Principle 5. Swarthmore maintains its tradition of bold leadership in undergraduate education in order to create practical, visionary solutions to the most complex issues confronting our world.

In 1864, Swarthmore’s founders made a bold statement when they opened the doors of the College to both female and male students, and constituted a board equally comprised of men and women. The founders understood that this radical initiative must strive to serve the needs of their community and of the broader society. Nearly 60 years later, Swarthmore President Frank Aydelotte’s introduction of the Honors Program served as another bold act of hope for future generations because it made academic rigor the cornerstone of the College. Swarthmore’s most enduring tradition, it could be said, is to imagine, inspire, and innovate in order to continually provide students with an exceptional educational experience.

We educate to set anew and set aright in the midst of clamor: the clamor of the voices of the peoples of the world; the clamor of diversity; the clamor of different opinions, beliefs, demands, needs, and opportunities. Swarthmore College is blessed by its deeply rooted commitment to educate to set anew and set aright; we have at our command the intelligence and the imagination that, when guided by our values, will enable us to uncover and respond to the demands expressed in the midst of that clamor.

President Rebecca Chopp at her Inauguration, May, 2010

We live in challenging and exciting times for higher education and especially for small, residential liberal arts colleges. The accelerating rate of the production of information, a more pervasive awareness of global connections, vast technological changes, and daunting financial pressures combine to produce a complex, somewhat unstable climate. Swarthmore should be vigilant in analyzing the pressures and opportunities for our future because we cannot easily assume that the historic conditions that allow us to flourish will readily continue. Our entire community should continue to engage in generative thinking about the future and about what our students and faculty will need to keep Swarthmore steady and strong. The best of our critical and creative thinking must be applied to the times in which we live in order to ensure that the College flourishes and to maximize the opportunities for advances in teaching, learning, and research.

Indeed, just as Swarthmore created the Honors Program as a way to manifest its transformative academic rigor, so too should we now explore new ways of learning and evolve new approaches to teaching and research. For example, the College should support new course development that uses team-teaching, location-based learning, and virtual classrooms. Few schools are fortunate to have the history, structure, and culture to lead in this way. Our balance of academic tradition and innovation—offering a curriculum that includes engineering as a discipline intrinsic to the liberal arts—and our style of critical and creative reflection position Swarthmore to continue at the forefront of academic leadership for undergraduate education.

Swarthmore must take seriously the obligation and opportunity to serve the world as a leader in undergraduate education. We should lead humbly and with an eagerness to learn from other models. Representatives of colleges and universities from around the world visit Swarthmore regularly to understand the excellence of our programs and our very special culture of intellectual creativity and social engagement.

In addition to supporting the faculty’s ongoing research and teaching and in making the case for liberal arts in this country and in the world, Swarthmore should convene others to analyze future trends and best practices for the organizational model of the liberal arts. What will demographic shifts in student populations mean in 2030? Is our business model sustainable? Can financial aid keep pace with need? Can residential colleges serve their alumni better over their lifetimes? Higher education, on the whole, has done very little generative thinking about its future. The time to do so, we believe, is now. The place to convene and lead such thinking, we believe, is Swarthmore.