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Reverent Revisionism


Regarding the cover story on President Alfred H. Bloom’s tenure (“A Transformative Presidency,” April Bulletin), author Lawrence Schall’s [’75] hagiography attempts to enshrine the outgoing president among the pantheon of past Swarthmore leaders, comparing Bloom’s vision and accomplishments with those of his storied predecessors. The author pauses to give passing notice to the seminal moment of the Bloom era: the elimination of the football program. Treated as a mere sidebar, its mention testifies to the author’s “fair and balanced” perspective.

Any candid and thoughtful discussion of President Bloom’s character requires more than an obligatory acknowledgement of that controversial topic. If we agree that true character is best defined by one’s actions in the most difficult of times, then a cursory review of Bloom’s tactics during this infamous episode reveal not wisdom and conciliation, but rather arrogance, cynicism, and an apparent predilection for petty tyranny.

In his attempt to justify President Bloom’s motives and decisions, Schall conveniently omits some of the most salient aspects of the controversy: the president’s refusal to recognize the strong support for the football program among both students and alumni; his misrepresentation (echoed by the author) that a viable football program required 60 to 80 players, when in fact many peer schools thrive with as few as 45 to 50, most of whom are multisport athletes; and most blatantly, the surreptitious and hastily called Board of Managers meeting in New York City, a maneuver that intentionally circumvented time-honored democratic protocols and effectively excluded the president’s most articulate and powerful opponents from the critical moment of the debate—and from their casting of a final vote. Far from echoing the spirit of an Aydelotte or a Swain, these manipulative and divisive actions by Mr. Bloom instead evoke comparisons with a far less admired ex-President named Bush.

In the end, all of Schall’s reverent revisionism cannot alter one inescapable fact: that despite a lifetime of academic and administrative accomplishment, the unwarranted and unseemly elimination of the football program will define Alfred Bloom’s legacy. How ironic—and appropriate.

Jim Weber ’84
Dallas, Texas

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