Op-Ed: A new (or lost) Tufts ethos

I’m hardly the one to reminisce, and don’t think I’ve ever been the “school spirit” type. In fact, I’m a bit notorious for not stepping foot on campus since my sophomore spring — save my classes, don’t worry mom. But as of late, I’ve found myself fondly revisiting some of my earliest memories of Tufts. This Tufts was of course imperfect but strikingly different from the Tufts from which I graduate. The Tufts I was accepted to had its annoyances: It asked me to “celebrate my nerdy side” in my Common App supplement, it told me that I was ‘smart but different’ and reminded me that I was “quirky,” like the manic-dream-girl I never intended to be. Yet these annoyances were mild, ameliorated by the fact that I attended a university with great faculty and peers who I was, and still am, genuinely inspired by every day.

You would be hard-pressed to find a senior that wouldn’t say Tufts has undergone a pretty substantial transformation throughout their enrollment — from the massive capital campaigns for STEM facilities (SEC, 574 Boston Ave.) to a sanitization or removal of decades-long traditions (NQR, Cage Rage, the departure of Undergraduate Admissions Director Lee Coffin after 13 years). For first-years reading this, just imagine Tufts with less buildings, more ‘granola’ student activism and a different campus ‘personality.’ To this end, campus tour guides have reported that the types of students on tours, the questions they ask and who ultimately enrolls at Tufts has changed dramatically in the past several years. Less anecdotally, tuition has increased each year I have attended Tufts, and Tufts continues to be among the least economically diverse universities in the country. It is important to note that it would be naive to think that Tufts was not always a private institution with the demands from donors that identity entails. It would be equally naive to imagine Tufts as anything but an institution serving those from mostly privileged backgrounds. However, upon learning that the former CEO of DuPont, Ellen J. Kullman, would be this year’s commencement speaker, it appeared obvious that my intuitions were correct: Tufts has radically shifted its priorities, and has lost its ethos in the process.

For the past decade, Tufts has invited a diverse and engaging collection of commencement address speakers including incisive thinkers, policy-makers and those in creative fields. And like my annoyances with the Tufts I enrolled in, any qualms about these commencement speakers were debatable, trivial, recoverable. Throughout its history, Tufts has sought to host commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients who represent the ideals and beliefs of the school, and in 2014, President Monaco himself told the Daily, “Our commencement speakers are further distinguished by their ability to inspire and excite our graduates,” as “what makes them special is what makes Tufts special.” What ‘values’ could someone like Kullman inspire in Tufts graduates? What does such a choice suggest about the changing goals of Tufts’ administration?

From 2009 to 2015, the years that Kullman was CEO of DuPont, a hideous list of poor corporate practices occurred. In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed that after Koch Industries acquired a dozen synthetic fiber plants from DuPont, the company reported to the EPA that the facilities had extensive environmental compliance problems. An audit found more than 600 violations. In 2010, DuPont agreed to pay $70 million to plaintiffs to settle a class-action suit concerning decades of pollution by the company’s former zinc smelter in West Virginia. DuPont also agreed to fund a 30-year medical testing program that was estimated to cost another $80 million. The settlement put an end to DuPont’s appeal of a $400 million jury verdict three years earlier. That same year, DuPont agreed to pay a penalty of $3.3 million to the EPA to resolve 57 Toxic Substances Control Act violations involving the failure to immediately notify the EPA of research results showing substantial risks found during the testing of chemicals for possible use as surface protection. Finally, in 2010, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) criticized DuPont for exposing employees to hazardous chemicals at its plant in Belle, W.Va., where a worker had died after a ruptured hose released a large quantity of phosgene gas. The following year, OSHA cited DuPont for dangerous conditions after a contract welder was killed when sparks set off an explosion in a slurry tank at a plant in Buffalo, N.Y. In 2012, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board added its criticism of the company in connection with the Buffalo accident. In 2011, the EPA ordered DuPont to immediately halt the sale or distribution of the herbicide Imprelis that had been found to be harming a large number of trees. Dupont faced compensation claims from users of the herbicide running into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Also in 2011, the EPA, the Justice Department and several state agencies in Delaware entered into a consent decree with DuPont under which the company agreed to pay a penalty of $500,000 for numerous water quality violations at its Edge Moor plant. Shortly thereafter, DuPont agreed to pay a $250,000 civil penalty to settle alleged violations of hazardous wastewater regulations at the company’s wastewater treatment plant in Deepwater, N.J. Finally, before Kullman’s departure from DuPont in 2015, the EPA announced that DuPont would pay a $1.275 million penalty and take corrective actions to settle charges relating to the toxic releases at the Belle facility. A few weeks later, the EPA announced that DuPont would pay $1.853 million to settle allegations that it failed to submit reports about potential adverse effects of its Imprelis herbicide and that the company sold the product with labeling that did not ensure its safe use. In November 2014, a leak of methyl mercaptan (used in the production of pesticides) at a DuPont plant in LaPorte, Texas caused the death of four workers. In July 2015, OSHA proposed fines of $273,000 in connection with the accident and put DuPont on its severe violator list. Perhaps personally implicating Kullman in each of these incidents is unfair, but if commencement speakers are awarded the honor of speaking due to success in their given fields, should we not hold them culpable for their failures as well?

According to Tufts’ mission statement, Tufts aims to be an innovative university of creative scholars across a broad range of schools who have a profound impact on one another and the world. With this in mind, Ellen Kullman’s repeated and blatant workplace negligence, incompetence and lack of ethics should not be condoned by this institution, or by any of value.  By inviting Kullman to deliver the 2018 Commencement Address, Tufts has made clear its ongoing identity shift, abandoning core values of justice, advocacy and truth, and instead championing profit at any cost.