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Thoughts from D.C.

September 30th, 2009

Rebecca Chopp in Washington, D.C.What a great night spent with alumni, parents, and friends of the College at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C.! Nearly 200 of us gathered to talk about a number of issues of shared interest, including the College's potential leadership role in higher education; the search for a new dean of students; how the current economic climate is affecting our budget choices; the different ways our alumni can be engaged; and the importance of inclusivity and diversity in our mission.


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Once again, I was impressed by the thoughtfulness of the questions posed and the sincerity of those gathered to think through, together, the best way to move forward as an institution--one that is unyielding in its commitment to excellence.

Rebecca Chopp and guests after the Washington, D.C. eventOn the question of whether we can and should play a national leadership role in higher education--my immediate and enthusiastic response is: yes! As stewards and beneficiaries of one of the finest undergraduate educational institutions in the country, we have an obligation to contribute to the broader national discussion about the nature of education, its intrinsic value, and the role that liberal arts colleges can, and must play, in helping forge a more just society.

There is an anti-intellectual backdrop pervasive in nearly every discussion or debate these days. We, therefore, have to step up to the plate and address these fundamental questions: 1. What does it mean to live as an intellectual in 2009? What does this translate into tangibly? 2. How do we help young men and women learn to live proudly as intellectuals? 3. How can we best promote civil discourse, engage in civic debate, and help to build and sustain communities devoted to a more just, inclusive society?

Rebecca Chopp and guests after the Washington, D.C. eventEveryone I met last night serves as an ambassador for the College in ways both great and small, but each meaningful. For those who ask what they can do to help support the College and promote its values, I offer this--if you were granted a degree from this very special place, then let others know that this is where your greatest learning about life occurred; that this was where you set your foundation; and where you willingly devote some of your resources now. Tell your friends, your neighbors, your coworkers, your children that this was the place that set you on your life's course. And what splendid lives so many of you are leading. It was humbling and energizing to be in the company of so many smart, creative, committed individuals last night. What a wondrous ride we are going to have together ....

6 Responses to “Thoughts from D.C.”

  1. Alicia Armstrong says:

    President Chopp,

    I am a Swarthmore parent and I would like to know what you think parents can do to most effectively contribute to the Swarthmore community.

    Alicia Armstrong Swarthmore 2013 parent

  2. Deb Felix '83 says:

    What joy it was to meet Rebecca Chopp in Washington. I think she will be an extraordinary leader for the College. In order to support her efforts, I would like to reiterate something she said in Washington and again on this blog:

    "Tell your friends, your neighbors, your coworkers, your children that this was the place that set you on your life's course."

    I tell everyone that I went to Swarthmore, with an emphasis on how much the College means to me and why. One December, a colleague who picked my name in a Secret Santa lottery went online and ordered me a large Swarthmore pennant that has been prominently displayed in my office since that time.

    Publicly expressing our gratitude to Swarthmore is the least we can do for an institution that gave us so much, and it is a simple and meaningful way for us to support the College as alumni.

  3. Arnold Kling '75 says:

    "There is an anti-intellectual backdrop pervasive in nearly every discussion or debate these days."

    I agree, although I would point out that it cuts both ways. I cannot be around well-educated people undertaking political discussions without hearing a seething contempt for those who are not as well educated. I think that intellectuals will be more respected when they can find a way to respect people who hold different beliefs and have different levels of education.

    I worry about grandiose descriptions of a Swarthmore education. I hope that Swarthmore grads come away knowing a little bit more than those who lack a college education. In the grand scheme of things, a little bit more knowledge is the best one can hope for. Graduates who think that they know a lot more than other people are probably self-deceiving.

  4. Rebecca Chopp says:

    Dear Alicia Armstrong,
    There are many ways parents can help Swarthmore. Making a gift is one way, of course, and the College is truly grateful for your philanthropic support. You can give to Swarthmore in other ways as well -- perhaps most importantly, by serving as an ambassador on our behalf. Swarthmore is a college unlike many others in its emphasis on intellectual rigor and social responsibility. Help us explain the College's mission. Talk to your friends, family, neighbors and colleagues about us. Help us identify the smart, talented, curious prospective students who will thrive here. I invite you also to take advantage of opportunities for service to Swarthmore, including providing internship and externship opportunities for our students and serving as resources for our graduates.

  5. Eric Masters says:

    Rebecca,
    Thanks very much for giving us some of your time. I too enjoyed the evening. I am a parent of a swat sophmore who has decided on a philosophy major maybe....

    One thought for you as you learn about Swarthmore and the community. Though I consider myself an intellectual who majored in English and attended a select college , we like to call Harvard the Stanford of the East... I have to confess that when our high school lacrosse coach told Owen that Swarthmore might be a good place for him I can honestly say I had no idea where the place was or even its reputation. As I discover more and more about the college, its history and its commitment to a better world I am so pleased that we have been invited into the game. It is almost like we have discovered a secret garden that we didn't know existed, one that is full of wonderful people and ideas. And that's just my point, in some respects I think that one of the true values of Swarthmore is that it is a bit unknown, to most people, but to those who know about the school it commands great respect and attention. I think that fact lends to the school's impact and its charm. If everybody knew about the secret garden it wouldn't be secret anymore. Trying to balance that close knit richness which you don't want to lose, with the desire to increase the school's impact on the world will be one of our greatest challenges I believe in the years ahead.

  6. Jerry Nelson '65 says:

    Hi, All,
    Cheers, Dr. Chopp,
    Could you teach us more about "Hicksite Quakers"? With your background in theology, it tumbles out easily that Quakerism has sects and Swarthmore typifies one of them. All news to me, and when I look it up, I see that what I admired in college and what I have become in values and political outlook is species of Quakerism. Refer once in a while once more to Hicksite history. You will be teaching this member of the community about himself. Those modest Quakers! They never said a word.
    Regards,
    --jerry
    (and Robin Tina Lorrin Bruce Joan . . . )

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