Letter from Faculty on Strategic Planning Council

Dear Colleagues,

Throughout Swarthmore’s history, faculty have played a central role in shaping both the college’s mission and the content and methods of its curriculum. Against the backdrop of potentially fundamental changes in the environment for liberal arts education, we’ve now begun a new round of long-range strategic planning. We write to sketch out what lies ahead and, most importantly, to invite your active participation.

The planning process is designed to encourage a deep and innovative reconsideration of the college’s priorities and opportunities over the next 15 years. The formal structure of the process consists of four substantive working groups that will meet over the course of this academic year and may continue into some portion of 2011-12. Building on the 2007-08 planning effort, their deliberations will respond not just to the financial realities we face but also to what many observers view as potentially fundamental shifts in the economic, social, and technological landscape for liberal arts education. The work of these groups will be supported and coordinated by a Strategic Planning Council, which will provide guidance to the working groups, foster dialogue between them, aggregate and synthesize the entire suite of findings, and develop an over-arching set of recommendations for consideration and debate by the campus community. The process will culminate in a vision for the College and a concrete medium term strategy consistent with that vision – ideally by December 2011, with adjustments as necessary to ensure a vital and substantive process.

We are launching the process with a faculty discussion, this Friday, October 8 at 12:30pm in Scheuer Room. This discussion will attempt to lay the groundwork for some of the important questions we will need to engage. For example, we should in this process identify and consider not only the finest examples of innovation, best practices, and creative thinking in academia, but also the anticipated challenges, the expected costs (more broadly than just financial), and indeed our anxieties with respect to such issues as:

  • how disciplines are shifting—in relevance, in connection to each other, in how they are organized, and in response to a more global audience and with more global contribution;
  • how students are learning, particularly in light of the explosive expansion of information, and our deepening understanding of cognition;
  • what skills students will need as world citizens in a technology-driven 21st century that requires more sustainable practices, and specifically how the liberal arts fits in to the development of those skills;
  • how we, the faculty, develop and advance in light of the factors above; and
  • how globalization, sustainability, and technology continue to impact and transform our disciplines, student learning, and the competencies our students will need more generally.

The four of us will offer some preliminary thoughts as a way of beginning these conversations, but we hope that you will join us in offering up your own ideas and concerns, responses to some of the current literature, and reflections on what some of our peers are doing.

We will follow up on this initial discussion by asking each department and program to wrestle with these questions together. We then hope to bring delegates from each department and program together to create cross-disciplinary syntheses of your responses and to raise any new important considerations.

We are looking forward to a productive and engaging launch to this process on Friday, and to hearing your ideas on how best to express our mission of educating our undergraduates, contributing to knowledge, and more broadly, serving as an exemplary model to the world of a global liberal arts education. Whether you make it to this meeting or not, we invite your thoughts via email at strategicplanning@swarthmore.edu, by talking to any one of us, or through this website. We hope a site dedicated to this effort and which contains planning documents, references to resources, the charges and membership lists for the working groups, and equally important, mechanisms to submit comments, feedback, and ideas will help to keep all of us informed and engaged.


Tim Burke, Professor of History

Eric Jensen, Associate Professor of Astronomy

Steve O’Connell, Professor of Economics

Patty White, Professor of Film and Media Studies