• Letter from the President

    Dear Members of the Swarthmore Community,

    In the course of its nearly 150 years of service, Swarthmore has periodically examined its mission, programs, sense of community, and engagement in the world. During the last 18 months, our community continued this tradition by immersing itself in conversations about the opportunities and challenges confronting both the College and the world of higher education. We did so in the context of a particularly complex environment of financial constraints, shifting demographics, and fundamental changes to teaching, learning, and research, all requiring a sharp focus on how to meet the challenges before us and deep analysis of how to sustain our strengths. In typical Swarthmore fashion, our community engaged in this direction-setting process thoughtfully, civilly, and generously, devoting itself to the significant task of carefully stewarding our future direction together.

    We became increasingly aware that the challenges and opportunities confronting higher education in the 21st century are quite different from those that have preceded it. Our students are preparing for an era characterized by global connections, filled with diverse peoples and perspectives, and dominated by the acceleration of technological change. After the deep discussions and careful analysis that were components of our planning process, I believe that the sheer challenge of preparing students to think creatively and critically for a future of dramatic progress and rapid change makes this one of the most exciting times in the history of higher education.

    Three great unifying passions emerged in the process of developing our strategic directions [pdf]: academic rigor and imagination, an intentional community dedicated to the common good, and the future of liberal arts in the nation and the world. To make it possible to fulfill these passions, we must attract and support students who are capable and enthusiastic about our distinct approach to education. Current and future generations of students come to us from a world with few boundaries, where they multitask, and tweet through the day. They are also civic-minded and curious about spirituality, the arts, and politics across nations, languages, ethnic groups, and religions. They come to us wanting both traditional forms of teaching and learning and seeking more and better forms of problem-centered, community-based, digitally-informed learning.

    We need faculty who will, like their predecessors, be devoted to our students. Our ways of attracting and retaining a diverse faculty will need to keep pace with the changes both in academics and in our student body. Our forms of support for faculty will need to be tailored to how they teach, how students learn, and how research is conducted by faculty as well as by faculty and students together.

    At Swarthmore we are well-positioned to meet these challenges. Our energized and passionate faculty and students delight in new, often interdisciplinary ways to organize knowledge and routinely use problem-based learning to teach. Equally dedicated and passionate faculty and students continue to follow well-honed traditions of learning, teaching, and research that in some cases are centuries old. This plan embraces our dedication to rigor and creativity in emerging as well as established ways of teaching, learning, and research. We want to ensure that Swarthmore continues its legacy of teaching people to think critically and creatively, no matter what the topic, situation, or challenge.

    We also want to ensure that our students will continue to be innovative and ethical leaders who can build intentional communities dedicated to the common good. Liberal arts education, by definition, prepares young men and women for building robust democratic communities by requiring them to live in residential communities and experiment with leadership in the arts, athletics, cultural activities, and student government—all practices that develop community-building skills. During the planning process, many expressed concern that the current structures and cultures of democratic community are too diminished to provide the robust community a thriving society needs. Swarthmore aims to be an exemplar of how a residential community supports the work of developing individuals; manifesting a diverse, inclusive, and engaged community; and building new models of democratic communities in the world.

    Another passion identified in the planning process is that of maintaining the liberal arts as a viable and powerful form of undergraduate education in the 21st century both nationally and internationally. This plan calls for developing an institute for the future of liberal arts that will help our faculty address both practical and theoretical problems of the future. It will also connect alumni fellows who are living lives shaped by the liberal arts to engage with our students and faculty. And, perhaps most significantly, it will champion the liberal arts nationally and internationally, joining with other schools to do so. As society and the world of higher education continues to evolve in dramatic and often unpredictable ways, we must be willing to share what we know, and to learn from those all around the world who are similarly devoted to educating future generations.

    In these strategic directions, we have also placed an increased emphasis on alumni engagement. We look to our alumni to engage with our community in creative ways and at deeper levels, both on campus and with each other in what is now a worldwide Swarthmore network. We have been heartened by the enthusiasm expressed for the Swarthmore approach to undergraduate education and by the wealth of talents, ideas, and support alumni want to share with our community. We have also heard the desire alumni express for more forms of communication and networking with each other as well as with the College.

    As we end this phase of the planning process, I am deeply grateful to the more than 80 staff, alumni, students, and faculty members who came together in special groups to explore the ideas offered by hundreds of people on campus and to the many alumni who participated in this process. I also appreciate the efforts of each person who engaged in conversation, posted to the website, or attended a community event in which strategic planning was the focus.

    It is a privilege to share this plan with you in order that we may extend our commitment to rigor and imagination, our willingness to be an intentional community dedicated to the common good, and our commitment to championing liberal arts education in the nation and around the world. I look forward to working together to implement the plan and to secure our future direction together.

    With warm regards,

    Rebecca Chopp

    Read Strategic Directions [pdf]