A Swarthmore College alumnus who had been scheduled to give the college’s commencement address this spring has withdrawn from the ceremony after a flurry of criticism appeared in the campus news media, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
The speaker, Robert Zoellick, is a former president of the World Bank who was nominated for that post by President George W. Bush. He also served as executive vice president of Fannie Mae and a senior international adviser to Goldman Sachs, according to the Inquirer. A commenter in the online discussion thread of an op-ed published by The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s student newspaper, set off a long debate about Mr. Zoellick’s tenure in those roles. Some also questioned his association with the Project for the New American Century, a conservative think tank that pressed for military action in Iraq. Others defended Mr. Zoellick, saying that the college needed to welcome a variety of viewpoints.
The Pennsylvania college announced last week that Mr. Zoellick had chosen to withdraw from the ceremony, which will take place in June. He also turned down an honorary degree, saying that he didn’t want to disrupt what should be a special occasion nor participate in an “unnecessarily controversial event.”
Swarthmore’s president, Rebecca S. Chopp, defended the choice of Mr. Zoellick as commencement speaker, saying that the institution is “very proud to claim him as an alumnus and stands by its decision to award him the honorary degree.”