Content Warning: Mention of Suicide
Reading about Gil Kemp‘s latest ginormous gift, this time for the renovation of Sharples dining hall, adds fodder to my long-standing, love-hate relationship with Swarthmore.
Kemp made his considerable fortune as a result of selling and merging his business to The Home Depot. Clearly Home Depot, Walmart, and a number of other giants have transformed the American landscape. Whether that is good or not is debatable. Whether they embody Swarthmore’s professed values, however, is another matter.
During my campus visits I focus on the names of financial titans, from Clothier to Kohlberg, affixed to various buildings. Some were “enlightened” and others were less so. They too transformed America, but not always for the better. For example, if one wants to know why America’s middle class disappeared, it is in large part the result of the hostile takeover and leveraged buyout techniques which made Kohlberg billions. Of course, the college was invested in KKR partnerships, correspondingly enriching the college’s endowment.
There has always been a disconnect between the college’s values and its funding. At least Eugene Lang fessed up, reportedly saying something along the lines of “Not knowing what to do with myself after graduation from Swarthmore, I became a capitalist.”
My own experience with Home Depot has come from representing courageous whistleblowers who complained about fraudulent practices. The company has had a controversial history. However, I saw the blood on its hands when in one case, I represented a distraught employee who simply wanted protection from the company’s law department as a result of his exposure to those fraudulent practices. When Home Depot refused, he hanged himself.
Now, thanks to Mr. Kemp and Home Depot, Swatties can “chow down” in comfort.
As the saying goes, “Beggars can’t be choosers.” Given the fact that Swarthmore has one of the largest, if not the largest, endowment per student, maybe it’s time for President Smith and her administration to get choosy in terms of whose money they accept and, in turn, what the college invests in.
Mark D. Schwartz, Esq. Class of 1975