Recommendation 1. Swarthmore should foster a curriculum of intellectual rigor and innovation that combines disciplinary strength with flexibility and should provide structures and incentives to encourage innovation.

Some of today’s most intense academic experiences take place in interdisciplinary arenas, where scholars with very different ways of looking at problems join forces to confront the challenging questions of our time. Yet some current structures are not flexible enough to encourage work across the boundaries that define traditional academic communities. To eliminate this significant barrier, Swarthmore must provide the physical conditions and institutional structures to advance interdisciplinary scholarship and team teaching across departments, offering faculty members the invigorating experience of learning new material and new modes of inquiry and sharing that experience with our students.

Creating the physical conditions for imaginative thinking and interdisciplinary exchange requires facilities that keep pace with rapid changes in teaching and scholarship. Given technological advances, the volume and variety of disciplines and areas we teach, and the interrelationships among them, some current buildings are simply inadequate, outdated, and undersized to meet needs. The College should build new facilities and remodel current structures to enhance interdisciplinary and collaborative work and stimulate organic, frequently unexpected interactions across disciplines and fields.

It is Swarthmore that suggested a terrain of deeper thought. That this frontier terrain is as teeming with truth and insight as all the rest of life is an extraordinary discovery. Others might come to this insight on their own. I needed Swarthmore. 

David Bradley, ’75

The academic program has always helped students develop the intellectual abilities to think critically and write cogently. Now, faculty are aware, however, of their potential to help students develop other competencies, including quantitative analysis, visual intelligence, collaborative team work, and the skills to speak articulately and confidently in public and to use technology effectively. These capacities can also be enhanced through course assignments and the independent learning experiences students routinely seek. Research and summer internships and other similar opportunities equip our graduates for professional careers and responsible citizenship.

This recommendation has five components:

Support curricular innovation, especially interdisciplinary teaching and programs, with helpful structures and additional faculty positions. In particular we highlight three specific measures, including the creation of three full-time positions for temporary faculty members. With this support, interdisciplinary programs could bring a visiting professor or substitute for a regular faculty member to the home department in order to free full-time faculty for sustained immersion in a new area.

We should also develop new, improved standards to govern interdisciplinary appointments to reduce risk for junior faculty and encourage more experimentation across disciplines. We should fund stipends for course releases and course development during the summer to facilitate special offerings, including interdisciplinary teamteaching that is independent of formally structured programs.

Address facilities needs for academic programs by developing new spaces or substantially renovating existing ones to include updated labs and offices for faculty and other instructional staff, places for students to work on independent projects, and classrooms that are designed and equipped for current practices across the curriculum and that will encourage collaborative learning. New or renovated academic facilities will provide spaces that will support a number of key goals for the College: encouraging collaboration, expanding close mentoring relationships between students and faculty, and enlisting technology in the service of the most effective pedagogy and scholarship. In addition, a key consideration in the placement and design of facilities will be to encourage the building of interdisciplinary connections among both faculty and students.

Our initial focus must be on the Departments of Engineering, Biology, and Psychology. Engineering is still housed in Hicks Hall, built in 1919 and seriously inadequate for the needs of a contemporary engineering program. Engineering education in the 21st century focuses on teamwork and collaboration, but our department lacks adequate space for group work in courses, for their signature senior level design projects, and for engaging students in faculty research. The Biology Department is housed in Martin Hall, which dates to 1938. Although it was partially renovated as part of the Science Center project, many teaching spaces were left untouched. Biology is one of our largest majors and their Honors major requires a substantial research project of each student. The department needs more space to accommodate larger enrollments and we must see that classrooms and laboratories are upgraded to keep pace with changes in technology, instrumentation, and pedagogy. The Psychology Department is another program with a large enrollment and antiquated facilities. Its current home, Papazian Hall, was built in 1929 and until 1977 was occupied by the Bartol Research Foundation. This facility was repurposed to accommodate Philosophy, Linguistics, and Psychology, but can no longer accommodate the demands placed by Psychology’s substantial enrollments, a growing emphasis on experimental psychology, active student/faculty research programs and a major that requires an independent project of all of its students.

If new space is built and old spaces are vacated, we will be able to refurbish the existing spaces to address the significant needs of a number of other departments that require both teaching spaces and offices. Primary attention must go to creating spaces for a media commons with a video studio, class and study rooms, and offices for ITS support staff so that students and faculty—working within academic programs (such as film and media studies) or with extracurricular initiatives—can engage with contemporary media.

Provide high-impact learning experiences in the summer. We should provide new funding and draw upon existing resources such as alumni connections, study abroad programs, and experiences through the Lang Center. We should invest in research and independent work experiences for all Swarthmore students; enhanced possibilities in the humanities and social sciences, including travel to research sites; and student stipends. We must also find an appropriate means to recognize the work of the faculty members who supervise students in their labs and other settings in summer research programs and make a powerful impact through this close mentoring relationship.

Strengthen the infrastructure and mechanisms for helping students navigate the curriculum, discover opportunities, and manage their choices. This includes advancing the use of technology to help students identify, understand, and converse with others about possible Swarthmore experiences. This effort should begin with course content and include study abroad, internship, and research experiences. The infrastructure of information and support should help students think beyond requirements and imagine what courses they might take and what activities and research they might conduct during their time at Swarthmore.

It would be tragic to let our students graduate without the capacity to exercise not only critical thinking but self-critical thinking. They must understand their own position and social responsibility as citizens…. 

Aurora Camacho de Schmidt, Associate Professor of Spanish

Support teaching, learning, and research initiatives to cultivate traditional and new competencies and support students across a range of preparations. We should reveal to students how courses connect to strong habits of mind and support the range of strengths students bring to Swarthmore and develop while they are here, relying on faculty as well as peer educators such as writing and science associates.

Administered by professional staff in collaboration with faculty, this project could bring together existing initiatives to share best practices and expedite training of students and faculty. This effort should intersect with appropriate initiatives of the Eugene M. Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility and the study abroad experience managed through the Off-Campus Study Office, providing students with access to the full range of support and engagement programs at Swarthmore.

The teaching, learning, and research project would administer student research fellowships, internships, and other summer experiences, including immersion language study and other forms of student support as well as take the lead on appropriate assessment practices. Finally, we should incorporate leadership and life skills development into student and advising services.