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Professor Sarah Willie-LeBreton appointed provost

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Swarthmore has recently appointed professor of sociology and black studies Sarah Willie-LeBreton as the new provost. From the classroom to the academic office, Willie-LeBreton will be tasked with handling the academic affairs, budgeting, and overall curriculum of the students she has advised, taught, and interacted with on a daily basis.

Although Willie-LeBreton will not officially be appointed to her new position until July 2018, news has circulated around the college beginning with President Valerie Smith’s announcement of Willie-LeBreton’s appointment in a school wide email.

Sarah brings experience, enthusiasm, compassion, and outstanding judgment to this critical position,” Smith wrote.

Willie-LeBreton will replace professor Tom Stephenson, provost since 2011, as he transitions back to his role as an active member of the chemistry department. Stephenson acknowledged his love for his job, the work he has done thus far, and his eagerness to get back into the classroom after what will be seven years this July of being the provost for Swarthmore.

“Being provost is a wonderful job. I love being provost because of my dedication to Swarthmore and my urge to help my community in a different way, but I do miss teaching, being a chemist, and research,” said Stephenson.

As the chief academic advisor, the provost is tasked with overseeing staff and curriculum affairs, looking over faculty and academic budgets, and generating opportunities for academic development and change. According to Stephenson, being Provost is a balancing act with many moving parts and demands. With these demands comes the reality that not everything will go to plan and sometimes not everyone will agree with your decisions.

“Being provost definitely comes with its challenges. You have to balance the demands of the job and being a sane human being. There is always more work that can be done, but sometimes you have to decide when enough is enough, which is something I assume everyone at Swarthmore can relate to,” Stephenson said.

Despite the demands and challenges of the position, Stephenson has enjoyed his time thus far and looks forward to Willie-LeBreton taking over.

“I would say being provost is a bit stressful, but very gratifying. I think Professor Willie-LeBreton will be great at the job,” Stephenson said.

Faculty are not the only ones excited to see Willie-LeBreton take office. Students like Alexis Riddick ’20 cannot wait to see what she brings to the table.

“I was ecstatic to find out about her becoming provost, not only because she’s a black woman (though that is a major plus and a major milestone for all the people of this college black students and professors in particular), but also because she’s someone I know personally and feel connected to. All around, it is super exciting news,” Riddick wrote.

Riddick’s excitement towards Professor Willie-LeBreton extends beyond the news of her appointment as Provost.

“I also really love her as a person. Every time she sees you, she says ‘Hi!’ really enthusiastically with a huge smile, and you can tell that she is actually interested in how you are doing and who you are as a person. She genuinely wants to know the students of this campus,” wrote Riddick.

Riddick was a student of Willie-LeBreton’s “Introduction to Black Studies” course and has been impacted by her presence in and out of the classroom.

“I had her for ‘Introduction to Black Studies,’ which is interdisciplinary as a field in general, and I think she was a great person to teach it because of how multifaceted her interests were. I felt I was gaining just a few peeks at these different aspects of blackness and black life, and she was great in helping facilitate that process,” Riddick wrote.

While Riddick feels as though Professor Willie-LeBreton impacted her life, Willie-LeBreton finds that in her career as an educator, she is the one being impacted by those around her.

“If you are open, I observed, you learn as much from your students (though usually quite different things) than the expertise that you share with them. And if you are in the habit of sharing and receiving, you allow that dynamic to permeate your life, learning from and sharing with friends, family, and even strangers.  To be able to do this as a career is nothing short of a gift,” Willie-LeBreton wrote in an e-mail to the Phoenix.

Willie-LeBreton’s enthusiasm towards higher education and her experience with being an educator have influenced her yearning to take on the role of provost.

“I have thought a great deal over the past decade about higher education, not only because it is the sector in which I am employed, but because I believe deeply in the power of formal and informal education to expand our bases of knowledge, wisdom and creativity. I have spent a good deal of time on other college and university campuses as a curriculum reviewer, workshop leader, and guest lecturer. Those experiences discussing curriculum, faculty development, financial trade-offs, social conflicts, and the ways in which higher education is changing have encouraged me to think about issues beyond the classroom, my department, and my program,” Willie-LeBreton wrote.

Although Willie-LeBreton will be expanding her scope of higher education and assuming a new position on campus, she does not see her presence in the sociology department lessening in any way.  

“At some level, and much to the chagrin of my younger siblings, I’ve been a sociology professor since I was four, so I hope that this title change won’t mean an existential change for me! The analytical skills that I bring to bear on my scholarship and teaching, however, will now be focused more on shared work with the particular staff and administrators with whom I’ll work and with my colleagues on the faculty as a whole around curriculum, professional development, and issues that require our shared governance,” Willie-LeBreton wrote.

In understanding the community she works with and is a part of, Willie-LeBreton strives to use her position as provost to make an interactive and respectful community for academic affairs.

“I’m a process person, so probably my most central goal will be to nurture our collective ability to work together in ways that are mutually respectful while driving the academic mission of the college forward,” Willie-LeBreton wrote.

While there may be challenges and increased demands awaiting Willie-LeBreton as she transitions from the classroom to the academic office, students and faculty are confident in her abilities to do the job of provost justice. Willie-LeBreton’s experience and passion serve as her motivation to make the academic space at Swarthmore one that is both inclusive and forward-looking.

What do you want in a provost?

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

The student body has a chance to make huge amounts of change this semester and next. No, it’s not necessarily through a new walk out or protest, and Election Day has come and gone. Instead, we can guide essential programming of our academic program here at the college.  

A panel of faculty has come together to begin selection of a new college provost. As leader of faculty and director of curriculum, the provost commands a great deal of power over the academic program and a huge portion of our lives here as undergraduates. We think that most students do not have direct contact with the provost, but the student body should be very conscious of the decisionmaking process. Because the provost has the power to define academic programming for years, we should think on what our academic priorities are and voice support for candidates that will be receptive to those proposals.

Consistent considerations students bring up are a social justice distribution requirement, Credit / No Credit reform, and the expansion of programs that center on marginalized groups to majors. This selection gives students a more timely reason to discuss these issues as a campus more wholeheartedly and redefine our objectives for these potential programs instead of relegating these discussions to random roundtables on Cornell first or in committees.

These discussions could accomplish three goals. First, it will outline a student proposal to present to the college for potential change, the opportunity to connect wide and narrow interests, and give us a unified voice to negotiate with faculty and administrators. Second, it also gives us qualities and motivations we want to see in a provost. Lastly, it could also give the student body points of conversation with the incoming provost about ways to better incorporate student initiative in academia. These considerations and potential benefits are not the only things relevant to the selection of provost, and provosts do much more than just cater to student wants and motivations. However, we engage here as students most everyday, and if academic policy will be shaped for years to come, we should take initiative to have as much space in the room as we can.

As this long term process proceeds, students should reach out to professors they know or learn how to be on the selection committee. Let them know what you would value in a provost and what you want to stay the same or change about the academic program here. How can your time as a student here be made better?

Things here don’t change in a matter of a year, and usually not in a student’s time at the college either. We should take the opportunities we have to make change when the institution, which historically does not barrel through decision making, is in a changing mood.

Professors call for increased faculty diversity

in Around Campus/News by

Of the 180 tenure and tenure-track faculty positions at the college, 45 percent are occupied by women and 36 percent are occupied by individuals who identify as members of racial and ethnic minority groups. Of the 75 female tenure and tenure-track faculty members at the college, 14 are professors in the natural sciences or engineering and 10 identify themselves as women of color. While these statistics are on par with national trends in higher education and represent considerable improvement from previous years, many faculty members at the college believe that significant advancements still need to made for there to be congruence between the college’s theoretical and practical commitments to faculty diversity.

In 2011, the college released the “Strategic Directions” report, which established the institution’s plans for handling the changing world of higher education over the coming years. One of the key features of “Strategic Directions” was a commitment to increasing faculty diversity. In former president Rebecca Chopp’s letter to the community, which begins the “Strategic Directions” report, she states, “Our ways of attracting and retaining a diverse faculty will need to keep pace with the changes both in academics and in our student body.”

Across higher education, changes at the institutional level have led to more progressive hiring practices for tenure and tenure-track positions. While such changes are far easier to undertake at large research universities, smaller, comparable institutions, such as Bowdoin College and Pomona College, have also made strides in promoting faculty diversity in recent years.

In 2008, Bowdoin introduced a “Proposal to Increase Faculty Diversity,” which led to the implementation of “Special Opportunity Hiring” practices that specifically target female and minority candidates for tenure-track faculty positions. Such practices provide for the appointment of new faculty members, prioritizing each candidate’s ability to fill certain diversity criteria without having to go through a national search where smaller colleges typically struggle to find a significant number of candidates from diverse backgrounds.

In 2004, Pomona College instituted diversity recruitment procedures requiring each department to report to the Dean, the Diversity Committee, and the Diversity Officer each time they plan to fill a tenure-track position in order to maximize the diversity of the candidate pool.

The “Strategic Directions” report outlines the need for the installment of similar procedures at Swarthmore.

In the report, the committee states, “With the support of the College’s equal opportunity office, we must increase the diversity of applicant pools and develop strategies to persuade highly sought-after candidates to choose Swarthmore, including funding postdoctoral fellowships for underrepresented groups.”

Despite the rhetoric of diversification emphasized in the “Strategic Directions” report, however, some professors feel that the college still is not doing enough to ensure race and gender diversity amongst tenured and tenure-track faculty, particularly in the natural sciences.

“I think more could be done,” said Professor of Spanish Maria Luisa Guardiola. “They are trying to get people to be more flexible about who they are going to hire, to think more openly about the candidate, but that’s not enough…I just find that if they’re going to diversify they have to really commit to this diversity.”

Guardiola worried that there is some disparity between the college’s stated dedication to faculty diversity and the way in which this dedication has manifested itself in practice.

“There is what they are telling people they are doing and then there is what they are actually doing,” she explained. “It seems like the college wants to impose certain things because they look good.”

Professor of History Marjorie Murphy expressed similar concerns, particularly in regards to the gender gap amongst tenured and tenure-track faculty.

“I think it’s time for the college to hold up the mirror and take a good look at what it’s doing for the faculty,” Murphy explained. “There is no point in recruiting all of these wonderful women here and bringing them halfway through their career here, or their tenure here, and then not tenuring them. This speaks to a lack of communication.”

Murphy noted that this problem is particularly pronounced in the natural sciences where, in past years, controversial tenure decisions have denied various female tenure-track faculty members from becoming fully tenured professors. Five of twenty female tenure candidates in the natural sciences and engineering have been denied tenure by their departments after the termination of their contracts at the college. Murphy believes this 15 percent differential has played a significant role in shaping the gender makeup of the natural sciences faculty at the college today.

Professor of Engineering Lynn Molter agreed.

“I think in the sciences at the college, you do face more challenges in getting tenure as a woman,” Molter said. “I’ve known [tenure-track] women who have not continued on to even be considered for tenure, and I’m trying to think of men … and I can’t really think of any, so I’m going to say it’s a smaller number of men – if any – who have been in that circumstance.”

Molter, who is the sole female professor in the engineering department, explained that during her more than 27 years of teaching at the college, she has only had two other female colleagues within the engineering department. However, neither of them work at the college today. Molter believes that the college could and should have done more to retain them. While one left after one year after having been offered a tenure-track position at another institution, the other was denied tenure in the sixth year of her contract despite what Molter considered to have been sufficient qualifications.

“I do think that being a woman was a very significant factor,” she said. “I am also convinced that there were other very serious issues that should not have been a factor in the decision.”

Molter believes that the irregularities in the tenure evaluation of this candidate represent a serious loss for the department.

“We could have made an opportunistic hire, however, there was legitimate disagreement about whether the department should have done an opportunistic hire or a full search,” Molter explained, referring to the process of filling tenured faculty positions without conducting a national search. “Now knowing, since that time, about the remarkable success and contributions of the individual who could have been hired, I am resolved to improve the circumstances for women in Engineering as well as in other sciences and mathematics at Swarthmore .”

According to data released by the Provost’s Office, in the last 20 years, in the natural sciences, 90 percent of male tenure candidates have received tenure, while only 75 percent of female tenure candidates have received tenure.

Sunka Simon, professor of German studies and associate provost for faculty development, explained that over the past 20 years, male tenure candidates have receive tenure at a rate 7 percent higher than female tenure candidates across all disciplines.

“It doesn’t look so great,” Simon said. “In the case of engineering, I know of a woman and a person of international ethnicity who were denied tenure, and I know in biology a while back there was a tenure denial of a double minority candidate.”

Murphy explained that the denial of tenure for qualified women in the sciences raises questions about the nature of the tenure process in general.

“All I can say is that it was surprising to me given how difficult it is to recruit good women in science and have them come to the campus and then not have them achieve tenure,” Murphy said. “The arguments against their tenure were perfectly legitimate within their fields, but it caused you to wonder. If they were acceptable when they were hired, what caused them to be so unacceptable seven years later?”

Nevertheless, given the efforts of the college to diversify in recent years, Simon is hesitant to point to gender and racial bias as playing a dominant role in the seven-year tenure process. Simon explained that the tenure process is incredibly comprehensive and involves a number of factors, including a candidate’s teaching, scholarship, and service.

Most tenure-track faculty are appointed on four year contracts as Assistant Professors, and in their third year, they apply for reappointment. For the reappointment process, a candidate must amass all of their scholarly research and publications, choose colleagues from other disciplines as well as former students to write letters on their behalf, and select three external reviewers in their field to assess their application for reappointment. At the same time, the department reviewing the reappointment application is also responsible for choosing a selection of former students and external reviewers to evaluate the applicant.

If the department decides to reappoint a candidate and make them an Associate Professor, they must submit that decision to the Committee for Promotion and Tenure – comprised of five senior faculty, the provost, and the president of the college – which, based on the department’s recommendation, will also make a decision on the candidate’s tenure future. That decision is then submitted to the Board of Managers who will either confirm or deny the reappointment. According to Provost and Professor of Chemistry Tom Stephenson, the third year review is usually successful, but provides a very useful opportunity for feedback and mentoring.

In the candidate’s sixth year, the College repeats this process on a more scrutinizing level, at which point, if their application for tenure is accepted, they become tenured professors.

Despite the multiple checks and balances of the tenure appointment process, however, some believe that there is still room for biases to affect the final tenure decision.

“There is a culture here where there is still a popularity contest,” said Guardiola. “Sometimes I’ve noticed that the standards are not the same for different people… When they don’t want someone to get through, they claim it’s a collegiality issue, and to me, that collegiality issue is very arbitrary.”

Guardiola expressed concern that collegiality, which is an assessment of how well a tenure candidate relates to their colleagues, has the potential to be used as a rationale for denying tenure to more outspoken or less socially popular candidates.

Murphy agreed, explaining that issues of collegiality can lead to inappropriate assumptions about the personal lives of tenure candidates that may add scrutiny to the applications of female and minority candidates.

“This generation of men, knowing that they can’t ask about marital status and children still speculate as to what the family life of female candidates is as opposed to men,” Murphy said. “Sometimes they’re just curious…They’ll say ‘I wish I knew, but I can’t ask her.’ … It used to be that you had to be suspicious of a comment like that thinking she won’t be able to devote as much work time as men would.”

Murphy explained that sometimes women who have families and children to raise may appear less collegial than their colleagues simply because they have responsibilities that take them out of the workplace.

“Sometimes when faculty members aren’t here very much – and this happens sometimes with women faculty members. At five o’clock they turn into pumpkins and go home and take care of their kids, regularly, and that could be interpreted as not collegial,” Murphy explained. “I go to my friend’s lectures as much as I can, but I’m a single woman, and I don’t have as heavy family claims on my time.”

In the past, these issues were far more pronounced.

Guardiola explained that when she came up for tenure, it was very difficult as a female tenure candidate to both raise a family and go through the tenure process because there was no maternity leave granted to female faculty members.

“In the late 1980s, I was a visiting professor, and my youngest child was born in 1989,” Guardiola said. “I had no maternity leave, so I came back to my class two weeks later.”

“I think this was a sexist campus when I came up,” agreed Murphy, who received tenure in 1987. “Some of the comments when I first got here were outrageous.”

Guardiola agreed, expressing that she experienced significant antagonism from male colleagues during her tenure process given her outspoken nature on departmental issues.

“There were a lot of male professors, so it was important that you kind of followed their ideas and that you did what they wanted,” said Guardiola, who received tenure in 2000. “I always felt a little bit uncomfortable because I didn’t agree with their vision of the direction that the Spanish program should go, but because of my circumstances I had to compromise a little.”

Professor of Physics Amy Graves felt that when she received tenure in 1994, some faculty outside of her department were surprised.

“They were pretty sure I wouldn’t get tenure just because of my vibe,” Graves explained. “On the day tenure decisions were announced, I had been invited to the tenure party of a wonderful colleague … and there was a sense that my case was much more tenuous than theirs, and when I walked in the door, people’s eyebrows shot up, and when I said ‘Hey, I got tenure,’ there was that shock … and it was just much less expected that I would [get tenure] for reasons I do not want to project a simplistic interpretation upon.”

Professors Graves, Guardiola, and Murphy all explained that today, the culture regarding gender and tenure has improved significantly.

Guardiola believes that the college is much more accommodating to the needs of its female tenure track faculty than it was in the past. For example, women on maternity leave are now given extra time to complete their tenure track, which Guardiola believes is indicative of some culture of change at the college.

“There definitely are a lot more women with tenure than when I started here for sure,” Guardiola said. “It definitely has changed. It’s a lot more balanced.”

Murphy echoed these sentiments.

“When I first came to Swarthmore, the Political Science Department didn’t have any women,” Murphy said. “I think some of it was clearly attitude and those attitudes began to break down… It’s a much more diverse campus than when I came.”

Simon agreed, explaining that in the humanities and social sciences at the college, women now receive tenure at a higher rate than men. According to data released by the Provost’s Office, in the last 20 years, female tenure applicants in the social sciences have received tenure at a rate of 88 percent, while their male colleagues have received tenure at a rate of 86 percent. In the humanities, over the same time period, 91 percent of female tenure candidates have received tenure, while 90 percent of male tenure candidates have received tenure.

Still, Professors Simon, Guardiola, and Murphy all explained that much work remains to be done in order to achieve the type of faculty diversity that the college has expressed a desire for. They felt that though norms might be changing in regards to gender, especially in the humanities and social sciences, there remains an immense lack of racial and ethnic diversity amongst tenure and tenure-track faculty at the college.

“There are more women professors than racial or ethnic minorities,” Simon said. “Race is really pitiful. It’s not good. It should be much better.”

Starting in the 1980s, the college began to engage in diversity hiring programs to bring racial and ethnic minorities to campus. These efforts were part of a broader initiative to better fulfill Quaker ideals of tolerance and community. Still, despite their good intentions, these reforms have left something to be desired.

“Its great that every few years, Swarthmore makes a concerted effort to recruit more women or recruit more faculty of color,” Sarah Willie-LeBreton, Professor of Sociology at the college, explained. “We succeed at that, and then comes the frustrating part, we take a vacation.”

Willie-LeBreton explained that while the college has made significant gains in diversity over the years, these gains have occurred in fits and starts. A consistent effort to recruit and maintain diverse tenure track faculty has been lacking.

Willie-LeBreton expressed concern that the college sometimes relies too heavily on its prestigious reputation to attract applicants for tenure positions instead of actively recruiting diverse candidates.

“I wish we would take a page out of the admissions handbook,” Willie-LeBreton said. “Admissions sends recruiters to the Southwest, to the Pacific Northwest, to the Midwest. We participate in QuestBridge to recruit low-income students that otherwise wouldn’t know about Swarthmore… we need to be doing a version of that. There are superlative PhDs coming out of the University of California system, the SUNY system, and the large universities in the South; people who would be a wonderful fit here and be a great contribution, but you need to scratch below the surface.”

Simon also felt that the college does not do enough to recruit candidates who do not have a certain academic pedigree.

“Swarthmore, because it considers itself an elite institution, has a bias against, for example, historically black institutions, or degrees that don’t come from the top five or the top ten,” Simon said. Simon worried that over the years, this bias has unfairly impacted the way in which the college has recruited for tenure-track positions.

“The challenge is surmounting the institutional inertia of bygone decades,” Willie-LeBreton agreed.

Still, according to Willie-LeBreton, the college has recently been making steps in the right direction.

“There has been a pretty serious change just in the last three or four years,” Willie-LeBreton explained, emphasizing the importance of the Diversity Task Force that operated during the 2013-2014 year. The task force conducted a review of faculty hiring for the year and distributed this report to all faculty members at the college in an effort to raise awareness regarding diversity hiring tactics. Additionally, the position description for Associate Provost was rewritten to mandate that the Associate Provost focus on increasing faculty diversity.

In her role as Associate Provost, Simon has helped to highlight the college’s role as a founding member of the Consortium of Faculty Diversity. In October of 2015, the college will host the CFD’s conference on campus. The consortium recruits faculty who identify themselves to be of diverse backgrounds to participate in two-year teaching fellowships at the college where they gain experience in the classroom, while working on their dissertations. According to Simon, this provides valuable teaching skills to professors and exposes students to a more diverse swath of instructors. Presently there are three CFD fellows teaching on campus.

Willie-LeBreton explained that such diversity initiatives are crucial to maintaining the competitiveness of the college on a national level.

“If we don’t keep diversity as one of our goals for faculty, staff, and student recruitment but also for the curriculum we offer, we will not remain one of the nation’s preeminent liberal arts colleges,” Willie-LeBreton said. “You could get away with that in 1957. You can’t get away with that anymore.”

Provost Stephenson agreed that faculty diversity is incredibly important to the future of the college, alluding to the college’s aim for continual improvement in this field.

“We’re always interested in diversifying the faculty,” Stephenson explained. “We have a high priority in making sure that we have as diverse a pool of applicants as possible… We definitely have aspirations to increase the diversity of our faculty. We’re not satisfied. I know I’m not satisfied.”

Willie-LeBreton explained that simply announcing these aspirations for diversity in conversations around campus has the potential to genuinely change the culture around faculty diversity at the college. In particular, she emphasized the power that students hold within these conversations – as evidenced by the student-driven development of more recent diversity initiatives around ethnic studies and mutual respect – to incite meaningful reform.

Murphy agreed.

“I’ll say this about Swarthmore,” Murphy said. “That lip service – at least we have that. In other words, at least they’re willing to entertain the idea that this is a possibility and thats always the first step. If somebody’s willing to do that or say that, then you can have a conversation.”

College to revert back to old calendar for two years

in Around Campus/Breaking News/News by

The faculty met today to vote on the spring semester calendar changes and decided to revert back to the former calendar until at least 2017. The change means that this year’s graduation will return to its former date, May 31st, a week later than the new date would have been.  Over the next two years, the curriculum committee will consider alternatives for the end-of-year calendar.

During the meeting, the faculty also voted down proposals to shorten the length of the spring semester, which is one week longer than the fall semester, and to revert back to the old end-of-year calendar permanently. The result of the vote means that if no alternatives are presented to the curriculum committee by 2017, then the committee will default to the postponed proposal.

The change, announced over the summer, meant shorter reading and senior weeks to allow for an earlier graduation date and drew widespread criticism from the student body. According to a poll conducted by student council in which 702 students voted, 90% of students indicated they were opposed to the new schedule. In particular, students criticized the lack of student involvement in the decision-making process.

“I think it was the right thing to do overall. it was clear that we rushed into implementation,” said Provost Tom Stephenson. “I still think that, on balance, the curriculum committee proposal, as I told the faculty, is the right strategy. It was the wrong tactic to implement quite so quickly.”

Department of Theater Chairman Allen Kuharski said the change was more than sufficient to address student concerns. “I think the students that have raised their concerns have just gotten all they asked for and more with the return to the original calendar for at least two years and that the faculty have committed to a sustained, probably all year discussion on all the issues of the calendar.”

Honors majors were specifically bothered by the idea of a shorter period of time to prepare for their cumulative pre-graduation examinations.

“Students need more faculty advising time and instruction and engagement to know why honors is the right thing to do, because I believe honors is the best opportunity for a Swarthmore student, especially for students of less privilege,” Kuharski said.

Faculty considers changes to end of year schedule

in News by

On Friday, the first faculty business meeting of the academic year was held in the Scheuer Room. The most discussed topic was student feedback to the spring semester schedule changes that were announced in an email in May.

The result of the meeting’s discussion was reported to the class of 2015 in an email Friday night, which said that the meeting’s participants will hold a vote to determine if the new spring semester changes should be reversed. Meaning, according to Provost Tom Stephenson, the class of 2015’s graduation date is “tentative” for the time being. The next faculty meeting is set for September 26th.

The outcry from the student body regarding the changes has been a major concern for faculty members since the fall semester began.

“[The faculty] takes the students’ concern (especially the relative lack of involvement of students in the decision making process) very seriously,” said Professor of Philosophy Peter Baumann, who was present at the meeting, in an email to the Phoenix.

The upcoming vote seems to prove that the faculty members are trying to address this concern.

Some of the faculty members have been meeting with students individually or in small groups to discuss the pros and cons of the changes in order to give students a voice in the matter. What both sides seem to agree on is that the change came without enough involvement from the student body.

In addition, faculty members seemed genuinely shocked by the reaction from students and had not anticipated the negativity during their discussions with the representatives of the Curriculum Committee last year.

Members of the administration seem to be willing to admit flaws in the decision-making process as well.

“[The lack of transparency] was clearly a mistake. In my first communication with students after the objections started mounting, I admitted that we blew it,” said Stephenson. “I can understand how the timing made it seem like we were trying to avoid controversy, but that is not true.”

Stephenson chaired Friday’s meeting. He said that the problem now is deciding whether it is too late to revert the changes and what would the consequences be if the graduation date was changed once more.

Although Stephenson has claimed responsibility for the lack of communication, some members of the student body do not believe he is the one who deserves the brunt of the blame for the mistake.

“I think Tom Stephenson was put in a real tough place here, because his responsibility is [to be] the liaison to the faculty,” said Peter Amadeo ’15. “He has been taking a lot of the negative effects of this because he was the one who sent the email [in May].”

“I think it is an important mark of maturity and professionalism to be able to admit a mistake and to do everything in your power to fix it,” Amadeo said regarding Stephenson’s actions.

Also discussed was whether sexual assault during senior week was a factor in the decision to change the semester schedule last year. According to Baumann, “sexual assault and less-than-optimal behavior in general during that time of the semester was a huge issue since faculty started discussing a schedule change some months ago. It was not the only issue [discussed] but a major one.” However, Stephenson said that the issue of sexual assault was only briefly mentioned at the meeting.

Stephenson said that, to his knowledge, sexual assault was not one of the reasons for instituting the spring semester change.

As the discussion continues, some students seem to be satisfied with the actions of various faculty members.

“I’ve been very encouraged by my conversations with faculty members, who I think [have] realized how this happened was very wrong, and even if they are ultimately in support of the change, that they realize how bad it was and want to correct that,” said Lauren Barlow ‘15.

Some believe that the increase in conversations between faculty, students and administration that have arisen in the wake of this change will lead to better decision-making in the future.

“If [students] want to propose a solution, I am happy to hear them,” said Stephenson.

Earlier graduation draws protest from students

in Around Campus/News by

In what has proven to be a highly controversial decision, over 85% of college faculty present at a recent meeting voted to shorten the spring semester’s reading period and reduce the length of senior week in order to move graduation one week earlier.

According to administrators and faculty, the move was made so that students and faculty can begin their summer activities earlier and so that graduation seniors can start their post-college careers sooner. Most other small liberal arts colleges, they point out, hold graduation earlier than Swarthmore did.

Tom Stephenson, a chemistry professor and the college’s provost cited the length of time between classes and graduation as a driving factor. “Thirty days is an awfully long time between the end of classes and graduation,” he said. “People really need to get on with their lives and faculty need to move on with what they need to be doing during the summers.”

But the reaction from students has been overwhelmingly negative, with many expressing concern at the decrease in time allotted for studying and end-of-year events, criticizing the lack of student consultation when designing the new calendar, and decrying the seemingly abrupt announcement of the change. A Moodle poll conducted by Student Council after the decision was announced registered 90 percent of participants as being opposed to the changes, with 75 percent of participants indicating that they were “strongly opposed.” A total of 702 students participated in the poll, slightly less than half of the student body, but one of the highest turnouts out of any StuCo poll. Several hundred more students voted in this poll than have voted in any online election for StuCo.

“Now that the results are out, it is clear that many students find this change problematic,” said StuCo co-president Jason Heo ’15. “I, personally, hope this could result in a change or a reconsideration.”

Peter Amadeo ’15 agreed, saying that if the faculty did not reconsider their decision in light of student opposition, it would be disheartening.

“If the student body overwhelmingly says we do not approve of this schedule, and they say no, I mean, that’s just very telling that they don’t really care about what we need or want or feel is necessary,” he said.

Students cited a number of reasons for their displeasure, both specific and general. Many pointed out that the new calendar would place a unique burden on graduating honors students, who in recent years have constituted roughly 24% to 37% of each class, and must study for honors exams—both oral and written—in addition to their standard course finals. Previously, students had six days between the end of spring semester classes and the beginning of exams. Now, they only have three.

“I think that our honors program is a fair argument for why we feel rushed, or why an honors student might feel rushed,” said Lauren Barlow ’15, who said that the existence of the college’s honors program made it difficult to compare its schedule to that of its peer institutions.

“I’m in the admissions office, and we have to speak to what makes Swarthmore unique,” she said. “One of the things that makes Swarthmore very unique is our honors program. So to give students more time for an experience that this college offers, the fact that we graduate a week later makes sense.”

Others worried that the new calendar could create challenges for international students, particularly those graduating next year, whose families may have already booked plane tickets and applied for visas based on the previous calendar.

“I know that it’s often easier for families coming from farther away to book plane tickets and apply for visas well in advance in order to attend their kids’ graduation,” said Anushka Mehta ’15. “While plane tickets are changeable, they often require extra payments or some sort of fees for the tickets to be changed, and once issued a visa one would need to reapply to get those dates changed.”

Mehta said that the new calendar might also put additional pressure on international students in future classes. In particular, she expressed concern that they would have decreased time to go through the process of obtaining optional practical training in order to remain in the United States for work experience, to apply for work permits, or to obtain new student visas if they plan on attending graduate school.

“Visas and paperwork are always difficult to work out and it’s hard to make sure you’ve got everything in order before you graduate, but with less time to do it in and more work to focus on, I imagine it will make life a little bit more difficult,” she said.

In addition, many students felt that the reduced study time would burden more than just honors students and international students. Pointing out that spring semester classes already last one week longer than do fall semester classes, some argued that the spring semester was inherently more stressful, and thus merited the additional time.

“Spring semester is longer, it is colder, it is generally harder, it is darker, and we get to finals week and all of us are struggling,” said Amadeo. “I personally don’t think it would be possible for me to get my work done in the time allotted.”

Alex Jimenez ’16 agreed that the longer reading period was necessary. “The fact of the matter is Swatties are usually inundated in work. We use reading week as a way of catching up,” he said.

Stephenson said that the college was considering eliminating the extra week of classes from the spring semester, an alternative that many students have suggested. But he said that making such a shift was more complicated given the school’s commitment to keeping its calendar roughly synchronized with that of Haverford and Bryn Mawr.

“That would be a tri-college discussion,” he said.

Stephenson could not say if the faculty would reconsider the calendar shift, a decision that would be difficult given the need to plan the calendar for next year. He told students who wanted the calendar to be switched back that they ought to appeal to the faculty directly. But he argued that the new schedule was workable, and said that he would follow up with department chairs to ensure that they carefully consider these concerns and would encourage professors to take steps to make sure students are not overwhelmed.

“The faculty thinks that this is manageable for students given the workload that students have,” he said. “I understand that students don’t think that is correct. But I can tell you that everybody here, the administration, the dean’s office and the faculty, are committed to making this schedule work.”

Barlow was not convinced. “Professors already abuse reading week like crazy,” she said, pointing out that it was not uncommon for professors to schedule assignments to be due or even hold make-up classes during reading period. “It’s clear the professors are already out of touch. I do not trust the departments to make the right decisions for student welfare.”

But Diane Anderson, associate professor of educational studies and the associate dean of academic affairs, disagreed that faculty were out of touch, and that they would not make adjustments based on the new schedule. “I don’t think that faculty would have approved this change without understanding that a change like this implies other kinds of changes,” she said.

In addition, she argued that the reduced reading period would reduce stress. “Given my experience in this office, I think that as many students are stressed by the length of time as they are sometimes by a shorter period of time when it comes to studying for any sort of exam,” she said. “For some of our students, that length of time really becomes a time not of studying but of being stressed about exams and studying.”

Still, students cited a variety of non-academic reasons for the extended period of time between the end of classes and graduation. Reading period, they point out, plays host to a variety of end-of-year extracurricular and social events, ranging from the Large-Scale Event, Worthstock, and Kilbasefest, to student performances, like the end-of-year dance concert.

“All of these things have to take place, according to this new plan, in three days,” Amadeo said. “We have to rest, study, and go to these events in three days. Which just doesn’t seem plausible to me.”

Mehta agreed, saying that the reduced time would be particularly onerous for seniors. “It’s like we’re given a choice — enjoy your last few weeks with your peers of four years, or work your butt off for all those exams after four years of hard work,” she said. “But not both, never both.”

In particular, many expressed dismay at the reduction in senior week, now four days instead of seven.

“Even if you’re not honors, senior week seemed to be this culminating experience everyone looked forward to at the end of their Swarthmore career, and I feel robbed of that,” said Amadeo, adding that he did not think “giving seniors one week to use the money that they as a senior class have raised to say goodbye to Swarthmore, say goodbye to their friends,” was an unreasonable request.

Anderson did not disagree. “I think seniors’ interest in spending time with their friends, to say goodbye, is justified,” she said.

But she suggested that there were more productive ways for students to do so.

“I wonder, if that is a strong desire, if students could suggest some programming at other times that would bring seniors together for non-academic purposes,” she said. “Is it necessary to wait until four years are over to spend time with friends?”

Indeed, Anderson and Stephenson both asserted that this decision was not made in spite of the students, but for them.

“I think the faculty adopted this schedule really thinking it was in the best interest of everybody,” said Stephenson, who in an email to the Class of 2015 said that the new calendar was meant to reduce the burden on graduating seniors, “eager to begin new endeavors.”

Anderson also cited the additional time seniors had to remain on campus as part of the rationale for the reduction. “Increasingly, there have been students who haven’t been at graduation because they need to start their jobs or whatever their post-graduation plans are before graduation,” she said.

Both Amadeo and Barlow said that this burden was largely fictitious.

“I have never spoken to anyone who had that problem—ever,” Amadeo said.

Barlow agreed, arguing that such reasoning was created “when trying to find other reasons to make this a student issue.”

In addition, many students have pointed out that there are many other schools, particularly those that are on trimester or quarter systems, with graduation dates that are far later than Swarthmore’s whose seniors do not appear to have trouble finding employment, including the University of Chicago, Carleton College, Northwestern University, and Dartmouth College (though most of these colleges also begin later in the fall). In addition, Williams College, which is on a semester system, held graduation this year on June 8, one week after Swarthmore’s commencement.

These objections play into a larger charge against the curriculum committee and faculty—that it did not properly consult with students in designing a new calendar. Other than the three student representatives who sit on the curriculum committee, no students were formally consulted before the change was decided upon and announced. Student representatives on the curriculum committee are supposed to keep meeting details confidential.

“Students are usually very much engaged in the community, activism, and the school in general,” said Jimenez. Here, he said, that was not the case.

“I was blindsided,” he said. “It was a surprise.”

Stephenson acknowledged that the views of students and the needs of seniors were not studied, something he says was an error. “It was a mistake to have not at least heard what the student thoughts were on this particular issue in advance,” he said.

But Stephenson still asserted that curricular matters are an area “where clearly, the faculty make decisions,” and criticized the notion that there were ulterior motives or sinister intentions behind the decision. In particular, Stephenson rejected the suggestion by some students that the new calendar was constructed to save the school money, saying that the topic of money never came up in discussions about the new schedule.

“That’s categorically false,” he said.

Still, faculty point out that there was another reason that this change was made — so that they can have more time over the summer to pursue their own projects. The summer is a valuable time for professors to conduct research, often alongside students. This change, many argue, will make doing research easier.

“It will give them an additional week to stop and think, clean up after the semester, and begin to get organized for the summer travel that they do for their research or the meetings that they’ve had to postpone with colleagues at other schools,” said Anderson, who felt that the change would help her own academic work. “And, quite frankly, still have time in August to spend a week or so on vacation with their families.”

Amadeo agreed that the new calendar would work to the advantage of the faculty. But he said that the lopsided nature of the new calendar’s benefits was further reason to criticize the process by which the new calendar it was constructed, and consequently, the new calendar itself.

“It’s important to realize that the faculty voted on this, because really, there aren’t many negative consequences for most of them,” he said. “They all get a week more of their summer, either research or vacation.”

The gains of the faculty, Amadeo said, came at the expense of students.

“From the perspective of a rising senior, we have four weeks to study for our exams, take our exams, possibly do our honors exams if we’re honors, and say goodbye to our home and friends for four years,” he said. “They want to take one of those four weeks away.”

Stephenson disagreed that the interests of the faculty and students were in opposition. “The interests of the students are to have a vibrant, professionally active faculty who are energized and ready to be engaged with them in the classroom and in the labs and in the seminar rooms and during their office hours, both during the summers and during the academic years,” he said. “To do that means to have as rationale an allocation of time as we can during the spring semester.”

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