of this I am in NO way endorsing intolerance against people who have opposing views to mine. Free Trade is a tense issue with good and moral people and justifications on both sides and vice versa. My motivation in organizing this letter was in response to the FALSE claims made by one of the senior class members at speak-off calling Zoellick a war criminal and a “main architect” of the Iraq War.

    IF we want to have a discussion about free trade and what not, lets do that. BUT to use the “glamourous” argument that has no basing in fact to get people mobilized around someone is wrong plain and simple. Also, where was the protest MONTHS ago when Zoellick was announced? Where was the passion then?

    All of us in that room last night writing this came from incredibly diverse backgrounds and perspectives. There were people in that room that I pretty much never agree with or never will. We came together to write this letter out of a place of concern for our community and our values. I personally respect a lot of people who have legitimate problems with free trade. I do not respect those who use lies (knowingly and without regret) to foment an opposition. I don’t think its okay when Republicans do it in the wider political discourse and I definitely do not think it is okay when students do it at Swarthmore.

    1. 0
      student says:

      To both Sonja and Hannah ’13-
      My opinion – this charge against Zoellick of being an ‘architect of the Iraq war’ was renounced soon after the speech. If that’s what you feel you need to apologize for – okay. However, it quickly became clear that, beyond that claim, there were other things about his tenure at the World Bank that people thought merited a discussion and response. People were still deciding how they wanted to react. In my case, I would have protested the selection committee rather than Zoellick. So yes, Sonja, we are now having a discussion about “free trade and what not. And yes, Hannah, the conversation did quickly turn honest, despite the huge misstep at the beginning, quickly rectified. Your writing of this letter seemingly disowns and denigrates that.

    2. 0
      Unhappy senior says:

      Then you should have made your letter explicitly, specifically about that. But you didn’t. Maybe you should have listened more before sending it (isn’t listening to other people respectfully also a Swarthmore value?), because plenty of students have been raising objections to Zoellick that don’t depend on the “architect” claim.

      1. 0
        Yuan (not RMB) ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

        But often even those discussions were based on broad generalizations and accusations against past world bank policies, the concept of free trade, NAFTA, etc, and not on any substantive facts about Zoellick’s career.

        I have yet to see a single example during this debate pointing to exactly what Zoellick did personally that was so horrible, and so deserved the demonizing he received. Yes, there is very much room for debate on the merit of U.S. trade policy during his tenure as USTR, Secretary of State, World Bank President, etc but those are policy debates where both sides have legitimate arguments. The discourse started by the “unrepresentative vocal minority” stated in the letter were not focusing on the facts, and not at all acknowledging that there were more to Zoelick’s career than what they were letting on. That is not healthy discourse. And that is why so many of us felt it was important to take a stand against the actions of those individuals.

        I am not trying to trivialize individual opinions and experiences. But if we are truly a community that prides ourselves on intellectual sophistication, there must be more than fiery personal opinions in a discourse, especially if such discourse has the potential to carry so much weight. And if those fiery personal opinions begin to become the prevailing voice in a discourse and cause someone to withdraw acceptance of a honorary degree, I would be ashamed.

        Think about it this way. If this was not Zoellick but a human rights activist from modest backgrounds who turned down an invitation to come to commencement because a few right-wing individuals on campus begin to call him/her out based on sensationalized facts and individual opinions. Would that have been acceptable? If you and a few indignant others get together and write a letter inviting him/her back while heavily criticizing the actions of those few individuals, would that be trying to marginalize a legitimate minority voice?

        To be perfectly frank, I wasn’t initially comfortable with some words used in this letter and the group debated for a long time about them. However, by the end, I was fully convinced by my peers that there is a right and wrong here. It was indeed an unrepresentative group of vocal individuals who started circulating misleading accusations against Zoellick that started to sensationalize this debate, and it was this non-factually based debate that turned Robert Zoellick away. While we could have drafted a more neutrally toned letter, but it became apparent to me that there is an imperative here to tell Mr. Zoellick and whoever else might be watching that the Swarthmore community does not accept such immature style of discourse.

  11. 0
    loves free speech says:

    A couple of things:
    The rhetoric of affirming diversity and openmindedness is abused by students who support Zoellick’s speaking on these grounds, and then turn around to “shame” Swatties who dared speak out with an alternate viewpoint. He pulled out while people were taking the opportunity to debate what his presence meant for this campus – unless you’re okay with saying we should willingly accept anything and everything that is given to us by the administration, it’s disturbing to blame those who were willing to challenge that.

    I almost forgot about this line until I reread the letter: “We believe our community should be open to a broad array of political viewpoints, and must never be closed off to those who dissent from majority views.” REALLY? He is the majority, dominant view, that’s why this is so SILLY! (and when I say silly, I mean unconscionably absurd)

    As a sidenote, not necessarily applicable to the signatories of this letter, justhadtogetitinthere…For all of those grumbling on facebook about how you can’t wait to graduate and get away from all of these ‘morally righteous’ students taking a stance – believe me, you don’t know how much we can’t wait to get away from you!

    1. 0
      Uncritical absurdity says:

      What is “unconscionably absurd” is to believe (so firmly!), as you apparently do, that dissent is intrinsically virtuous, a classic uh-oh of n00b swatties. Dissent isn’t necessarily good; only “good” dissent is good. And _this_ “dissent” is, in the words of Burke, anti-intellectual, so probably not good.

      An analog: These days discrimination against gays might be characterized as dissent from majority view. Does the letter support this kind of dissent? Surely not. So maybe you say the letter isn’t precise (enough for you), but probably you’re (at the very least) “idiosyncratic” in this regard.

  12. 0
    jenny ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Please, only sign the letter if you are a member of 2013. Other classes, feel free to band together and have a separate form to collect signatures.

    1. 0
      Jacob says:

      Could there be a way to include signatories of the class of 2013 as primary but also underclassmen/alumni as well if they wish to raise their voices as well? That seems fair and possibly even more effective.

      1. 0
        SpicySoy says:

        No. It’s not your commencement and it’s still a contested issue.
        There’s no need to further shame those who rightfully opposed by including people who won’t even be present at the ceremony.

        Also, off topic and irrelevant to the conversation. – Some of the people who signed that letter should go through and delete some of the anti-Zoellick rhetoric they vomited on their facebook walls a few weeks ago. Hypocrisy-it’s not a good look.

        1. 0
          Matt says:

          Hey SpicySoy this issue goes well beyond the commencement – it was a disgrace to the entire Swarthmore community. As an alumnus, I’m utterly ashamed by the lack of class in this debate and the fact that a distinguished (for better or worse) alumnus had to withdraw from attendance because of the extent of vitriolic, closed-minded hatred spewed by certain students. And I’m no where near alone. This isn’t about your commencement. It’s about regaining Swarthmore’s dignity and worthiness as a place of respectful discourse.

          1. 0
            SpicySoy says:

            First off, Zoellick was not ‘forced’ to withdraw. He voluntarily *chose* to withdraw. He’s a big boy and can make his own decisions. Can he not?

            Second of all, I assume that ‘as an alumnus’ you were not on campus to hear the actual conversations that occurred and are instead relying of information shared through the DG/ Phoenix/ your newsfeed. Had you actually been on campus, you would have realized the ‘vitriolic, closed-minded hatred’ you speak of is a gross overstatement.

            Third of all, if you’re so concerned about ‘Swarthmore’s dignity and worthiness as a place of respectful discourse’ you would not sign a letter publicly denigrating the positions of current students for voicing their concerns.

        1. 0
          Sara '12 says:

          YES.

          I am so excited to see someone commenting as Locke after someone else commented as Demosthenes!

          Excuse me, I’m just having a fan/nerd moment over here.

  13. 0
    Nick Felt says:

    What a sad exercise in hypocrisy. Stop for a minute and think about what you are saying with this letter:

    “Equally important, we believe that a fundamental principle is at stake: members of our community—students and alumni—must and should be treated with respect no matter their background or political beliefs. When we exclude those of different perspectives, we impoverish our discourse and the diversity of our community.”

    This is exactly what you are NOT doing by throwing the so-called “unrepresentative, vocal minority of students” who opposed Zoellick’s appearance at commencement under the bus. You are relentlessly supporting the “right” of a very privileged and powerful man to speak at a private college’s commencement (hint: not a right at all) – in fact, a “right” which I might note was voluntarily rejected, rather than revoked – OVER the right of your classmates to speak freely about their opposition to his appearance (hint: this is a right!).

    Among those who oppose Zoellick’s appearance at commencement are those who have direct, personal reasons to feel marginalized by by his being honored – for example, that actions by World Bank under his authority have been directly harmful to them or their families and friends. By calling yourself “embarrassed” because these concerns have been voiced, you are exposing your privilege in not having your personal welfare at stake in the global repercussions of the World Bank’s policies.

    And lastly, for crying out loud, recognize that your belief that “our community should be open to a broad array of political viewpoints” is itself a political viewpoint. I cringe that this needs saying, but insisting on equal treatment for the powerful and the weak still favors the powerful. Appeals to ideological neutrality are not neutral.

    1. 0
      Clarification needed says:

      So, I keep hearing vague statements in arguments about Zoellick: “Among those who oppose Zoellick’s appearance at commencement are those who have direct, personal reasons to feel marginalized by by his being honored – for example, that actions by World Bank under his authority have been directly harmful to them or their families and friends.”

      Can someone please share with us the details motivating this statement. While I believe Swarthmore should protect its students and work to counter oppression, I hope we will weigh the facts/details of claims rather than rebelling in response to vague and unsubstantiated statements such as this.

      1. 0
        Kyle says:

        From what I saw while attending the dean-mediated discussion on the issue, the most powerful personal argument I heard was one that certain “Good vs. Evil” rhetoric employed by Zoellick directly contributed to a political lexicon that encouraged racism against Arab Americans, and that a proponent of that sort of language speaking at graduation would be exclusionary and hurtful to those students and their families who have been affected by it.

        I won’t go into any more detail than that because these accounts were not necessarily brought up in a venue that was meant for public broadcast–I only mention them here, because I constantly see these concerns referred to in vague terms. Unfortunately, I also don’t have any reference that shows Zoellick using this language (if someone could reply with a link that would be great!).

        However, this all leads me to another point: I haven’t heard any personal accounts of anyone claiming that “actions by World Bank under his authority have been directly harmful to them or their families and friends.” That doesn’t mean there aren’t any! But if we want to keep claiming this is true, I agree that it would be helpful if someone would clarify here.

      2. 0
        Unhappy senior says:

        Maybe the history of the World Bank and of Robert Zoellick’s career, both of which have involved promoting economic policies in developing countries that many people think are harmful and destructive?

    2. 0
      Joan says:

      Hi Nick, here is my facebook status on why I agreed to this letter. I hope it explains some of the many perspectives that were in that room writing:

      This is why I signed the letter. Hopefully these reasons will be understood by other seniors, as I think that when reasonable, honest, and moral people come together to discuss there can be differences in values and opinions. At the end of the day, a discourse between these people will be illuminating for both sides and we can walk away as friends (if only facebook ones;)

      1. To be frank, I was embarrassed by the first phoenix article regarding Zoellick. Comments such as “business people are inappropriate for graduation” are horrible things to say. I don’t want our alumni or even many current seniors I know who are going into business to feel alienated from our community.

      2. I don’t think that the idea of protesting was raised in the appropriate way. It made me feel really awful to think that there would be this partisan response to a man because of his connection to the Bush administration, which was only legitimated by tenuous Iraq connections. Given that his responsibility was much (MUCH!) smaller than any Congressperson who voted for the war, this context should have been placed foremost so that students could make honest value judgments. Whether or not you personally believe that he is connected enough to protest, there should have been enough information posted (with context) to allow other students an informed decision.

      3. The more research I do and the more I learn about Zoellick, the more admirable things I discover in his past. He has received the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, the only honor given by the German Bundestag, for his work on German Reunification. At the World Bank, he modified the Executive Board structure to give more power to developing nations. If you know anything about the World Bank, and how Congress blatantly uses it as a political instrument, you’ll know that this was no easy feat. Usually, the president’s hands are tied pretty well by U.S. legislation.

      4. At the end of the day, we are one community. Our community is not just the students, or students and faculty, or students, faculty, and administration. It is everyone who has gone here, worked here, and lived here. People have vested interests that go far beyond the short-term ones that we have as students. It is critical that these interests are accounted for and accepted as well. The school is looking for donations? Well, good. Those donations allow us to pay EVS a living wage, to educate future activists at the Lang Center, and in general to create people with the power to change the world for the better.

      Again, I supported the desire of students with moral qualms about Zoellick’s free trade background (an issue on which moral, reasonable people have different perspectives) to engage in a form of positive protest. However, the impression that was given in the first few weeks of this discussion was not this fair form of disagreement, but rather anarchy and intolerance. We know that isn’t the case; I want the rest of the world to know as well. Thank you.

      1. 0
        Nick says:

        Joan, thank you for your response. But while I don’t necessarily disagree with your points, I don’t think they’re relevant to what I find most problematic about the letter, which is the fundamental hypocrisy of lobbying for freedom of expression and respect for all viewpoints, while at the same time dismissing and marginalizing the perspectives of fellow students who oppose having Zoellick honored at commencement. Characterizing them as “an unrepresentative, vocal minority of students” with the implication that they should have stayed quiet – well, that’s failing to uphold the very tenet stated just a few sentences later in the letter: that “our community … must never be closed off to those who dissent from majority views”.

        If you believe that last line, then regardless of the merits of having Zoellick honored at commencement, the tone this letter takes is unacceptable. Especially since in the wider picture, Zoellick’s views *are* those of the established majority, and only at places like Swarthmore is it even plausible to see them as being infrequently heard. Silencing those views at Swarthmore only furthers the silencing and marginalization that already takes place worldwide.

        1. 0
          Joan says:

          Though, I wouldn’t say that those words are an inaccurate description. They were in the minority (as best as I could tell) and they were unrepresentative.

          This, however, is not a response to people’s ethical objections to free trade or to the World Bank. This sentence, in my opinion, is a response to naming Zoellick “an architect of the Iraq war.”

          In most courts, I believe that could be termed slander. At the very least, it was horrendously unfair. Students acknowledged afterwards that they used the point mostly to draw interest and support, but that they were well aware that the amount of connection he had (one letter) would not be enough to convince most, or even many, students. In that case, it was manipulative. I don’t see manipulation as a part of free-speech. It seems to be the opposite to me.

          So in sum, I don’t think it was silencing. I do think it was calling them out. I think Burke says it much better than I do: “at least some of them either voiced their opposition to the choice in breathtakingly sweeping terms, declaring that mere association with the World Bank or mere membership in the political leadership of the Republican Party is sufficiently malevolent to justify opposition or in terms that the opponents even conceded were exaggerated or inaccurate when challenged. “Will L”, for example, admitted that calling Zoellick a key architect of the Iraq War wasn’t accurate, but justified that on the grounds that he only had a short time to make his case and he needed something dramatic that “started the conversation”. This really bugs me: it’s anti-intellectual and really counter to the entire purpose of the institution. If the students opposing Zoellick had done even a bit of decent research, they would have found out that Tea Party conservatives were already gearing up last summer to oppose his possible appointment in a Romney Administration on the grounds that Zoellick is too associated with negotiation and diplomacy.

          But it’s not really about Zoellick. I think it’s fine to criticize a person and as I’ve said, I would be critical of Zoellick and some of the institutions he’s worked with. The point is that Swarthmore has historically used commencement invitations largely to honor the accomplishments and experiences of its own alumni. The issue is, “What’s the standard that the students are proposing to set here for such an invitation?” The standard could be: no one who is at all political or has anything in their experience which could be criticized, which would disqualify most of our alumni and indeed most distinguished people in general and be boring besides. Or that standard could be, “No bankers, no Republicans, no development experts, no rich people, etc.” Which is a complete betrayal of all of our language about diversity and pluralism. Or it’s “we are not proposing a standard, we just don’t like this one invitation.” Which is incoherent. In all those cases, I’m really unhappy with something as ill-educated and ill-spirited becoming the de facto opinion of the entire community, which it has in this case.”

          http://blogs.swarthmore.edu/burke/2013/04/03/outside-the-classroom/

      2. 0
        Unhappy senior says:

        That’s not what your letter says, though. It doesn’t say, “While some students objected to your selection as commencement speaker, we have thoughtfully considered the issue and we disagree with them.” Instead, it makes every attempt to delegitimize and attack the dissenting voices. (Read it!) It portrays the issue entirely falsely as a group of students who apparently just hate free speech and pluralism trying to shut out opposing voices.

        What disturbs and offends me about this letter is not disagreement on the merits about Zoellick’s tenure at the World Bank or about his moral responsibility for the Iraq War. It is rather the striking insensitivity and lack of empathy it shows for fellow Swarthmore students.

  14. 0
    wut says:

    Wut?! Does anyone else find it absurd that you are apologizing to Robert Zoellick ’75 for his decision to not speak at graduation. One, it was his decision to withdraw and if he wanted to speak then he should have just grown a pair (ovaries or balls, I don’t care). Second, you say that he was forced to withdraw because a vocal minority of students (opposed to different view points) had discussions about him. Why the hell are you apologizing for students discussing things? Wut are we here for? This shows that YOU are intolerant of different perspectives AND so is Zoellick if neither of you can handle a little bit of discourse.

    Also funny – did you all see that Zoellick’s nickname in PoliSci class was “Zealot” . lolz (http://www.swarthmore.edu/news-and-events/president-chopp-announces-changes-to-colleges-2013-commencement-ceremony.xml)

    Also, how much is Chopp paying you to write this letter. I could have done twice as well for half as much and my breath wouldn’t smell so much like ass afterwards either.

    1. 0
      Senior '13 says:

      For those who don’t understand the rationale behind the letter, I would like to quote from a paragraph Professor Tim Burke wrote on his blog:

      “at least some of them either voiced their opposition to the choice in breathtakingly sweeping terms, declaring that mere association with the World Bank or mere membership in the political leadership of the Republican Party is sufficiently malevolent to justify opposition or in terms that the opponents even conceded were exaggerated or inaccurate when challenged. “Will L”, for example, admitted that calling Zoellick a key architect of the Iraq War wasn’t accurate, but justified that on the grounds that he only had a short time to make his case and he needed something dramatic that “started the conversation”. This really bugs me: it’s anti-intellectual and really counter to the entire purpose of the institution.”

      I’m not going to try and say it better than Professor Burke, because he’s incredible, but I will say this: our opposition is not to the discussion. We are an intellectual community and value such debate. Our opposition is to the use of inflammatory and largely unsubstantiated claims to garner attention and “get the ball rolling” immediately. The tone of the conversation was such that there was little room for debate, especially not a civil one at that. To begin an argument with such fiery rhetoric stymies the conversation before it can even begin.

    2. 0
      Another alumnus says:

      When the goal of your so-called “discourse” is to get the other party to go away (i.e. to get rid of Zoellick as a commencement speaker), then I’m sorry, you no longer get to call it discourse. Because it isn’t discourse.

      So there’s that.

      1. 0
        Everyone keeps saying that says:

        As you are an alumnus, I am going to guess you didn’t make it to the discussion. Thus, I’m going to further assume that you don’t know what was on the agenda of that meeting.

        The meeting centered around understanding the views of others (those in favor and opposed). I had no opinion on the matter and was there to understand both perspectives. In the end, there was no bottomline to take action against Zoellick, only a bottomline for more potential conversation.

        You see, this is how this debate is still being perpetuated–you are misrepresenting the goals of the minority speakers. Please realize that discussion is different from action.

        So there’s that.

  15. 0
    What is this? says:

    Is it now the most Swarthmorean thing to discredit the “unrepresentative vocal minority”? Have we so easily forgotten that the “majority” means many different things? Especially on this predominantly White, upper-class campus on which only about half of the students need financial support.

    1. 0
      Hannah Gotwals '13 says:

      I agree entirely with the sentiment behind your comment. However the intent of letter was not to discredit a minority, nor to detract from the importance of active discussion and debate on campus. I feel no desire to apologize for the spirit that pushed Swatties to question the decisions being made around them, as it was in large part that same spirit that first attracted me to Swarthmore. If we are speaking in terms of “majority” and “minority” I can say with pride that the vast majority of our school is made up by people with a passion for questioning the world.

      With that in mind, this letter does apologize for the “confused discourse of misinformation” that we allowed into our discussion. I firmly believe that with the love of debate comes an obligation to be truthful, and that the goal of our discussions should always be clarity and mutual understanding. In this regard we (not a minority, but the campus as a whole) missed the mark. With questionable evidence we allowed Zoellick to be labeled as unfit to represent our campus, thereby suggesting to the world that our community is one in which only members who fit into a narrow political and social spectrum are to be praised, regardless of how successful they have been.

      Honest, transparent discussion is never something to apologize for nor to be embarrassed by. My name is on this letter because I do not believe the discussion was honest or transparent. I apologize, not for the actions of a minority, but rather for my part in allowing misinformed discussion to flourish.

    2. 0
      but... ( User Karma: 3 ) says:

      Is it also “Swarthmorean” for the majority of the school to submit to the will of a “radical” minority? (Note – I put radical in quotes because I am not using radical in a negative way, I just mean it as a minority with relatively extreme views on the issue).

      Look, we just had one of the biggest campus debates in a long time on the referendum. The petition and referendum were submitted with the idea that their results would reflect the will of the student body and would then be submitted to the administration for consideration (ideally to be followed by the administration). We never said “If 20% of the campus feels unsafe with Greek life and 80% enjoy it, then we’re getting rid of it.” It was understood that the majority represented the will of the student body.

      To finish my point, it’s not that minorities don’t have rights. They do. To take America for example, we have a Constitution that list the people’s rights. But the legislative body still makes decisions roughly on a majoritarian basis (as a republican democracy). In the same spirit, you have the right to walk out on Zoellick at graduation, but not to impose your own morality on the majority, especially where a widely held “natural right” is not being infringed.

    3. 0
      What is what? says:

      Wait a second.

      You’re upset about the authors’ apparent intolerance for the apparent intolerance of an “unrepresentative vocal minority”?

      You have to be kidding.

    4. 0
      Yep says:

      As often is the case when people prefer convenient abstractions to substantive thinking, the inclusion this letter advocates comes at the price of the exclusion of others.

    5. 0
      Yuan (not RMB) ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      In addition to agreeing with the content of this letter, I signed this letter because despite the fact that some members of this community have personal/political reasons to look down on Zoellick’s record, I know many graduates (including myself) stood to benefit from Zoellick’s experiences. Furthermore I think all have reasons to learn from someone who has progressed from a graduate of a small liberal arts college to running one of the world’s major international organizations. Those who want to learn from Zoellick’s experience should not have been deprived of this opportunity because of the political views of others.

      Swarthmore is the reputable school it is today because it fosters diversity and both accept and teach different opinions and world views; demonizing Zoellick as a commencement and honorary degree recipient because of certain political views he holds was not only against the spirit of this school, but have also damaged the school’s reputation.

      Swarthmore is also the student body’s school as much as the school of our alumnus, donors, administrators, and professors. If representatives of our administrators, board, and professors have chosen Robert Zoellick as speaker and honorary degree recipient by consensus after considering a list of individuals put together by all elements on campus, a withdraw of the speaker/degree recipient due to misguided discussion by the student body is not fair for them, who must now deal with the fall-outs. We as students, and especially as members of the senior class, must try to make amends.

  16. 0
    Former copy editor says:

    So I completely agree with the letter, but the OCD in me just wanted to point out that the apostrophes both in the article and the attached document are going the wrong way in the abbreviation of the graduation year (with the exception of Zoellick’s graduation year in the title). Can whoever is in charge please fix it?

    1. 0
      Andrew Karas ( User Karma: 12 ) says:

      Dear “Former copy editor” (of The Phoenix, I presume),

      The apostrophes have been fixed in the article. I’ve just made one of the letter signatories aware of this issue as well.

      Thanks for pointing this out.

      Andrew Karas
      News Editor
      The Daily Gazette

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