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Ursinus College controversy erupts over board chairman's tweets

Tweets by the chairman of Ursinus College's board of trustees have drawn ire from some students and at least one fellow board member, who called them "elitist, racist, sexist, body-shaming," and "generally intolerant," and resigned over them Sunday.

Tweets by the chairman of Ursinus College's board of trustees have drawn ire from some students and at least one fellow board member, who called them "elitist, racist, sexist, body-shaming," and "generally intolerant," and resigned over them Sunday.

The controversy at the small liberal arts school in Collegeville began last week after a student posted on Facebook the tweets by Michael C. Marcon, an insurance executive and 1986 Ursinus graduate. A four-page printout of the tweets also was circulated on campus.

"Got to love a janitor with a 'Ban Fracking Now' sticker on his bucket. Barack is clearly reaching his target demographic," said one of the tweets.

"Yoga pants? Per my DTW visual survey, only 10 percent of users should be wearing them. The rest need to be in sweats - or actually get dressed," said another.

A third, which was a retweet, referred to Caitlyn Jenner: "Bruce Jenner got 25 K for speaking engagements. Caitlyn gets $100K. What wage gap?"

"The tweets that were sexist made me really uncomfortable," said Haley Brush, 21, an English major from Littleton, Colo., who posted some of them on Odyssey, a social content platform. "A lot of us are wondering if these tweets reflect how he currently feels. Comments like that are really inappropriate for someone in his position."

Marcon, chief executive president of Equity Risk Partners, said in a statement Monday night that "I am sorry for creating a situation that has led to frustration, confusion and disappointment. . . . More is expected of a trustee, and I resolve to live up to the college's high standards."

He said he intended to speak to faculty and student leaders Wednesday and "will do whatever is necessary to restore the trust."

"Not only do I know how much frustration 140 characters can cause, but I've now been on the receiving end of many difficult online comments that are painful for my wife and children to read," he wrote.

In an email to faculty, staff and students last week, he noted that the tweets in question were posted on his personal Twitter account before he became board chair July 1. He joined the board in 2010.

He said he didn't intend to offend anyone but understands how "a few posts can be interpreted differently and may have caused certain readers discomfort."

Marcon also wrote that he believes in "a free and lively exchange of ideas and that we should always challenge ourselves to understand different perspectives or just appreciate the banal observations of everyday life."

He has since removed the tweets from his Twitter account.

David Bloom, the board member who resigned Sunday, said he was disturbed that Marcon did not apologize outright but "rather sought to rationalize and justify his published writings."

"These tweets are far over the line and could get a student of the college expelled," said Bloom, president of Resource Real Estate of Philadelphia, a commercial real estate/investment management firm.

"I am personally offended, but also believe that this behavior goes against everything we at Ursinus and others teach long before college, which is, things said in social media can cost you jobs and before that admission to college or graduate school."

Bloom's resignation letter to the college stated that in Marcon's tweets, "I read strong evidence of an elitist, racist, sexist, body-shaming, anti-LGBTQ, exclusive-minded and generally intolerant individual."

Bloom, a Haddonfield native and 1987 grad, said the offensiveness of the retweet about Jenner's speaking fees "hits home like five different ways."

In another that Bloom cited, Marcon tweeted: "Just saw an Aborigenese in 'full gear' talking on an iPhone. What's next Ben Franklin driving a Tesla?"

Bloom, who had been on the board since 2013, called for Marcon to step down.

Several other board members contacted declined comment, referring a reporter to the communications office.

Brock Blomberg, president of Ursinus, said the tweets "don't reflect the values and history and mission here at Ursinus College."

He said Marcon regrets having posted them.

"This is not the measure of the man," Blomberg said. "He's deeply passionate. He loves the place. He is not happy with the tweets. He removed them from his Twitter account because he realizes they were offensive."

The case, the president said, can be used as a learning experience for everyone, from students to the board chair.

"While we believe people should be able to speak freely, if those moments in our speech offend others, then there are some challenges there," he said. "I think we all learned when we say things how powerful those words can be."

Blomberg said the board is supportive of Marcon and his leadership, though not of the tweets.

Senior Jordan Ostrum, a Spanish major minoring in history and gender and women's studies, was the first to post Marcon's tweets Aug. 28.

"I pledge to not donate money to the Ursinus College Annual Fund while Michael Marcon remains on the Board of Trustees," Ostrum, 21, posted Wednesday. "If he remains on the board, they are saying yes [to] his behavior. I will say no - with my money."

The student from Cheyenne, Wyo., said by phone that the tweets had displayed a pattern of "gross disrespect basically for people who were different from him."

Brush said her sociology professor held a class discussion about the tweets Friday morning. Students, she said, are divided on the matter. Some thought that Marcon is entitled to free speech. Others were offended by his words and wanted him out as board chair - a move she thinks is probably too harsh.

"It would be helpful if he came to campus and hosted a town-hall meeting," she said. "Everyone could air grievances and he could talk about it. That would be a good first step."