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Loeb Speaks Service, Sparks Discussion
elizabeth whitton 12 opinioneditorial editor volume 86
November 11, 2010

Paul Loeb, author and activist, spoke about citizen responsibility, prompting a heated discussion on climate change denial, at the first Academy Event of the school year on October 28.

Introduced by Student Council President Ellie Parker ’11, Mr. Loeb addressed many pivotal questions surrounding social activism and responded to these questions with stories of the most committed and involved social activists of our time, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Rosa Parks.

Mr. Loeb encouraged students and faculty to emulate these activists, to be accountable, and to speak out about controversial topics including climate change.

“You really want to start now even if it is just in relatively small ways, because the more you do, the better the base you’re going to build from this point forward,” said Mr. Loeb.

He provided an example by pointing to the potential conflict of interest between financial donors and a school’s institutional policy, directly referring to the donations of David Koch ’59 to the construction of Deerfield’s science center and swimming pool that bear his name.

“I hope that a school who takes the money to make David Koch a lifetime trustee wouldn’t intimidate people from challenging powerful interests,” said Mr. Loeb.

Mr. Loeb also questioned the interests of the school, saying, “It’s okay to take money and build a science center, but to take money and sell the soul of the school would be a tragedy.”

At the end of the meeting, Head of School Margarita Curtis thanked Mr. Loeb for encouraging the students to act on their convictions, but she felt it was important to make it clear to everyone in the audience that “we are not, have never been, and will never be a donor-driven school. Deerfield receives donations from alumni and parents on both the left and the right of the political spectrum, but at no point in our history has any donor, including Mr. Koch, attempted to influence school policies or what we teach in the classroom.”

Dr. Curtis underscored this idea, saying that “To suggest that this has been the case any time in the past, or that we are vulnerable to this kind of influence, is inaccurate and demonstrates a lack of understanding of the Deerfield culture and of the honorable intentions of our donors.”

Mr. Loeb’s call to be persistent, ethical leaders for positive change resonated with many students and faculty.

“I believe many students were moved by his message. He truly inspired us to take action instead of waiting,” said Gaelen LeMelle-Brown ’11.

The question and answer session that focused on the issue of climate change demonstrated students’ awareness. Mr. Koch, who allegedly does not agree that climate change is a pressing issue and has received recent negative publicity, including a New Yorker article by Jane Mayer, was brought up as well.

At the end, the speaker pointed out the need to find some base line of mutual agreement. “I was intrigued by his story about how and the Christian Coalition, two organizations that typically disagree, worked together to preserve Net Neutrality,” said Academy Events Chairman and math teacher Nils Ahbel.

Mr. Ahbel also reflected on the importance of the Academy Events in general. “One important purpose of an Academy Event is to get our community talking about important issues. I believe Mr. Loeb was successful at doing exactly that.”