Update on Strategic Planning Process

Dear Friends,

As we near the end of the fall semester, I’d like to update you on the progress we’ve made in the strategic planning process and preview some of our plans for the spring semester. The success of this important process depends upon it being an inclusive one in which all voices in the community are heard. I encourage you to share in the discourse or contribute your suggestions through the website at www.swarthmore.edu/strategicplanning, by sending an e-mail to strategicplanning@swarthmore.edu, or by joining any of the numerous conversations we’re planning for the spring. We have already received a number of thought-provoking ideas in face-to-face meetings as well as through the website, and I look forward to hearing more.

This fall, we held a Fireside Chat for students and hosted two lunchtime conversations between students and board members. Next semester, we’ll be hosting more fireside chats and conversations with students after the Board of Managers meetings. In addition, I will be joining Dean of Students Liz Braun for conversations with students at Sharples.

We also held an All-Staff meeting in which strategic planning was the focus and each division of the staff has had or will soon have strategic planning conversations within their division. For example, Facilities and Services has conversations planned with environmental services, dining services, maintenance, and each of the other areas in that division beginning next week — 15 small group conversations in all. We are also planning other forums for working groups and staff to share ideas.

Similarly, we have had an All-Faculty meeting focused on strategic planning and another conversation with single department and program representatives covering a wide range of topics related to the curriculum. In the months to come, we aim to have a series of planning meetings with subgroups of the faculty, perhaps over lunch or in the late afternoon.

Finally, in the next several months, the Alumni Council plans to host over 30 conversations with alumni across the country; the Board of Managers will continue to focus its meetings on strategic planning; and I look forward to speaking with alumni, parents, and friends of the College on my own Dialogue Tour to cities at home and abroad.

In addition, throughout the fall, we heard from students, faculty, staff, and alumni on the website on topics as diverse as our admissions policies, interdisciplinarity, our Quaker values, the increasing influence of external forces such as technology and sustainability, suggestions for new areas of study, and much more. Each of these ideas — as with all those being generated through our planning conversations — is being forwarded to the appropriate working group for their consideration.

Although it will still be some time before we hear specific recommendations coming from the working groups, each of them has already met to establish a work plan, to refine the questions they seek to answer, to define the scope of data we need to collect, and to solicit information about best practices at other institutions. All are working with the expectation of being ready to make preliminary recommendations to the Planning Council later in the spring. That group, along with the Steering Committee, has met to establish its procedures for working with and facilitating the working groups’ efforts and to identify common themes emerging from the work as well as important issues that have not yet been raised. Full summaries of the working groups’ efforts as well as the common themes identified by the Planning Council will be posted on the website within the next couple of days.

One theme — globalism — was the focus of this past weekend’s Board of Managers meeting. Very early on, we recognized that issues such as technology; changes in knowledge, teaching and learning; sustainability; and globalization were ones that consistently and resoundingly emerged from all discussions about the future of higher education and our own strategic planning process. We dedicated the focus of the Board meeting this past weekend to globalization even as we asked ourselves whether this term or globalism sufficiently capture the essence of our increasingly interdependent world.

First we looked at the ways in which Swarthmore is already a global institution, by taking a look at some demographic data on our students and faculty and at their research, teaching, and learning activities. Then we looked closely at the ways in which we might refine our own understanding of what it will mean to be a global institution in the decades ahead. Board members with deep backgrounds in international affairs discussed the competencies they thought were essential to living and working in today’s more globally connected society. Faculty met with Board members informally over dinner to share their insights and experiences related to globalization. Many thoughts expressed by our own faculty and in our working groups recurred — the value of knowing other languages; the ability to think critically about how others see one’s own government, culture and perspectives; the rapid elimination of both physical and cultural barriers, in part inspired by technological innovation, among them. We also heard a caution echoed by both students and faculty in prior conversations that globalism should not displace learning from and working with communities in the United States, including local ones, quite different from our own.

Clearly, we are receiving thoughtful, constructive advice as we navigate through the complex and important issues that will impact our future together. I want to thank each of you who has already contributed time, energy, and good ideas during the initial months of our work together in the planning process. I hope that we will remain committed to a process that creates the right kind of space to balance innovation and tradition. Although it will still be quite some time before we can expect to hear specific recommendations emerging from our conversations and begin to make choices among competing goods, especially in the new financial environment, we invite you to share with us your best insights and creative ideas. I encourage everyone to think boldly in order to continue Swarthmore’s tradition of excellence in educating our students for the future.


Rebecca Chopp