Dean Bob Gross plans to move on, shares thoughts on Swat and life

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Additional reporting by Lauren Janowitz

Dean of the College Bob Gross, ’62, announced last week his intention to retire at the end of this academic year. He will have been at Swarthmore as a dean for a continous fifteen-year stretch, on top of six years as part of the education department, and his undergraduate years.

Originally from Hanover, PA, later residing in Philadelphia, Dean Gross embarked on a trek through education, his own and that of others’, starting as a Swarthmore undergrad. He went on to earn his MAT at Harvard, and taught high school English for three years before returning to Harvard for his doctorate in education. The next four years were spent teaching at SUNY-Stony Brook, and then were the six years teaching at Swarthmore, after which Dean Gross became Head of the Upper School of Friends Select.

The period between Dean Gross the Swarthmore professor and Dean Gross the Swarthmore dean consisted largely of Dean Gross the therapist, with a Masters in social work from Bryn Mawr. While building his practice, he realized that he could use a “day job,” and so he became an associate dean at Swat. It turned out that he practiced enough therapy at the day job that he “no longer needed a night job” and took on Swat full-time for the third time around. After six years as an associate dean, then one year as acting dean, this year will mark the eighth in Bob Gross’ career as Dean of the College. And the final one.

“It’s time,” said Dean Gross, “I’ll be almost sixty-six when I leave, and as a friend said, ‘I don’t see myself at this job when I’m seventy.'”

Pat Coyne, administrative coordinator for the deans’ office, commented, “We had always joked that we would retire at the same time, so I wish he would have waited a few more years to retire, but I understand his need to move to the next thing. I will miss his warmth, humor and of course his dog Happy.”

Among the interests that Dean Gross plans on pursuing once he leaves are reading books, writing, learning to play the piano, traveling, seeing his grandchildren, teaching, consulting, working on his cookbook, “Beyond Ramen: Culinary Competence for the New Graduate,” and “some other useful things.”

The dean also answered a few burning questions:

Daily Gazette: What was the best part about Swat?
Bob Gross: Hanging out with people: students, colleagues, faculty, and staff. Do you want to know what I’ll miss? I tell this to the seniors: they’ll never in their lives have such easy access to good conversation.

DG: Do you have any favorite memories?
BG: Commencements, I love commencements…playing Twister with the RAs in 1995…speaking to the freshmen…I can think of particular students who graduated Swarthmore–they didn’t expect to, and they weren’t expected to–and they made it. It gives me a lot of satisfaction.

DG: What was toughest about Swat?
BG: Swat is a demanding environment. Everyone in student life wants to see everyone succeed and be happy, and that’s not always possible. Everyone expects each other to do their best in student life, and that can be pretty stressful.

DG: Anything unusual about Swat stand out in your memory?
BG: My wife is always after me to write a book about it: “The Annals of a Dean.” Swatties are capable of all kinds of strange stuff–no doubt about it. Maybe I’ll write a novel after my cookbook.

DG: Regarding “No matter what you say or do to me, I’m still a worthwhile person”: Is that your own?
BG: I heard that at a workshop I went to in 1975. It really made an impression on me. I gave that speech for the first time in 1982. One day I was walking down Walnut Street and a woman stopped me and asked if I was Bob Gross. She said, “You don’t know me, but I was in the audience of the freshman orientation speech in 1982, and [that line] got me through Swat.” In 1991, I did it again, and several upperclassmen insisted that the speech not change, so it became an institution.

DG: It’s early, but do you have any advice you would like to impart on Swatties?
BG: Keep your sense of humor. Get enough sleep. Take care of your health. Be good to each other. You know, the usual stuff. If you remember the freshman speech, it’s all there. Only other thing is, don’t forget that when you’re alums, it’s up to you to support the College.

DG: So you were a student, and then came back to Swarthmore…
BG: Yes, this will be the third time I left Swarthmore. Will it be the last? Who knows?

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