Joss Whedon ’86 won’t be the most controversial honorary degree recipient at Commencement this May.
A recent New York Times article, Hero of the Bronx is Now Accused of Betraying It, details the rise of our very own (and this year’s lesser-publicized Honorary Degree recipient) Majora Carter ’88. Carter founded the program Sustainable South Bronx, supporting local food production and urban revitalization in the South Bronx. Now she is consulting for corporations like FreshDirect, which has recently occupied a huge lot in the South Bronx, but serves clients mostly in Manhattan and none in the neighborhood around it. That’s not to mention the $500 fee Carter reportedly charges for initial consultations. Journalist Winnie Hu gives the overview:
Ms. Carter’s meteoric rise also made her a polarizing figure. Many former allies and neighbors say that Ms. Carter trades on the credibility she built in the Bronx, while no longer representing its interests. They say she has capitalized on past good deeds in the way that politicians parlay their contacts into a lobbying career, or government regulators are hired by the companies they once covered.
“You can’t have it both ways,” said Eddie Bautista, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance. “Either you’re an honest broker and accountable to the community, or you’re working for a business interest and accountable to that.”
Carter is accused of betraying her ideals and becoming a fallen hero of sorts. (When Wesleying tweeted out a link to the article, South Bronx Unite and other critical parties were quick to weigh in on the situation as it’s perceived. Carter herself briefly joined in with a YouTube dedication of her own.) Some fellow alumni are making the connection to Wes:
— Hanna Ingber (@HannaIngber) April 5, 2013
— Miriam Gottfried (@miriamgottfried) April 5, 2013
Meanwhile at Skidmore, students are taking action against scheduled commencement speaker Cynthia Carroll (Skidmore ’78), former CEO of Anglo-American plc, a company that has been heavily blasted for human rights and environmental violations. Earlier this month, a group of about 35 student activists stormed a faculty meeting to register their discontent. As Skidmore Unofficial summarizes it:
A graduate of the Skidmore Class of 1978, Carroll is the former CEO of Anglo American plc, the fifth-largest mining company in the world. While her supporters have called her a model speaker as one of the most powerful women in the corporate world, her detractors have accused her of executing neocolonial, environmentally disastrous policies during her tenure at Anglo American. Luke Conley ’14 has penned an eloquent and level-headed takedown of Carroll in The Skidmore News (a welcome counterpoint to prior op-eds praising Carroll) and a pamphlet distributed at the protest highlighted the mining company’s alleged violations, from widespread environmental degradation to human rights abuses, including the censorship of information related to the 1977 death of anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko.
What does it mean when honorary degree recipients are accused of betraying the very ideals for which they are being honored? Do honorary degrees even mean anything, anyway? Should we shut up and enjoy Joss Whedon?
Read the full Times piece here and decide for yourself.