November, 2009

Observations from New York City

Friday, November 20th, 2009

Rebecca Chopp in New York CityThe atmosphere was electric at the beautiful, old Hudson Theatre on Broadway Wednesday night. More than 200 alumni, parents, and friends of the College engaged in lively conversation, introduced thought-provoking questions and observations, and delighted in one another's company.

We talked about what differentiates the College from other schools--what is it about Swarthmore that is, truly, unique? One alum from the Class of '57 suggested that the College sometimes tries to be "all things to all people," sounding too similar to our peers and resulting in an homogenization of Swarthmore that is neither accurate nor useful in terms of successfully telling our own "best story."

Audio: Download

I couldn't agree more. I think it is imperative that we find a way to express our distinctiveness in order to continue to attract the very best students and faculty and to become a more visible and recognizable force in higher education.

One quality about the College that stands out for me is that our students take thinking very seriously--they love to read; they love to think; they love to work. Swarthmore students ask questions about everything; their curiosity is unrelenting. And this curiosity, which is encouraged and mentored so brilliantly by our faculty, then serves as the impetus for lifelong learning among our alumni. The classroom, extracurricular, and social undergraduate experiences with learning and thinking encourage our alumni to learn throughout all phases of the life cycle.

Another potent quality at Swarthmore is our commitment to social transformation, the applied use of knowledge and passion to transform other lives, other communities, other cultures. I would love to see the College become a leader in higher education in this area.

We will continue to talk about our differentiating characteristics as the Listening Tour continues next semester. In the meantime, I welcome any and all thoughts on this or any other subject that interests you about the College and your relationship to it. Thank you for a wonderful first semester of learning and listening about this very special place.

Reflections from Boston

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

Rebecca Chopp at Fenway ParkIt was another great evening spent with new friends and many long-time supporters of the College. Our conversation in Boston covered much ground, including need-blind admissions and the admissions process more broadly, consensus--decision-making, the beauty of our physical campus, class size, interdisciplinary programs, and our ongoing work in and commitment to the City of Chester.

With respect to Chester, one of our alumni who worked there as an undergraduate wondered what current programs exist between the College and the city. Swarthmore continues the traditions of its founders in both the pursuit of academic excellence and the desire to apply what is learned in the classroom to improving the lives of others. We continue to be deeply engaged in Chester, through class work and honors seminars as well as through numerous initiatives coordinated or supported by the Lang Center. Our commitment to civic engagement also extends regionally to the city of Philadelphia and globally through summer research and efforts coordinated by the Lang Center, among others.

Rebecca Chopp and a guest at the Boston eventAnother alumnus asked how we are motivating faculty to undertake interdisciplinary work and to model it because this is clearly the future direction of higher education. Our support for and growth in interdisciplinary offerings has vastly expanded and enriched our curriculum in recent years. Approximately 35 percent of our students major in the interdisciplinary fields of engineering, psychology, and the sciences. Our faculty recently approved new guidelines for faculty appointments suggesting that the contribution to interdisciplinary studies be a factor in all new appointments. Although not a requirement, it will be a strong consideration.

The new guidelines also stipulate that faculty consider the possibility of Tri-College interdisciplinary partnerships in all requests for additions to academic departments. This holds great promise for the expansion of our Tri-Co collaboration with Haverford and Bryn Mawr, and there are opportunities to expand upon our relationship with Penn faculty, as well.

Finally, the size and nature of the intellectual community at Swarthmore is such that faculty and students often interact with one another across disciplines, in ways both formal and informal. You might find a poet talking to a physicist or a neuroscientist sharing research findings with a linguist. The inherent intellectual curiosity of our faculty and students guarantees that interdisciplinary work will not merely exist but will grow and thrive at the College.