Commencement speaker controversy : Cynthia Carroll misrepresentation of Skidmore

Posted by Luke Conley

Recently, there has been heated debate over one of the individuals that Skidmore's board of trustees has chosen to speak at commencement: Cynthia Carroll, Skidmore alumna and former CEO of the mining conglomerate Anglo American, a corporation with an absolutely dismal social and environmental record. Supporters have painted Ms. Carroll as an important figure in the advancement of women in the corporate world and a proponent of positive change in the mining industry. Both claims are, at best, dubious.

Perhaps more disturbing than the choice of Ms. Carroll as a speaker is the administration's dismissive response to student outrage, as well as their disregard for the mountain of evidence against Ms. Carroll and her company. Only now, after repeated hounding of administrators and an unequivocal statement that students will not accept the "father-knows-best" attitude, has a genuine dialogue begun.

The administration has been presented with a great deal of data condemning Anglo American's activities in the pursuit of profit during Ms. Carroll's time at the helm. In 2007, she became CEO, in addition to joining the oil company British Petroleum as part of, among other things, their Safety, Ethics and Environmental Assurances Committee - the Chairman of which was recently forced to resign due to outrage over BP's infamously disastrous handling of the Deepwater Horizon spill.

In Sept. 2009, the Ghanaian National Coalition on Mining condemned AngloGold/Ashanti for allegedly burying forty people alive.[i] In 2010, the company received the Ghanaian EPA's worst possible environmental rating.[ii] In Jan. 2011, The Berne Declaration and Greenpeace awarded the anti-accolade "Public Eye Award" to AngloGold/Ashanti. Daniel Owosu-Korentang, President of nominating organization WACAM, stated upon the presentation of the "award" that mining waste contaminated the only available sources of water for villagers and that "local residents were occasionally tortured in the company's guard house; some cases resulted in fatalities."[iii] Mr. Owosu-Korentang, recently told students that that such issues remain major problems for locals, despite dialogue with AngloGold/Ashanti.

I could, regrettably, go on and on.

There are those who suggest that Anglo American's actions do not reflect directly on Ms. Carroll. It is true that accidental fatalities have decreased during her time as CEO. This does not, however, invalidate the overwhelming evidence that much of Anglo American's activity is harmful to the environment and to the human beings who live near their mines. Ms. Carroll was chosen as a speaker because of the unique position she occupies in the business world. She is where she is because of what she and her company have done. This is not who we, as students, want to represent Skidmore.

The administration faces a much deeper choice than whether or not to bring Ms. Carroll to commencement. They must decide on a fundamental level what kind of institution they are running. Prospective and current students alike are told constantly that Skidmore fosters global citizenship, civic engagement and personal integrity. Parents are told that they are entrusting their children to an institution that will foster not only their intellectual growth, but also their commitment to social justice. Ms. Carroll's honoring flies in the face of all that.

Whether to bring Ms. Carroll to commencement is ultimately the board of trustee's decision. But they must have no illusions about what that decision means. To present Ms. Carroll with an honorary degree and ask her to impart wisdom to our graduating class is an active endorsement of all the indefensible things that her company has done in the pursuit of profit. It is a clear statement that money is more important to this institution and in adult life than justice. And it is an unequivocal admission that all the talk we hear about creative thought, social responsibility and the encouragement of activism is just that: talk, and nothing more.




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