Editorial: Ellen Kullman is a bizarre choice for commencement speaker

The 2018 Commencement Ceremony features Tufts Alumna Ellen J. Kullman (E ‘78). Kullman is renowned for her tenure as the CEO and Chair of DowDuPont Inc., formerly known as DuPont, the world’s largest chemical corporation. She appeared in Fortune Magazine’s “50 Most Powerful Women in Business,” on Forbes “100 Most Powerful Women” list and was the first female CEO in DuPont’s 200-year history. Kullman’s impressive accolades and rank in the male-dominated C-suite demand respect; however, Tufts’ invitation to her as commencement speaker is misguided.

Amidst the university’s concerted efforts toward an environmentally sustainable campus and the student body’s consistent interest in promoting eco-friendly initiatives, the choice of Kullman is downright confusing. DuPont has a history of environmental degradation, which it is paying for — literally. Under Kullman’s watch, the company paid $500,000 for multiple instances of poor water quality at its Edge Moor plant in Delaware, $3.3 million to the EPA for violating the 57 Toxic Substances Control Act, and $70 million to settle a class-action suit concerning decades of pollution, just to name a few.

The environmental issues are not the only significant blot on DuPont’s record. DuPont has been accused, and found guily of, safety negligence. In 2015, a jury in Columbus, OH deemed DuPont responsible for $1.6 million in personal injury when Carla Bartlett was diagnosed with kidney cancer after drinking water contaminated with a chemical known as C8. The case came to light just days after Dupont announced Kullman’s immediate retirement. DuPont scientists had researched the carcinogenic nature of this chemical long before it came to public attention, but, according to Bartlett’s lawyer, kept its dangers under wraps for years. Instead of terminating their usage of such a harmful toxin — a known carcinogen — the company kept this knowledge confidential and continued its usage. After the lawsuit, the company released a statement which said that “safety and environmental stewardship are core values at DuPont.” This was further proven false when DuPont’s historical documents revealed clear correlation between cancer and C8. The man-made chemical did not exist a century ago and now is found in the blood of 99.7% of Americans.

In West Virginia, a similar situation surfaced under Kullman’s leadership, in which DuPont was fined nearly $1.3 million for their failing to curb the release of toxic substances. The Environmental and Protection Agency noted that DuPont failed to report harmful toxicity levels in a timely fashion on five separate occasions — one of which was the dumping of 80 tons of methanol into West Virginia’s Kanawha River.

DuPont has consistently failed in promoting the general welfare of our planet and the human beings who share it. When Tufts invited Kullman as a speaker, it actively diminished the significant shortcomings of her company and the very real lives it has significantly and seriously damaged. Bringing Ellen Kullman to send off our seniors into the world, knowing what we know about her tenure at DuPont, goes directly against the values Tufts claims to hold dear.


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