Update from the President - February 21, 2019

Dear members of the Gettysburg College community,

On Tuesday, I sent a message to the community about the discovery of a 1980 yearbook photo that had been shared on campus, and of the subsequent decision made by trustee Bob Garthwait ’82 to resign from the Board of Trustees. Reactions to this news have been passionate and quite varied. Some have expressed their appreciation for Bob’s apology and decision to resign from the Board. Some have expressed serious concern about the wearing of a swastika under any circumstances and the fact that this has tainted the name of our leadership center. Others have expressed their support of Bob and their view that his participation 38 years ago in a Hogan’s Heroes themed party does not warrant so much attention and concern.

The high volume and content of the email correspondence that has arrived in my inbox makes it clear that this news has deeply affected many students, faculty, staff, alumni, and parents—and inspired conversation about our institutional values. I am sorry that I cannot respond to all of this email, but I do thank all of you who have stepped forward to reaffirm those values, as well as those who have offered compassionate support to fellow Gettysburgians during this time.

I want to be clear about one point in particular. The College has taken no action regarding this situation except to communicate about it. Bob Garthwait’s decision to step down from the Board of Trustees and to offer an apology is consistent with what I have observed in him over the last several years.  As he shared with me recently, “I care deeply about the College and because I’m in a leadership position as a board member, I felt that resigning was the right thing to do. I did it with the best intentions in mind for the College and its students so we can begin to move forward and learn from this situation. Resigning reflects how seriously I understand this situation to be and it is important to me that our community see that through my action to resign.”

It is clear we are not the only institution of higher education grappling with these kinds of issues. Our Board of Trustees plans to form an advisory group that will be chaired by a trustee and will include representatives from our College community who can bring a variety of perspectives to bear. I will not participate in that group. The advisory group will be charged with gathering the opinions and concerns of our community and providing recommendations to the Board about general policies that could be applied to this situation or any similar situation. The Trustees will then make their decisions about the recommended policies and whether or not any further action is appropriate in this case. Listening to and discussing multiple viewpoints will take some time, but it is key to ensuring a thorough and well-reasoned process.

On a personal note, I have known Bob Garthwait for 11 years. I have found him to be one of the College’s most avid supporters, one whose primary goal is to enhance the student experience. I want to thank him for the gracious manner in which he has handled what we all recognize is a very difficult situation.
I also want to offer sincere thanks to the students, and the members of the Hillel Executive Board in particular, with whom I have spoken thus far about this situation.  I admire their desire to promote our institutional values and to improve our community. Gettysburg students continue to make me proud.
As members of an academic community, I trust that we will use this situation as an opportunity for civil and constructive discourse with one another. I am pleased to report that there has already been thoughtful dialogue in classes, over meals, and in a variety of settings. Let us demonstrate compassion and understanding, let us learn something from one another, and let us emerge as a stronger community having had these conversations.

Janet Morgan Riggs ’77