Here We Go Again: Disturbing Déjà vu on Swarthmore (and formerly Colgate’s) President Rebecca Chopp

By Greg Narag and Maggie O’Connor, Board members, A Better Colgate


May 17, 2013 – Members of A Better Colgate are disappointed – but not surprised – to learn via National Review Online of recent controversial events occurring at Swarthmore College. 

Prior to assuming the presidency at Swarthmore Rebecca Chopp was the president of our alma mater, Colgate University. Sadly, Swarthmore is now discovering the more troublesome ramifications of the Rebecca Chopp approach to college governance that we experienced during her similarly divisive tenure in the Chenango Valley. On issues as diverse as Greek life; sexual assault, walking back an invitation to a commencement speaker deemed too conservative, or bowing to radical demands for inclusion of politically correct themes in curriculum, Rebecca Chopp is, as characterized by the National Review, feckless.

It was with an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu that Ms. Chopp’s leadership style was on full display during a contentious May 4th Board of Managers meeting that was hijacked by a group of student extremists.  In a video accompanying the story, Ms. Chopp can be seen sitting passively as the unruly pack mocks, intimidates and shouts down individuals with opposing views, who were hopelessly trying to make their point.  As one of those individuals implores Chopp to intervene, she literally shrugs her shoulders in a gesture indicating that she is either unable or unwilling to act.

It is disturbing that while Rebecca Chopp sounds lofty themes of civility, fairness and tolerance, she also disingenuously enables certain favored groups during these so-called “dialogues” to bully and silence those who hold views thatthey dislike. As at Colgate and now Swarthmore, “sustainability” and “environmental justice” are core to the Chopp agenda of branding the academy and influencing young minds.

It was precisely this same offensive brand of hypocrisy and lack of fair play on the part of the Chopp administration at Colgate that led to the unprecedented formation of the independent alumni organization, A Better Colgate. 

Under Ms. Chopp, Colgate imposed a series of unwanted, unpopular initiatives on campus, ignoring the voices of students and alumni.  Her leadership created a rift in the Colgate community that is not yet healed.

Specifically, the controversial “New Vision for Residential Education” famously included a coercive land grab of the privately owned Greek residences forcing fraternities and sororities to sell their houses to Colgate under the threat of de-recognizing the chapters and suspending or expelling their members.  This set off a firestorm in the Colgate community over issues such as private property rights, freedom of association, and the proper role of a college administration in overseeing the lives of students beyond the classroom.  A Better Colgate, whose members number more than 2,200 alumni and students, was at the forefront of this debate and has evolved to include governance reform and tackling skyrocketing college costs.

Although exasperating, controversies of this sort have bubbled up on college campuses for decades.  But what is different today is that alumni – and the general public – have had enough.  Groups such as Alumni to the Rescue are calling out this behavior and demanding accountability from college administrators and trustees at institutions.

We believe this kind of scrutiny is a good thing – especially at a time when many are correctly questioning the overall value of a college education.

Student debt has topped $1 trillion, the average cost of a four-year degree from a private college is nearly $170,000 and the cost of upper-tier private schools like Swarthmore and Colgate is creeping toward a quarter of a million dollars.

College costs are spinning out of control and many are debating whether the college experience today is adequately preparing young people for their careers and futures.  A college degree shouldn’t have to be earned in an environment of perpetual upheaval fueled by meddlesome administrators and hyperemotional young protestors.  Administrators, such as Ms. Chopp, would do well to consider that the college campus is not their personal Petri dish for social engineering.

We reach out in solidarity with Swarthmore students, alumni and parents who feel similarly disenchanted, and we urge President Chopp and leaders on all college and university campuses to hold themselves to a higher standard of leadership.