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Observations from New York City

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."

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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.

4 Responses to “Observations from New York City”

  1. Sanda says:

    Dear Professor Chopp,
    Thank you so much for taking the time to come to New York to speak with and listen to alumni. I appreciated your remarks, and was intrigued by your references to 20 years of research and reflection on the liberal arts. While you noted that The Meaning of Swarthmore essay embodied many of your core values, we'd love to hear more of your gleanings. While you are being rightly circumspect in crafting your agenda, and soliciting input in shaping it, we're eager to hear your ideas and aspirations. What do you anticipate will be the hallmarks of your presidency? What aspects of Swarthmore 2009 would you like to extend and amplify, what aspects would you like to abandon, and what aspects would you like to innovate or invent? Decades from now, when we look back upon the Chopp presidency, what will we be talking about?

    While you don't have to twitter (please don't!), i do hope that you will share your thoughts as they evolve, and look forward to hearing and supporting them!
    Sanda Balaban '94

  2. Rebecca Chopp says:


    What wonderful questions you ask! Let me try to respond specifically to your question about which aspects of the College should be amplified and what aspirations we might have for our future together.

    Swarthmore is a community in which the life of the mind flourishes and academic rigor and delight are not compromised. I wanted to come to Swarthmore because I sensed congruence between my values and those of the institution. The very first of these values is the centrality of the intellectual life and its rigor and this, above all, must be devoutly preserved.

    As a scholar of education, I also believe that education is the institution that is responsible, through the young people we teach and the knowledge they and we create, for the future of our society and world. Liberal arts institutions were founded to prepare men and women for their futures and, intricately linked to that preparation, for fulfilling their obligation to be future leaders of the nation and world. This obligation remains true today and is, I believe, more urgent than ever.

    I am particularly interested in how we educate people to build deliberative and diverse communities and how we support sustainable living for individuals, community and the earth in the 21st century. To me such work not only includes civic and justice work, but also the intentional development of intellectual life, arts, of civil civic debate and discourse, and of other aspects of culture. I think our visions of human flourishing in a diverse community have to be, as John Dewey suggested about the culture of democracy, always in front of us, ahead of us.

    As we consider our future and the challenges facing liberal arts education, we must be willing to take more of a leadership role in establishing the genuine and diverse value of a liberal arts education in a society that is increasingly inclined to think of higher education as advanced vocational training. As we undertake this important work, we must also remain committed to the preservation of access for all qualified students.

    My scholarship and administrative work has been bound together by a fascination with and love for the creative ways in which communities evolve by reinterpreting – sometimes radically so- their traditions. Even as I study and learn from our history, I am passionate about creating our future together. I look forward to exploring with the campus and alumni communities the ways we will continue to steward, shape and reshape this very special place.


    Rebecca Chopp

  3. Daniel Pak '12 says:

    Hi President Chopp,

    My question is simple. What are your plans for the future of Swarthmore? When will we see tangible (or intangible) results?

  4. Rebecca Chopp says:


    Since I arrived in July, we have been hard at work to resolve an $8 million budget gap, the result of the Great Recession. This past weekend the Board of Managers approved a set of recommendations presented by the Ad Hoc Financial Planning Group. More information about this plan can be found here.

    In addition to resolving the budget shortfall, we have also been engaged in a search for a new Dean of Students, a critical member of Swarthmore's senior leadership team. We hope to have a new Dean in place by the summer of 2010. The Dean will be asked to provide leadership and direction to continue to enhance the overall quality of student life, academic advising and support, and residential education at Swarthmore.

    In addition to these concrete initiatives, next year the College will undertake a strategic direction-setting process which will help shape the future of Swarthmore. We will do so only by engaging with our on campus community, as well as our alumni body. I have also articulated a number of priorities in the previous blog entry which you might find interesting.


    Rebecca Chopp