Retired military as possible faculty sparks controversy at Swarthmore College

Parrish Hall at the center of the Swarthmore College campus. commons.wikimedia.org.

A partnership that could place and subsidize the salary of a retired military officer as college teaching faculty drew fire from students at Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pa. On March 15, a collective of students from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) currently attending Swarthmore published a letter in Voices, a student-run publication:

We . . . are deeply troubled by our administration’s recent decision to partner with The Chamberlain Project . . . [and] their self-proclaimed goal of “building relationships and understanding between the United States Armed Services and civilian institutions.” We see no benefit in “building relationships and understanding” with an organization that has committed a host of war crimes, perpetuates decades-long offensive and money-driven onslaughts in many of our homelands, all the while deploying enlistment practices that prey upon lower-income Black and brown people domestically. . . . This partnership directly contradicts Swarthmore’s updated Mission Statement “committing to peace, equity, and social responsibility, rooted in our founding as a coeducational Quaker institution.”

The Chamberlain Project places Retired Officer Teaching Fellows (ROTF) with terminal degrees at partnering institutions. Academic departments make the final hiring decision, but half of the fellow’s salary is provided by the Chamberlain Project. ROTFs have already served at Wesleyan University, Amherst College, and Hamilton College.

The letter from MENA prompted a flurry of other student and faculty responses to Swarthmore’s engagement with the Chamberlain Project. Many responses support MENA’s opposition to the relationship between the college and the project, but others raised questions about excluding military voices and about what the Quaker values of the school represent.

Sarah Willie-LeBreton, Swarthmore’s provost and dean of the faculty and a member of Providence Meeting in Media, Pa., wrote in a letter to Voices that “while the Quakers who founded the College surely disavowed militarism as a form of resolving conflicts, they also encouraged the kind of thoughtful discussion that President [Valerie] Smith sought from the faculty” in establishing a partnership with the Chamberlain Project. Willie-LeBreton continued that Swarthmore wants to offer opportunities for students to learn from faculty they might not otherwise meet, and “to encounter sustained conversations with those whose institutions and organizations they, quite possibly, consider antithetical to their own.”

As of late April, Swarthmore President Smith had made no announcement about Swarthmore’s relationship with the Chamberlain Project. The faculty as a whole also had not made an official statement on the matter.

FJ News Editors

Erik Hanson and Windy Cooler are the news editors for Friends Journal. They contributed to the reporting of this story. Do you know about any Quaker news stories we should be covering? Send us tips at [email protected].

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