Interview with Al Bloom

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.

After serving as Swarthmore’s president since 1991, Al Bloom recently announced his decision to retire in August 2009 to the campus community through e-mails and letters. Although he was traveling in the week after he made the announcement, Al Bloom graciously agreed to answer a few questions for our reporter over e-mail.

DG: Why have you decided to retire now?

I made the decision to conclude my tenure as president as of August 2009, so that the College can search for my successor over next year and that he or she can be in place to translate the results of the current planning effort into the specific priorities for the next campaign and then plan and undertake that campaign. I will also be ready to embark on the next stage of my own career.

DG: What do you expect to miss the most about being president, and what are your post-retirement plans?

I will miss most the wonderful colleagueship of this remarkable community–its Board, faculty, staff, students and alumni — and the opportunity to represent and lead the finest undergraduate institution anywhere. I am looking at a range of opportunities here and abroad, but have not yet made any definitive plans.

DG: What accomplishments are you proudest of in your years as president?

We have achieved a great deal together over the past 17 years. Among the accomplishments that make me most proud are 1) affirming Swarthmore’s position of leadership in higher education based on a mission distinctive in its commitment to academic excellence, analytic rigor, ethical intelligence and concern for the broader conditions of humanity, and distinctive in its power to deliver on that mission: and 2) forging on campus a richly diverse community of mutual trust, inclusion, and care, which is ever more effective in fostering the skills required to extend its values and practices to the world beyond Swarthmore.

DG: What’s your greatest regret? Are there areas you wish you had focused more on or decisions you would have made differently?

Both the institution and I have enjoyed extraordinarily good fortune over the past 17 years. Some decisions were difficult, but I am confident they were right. I have never been more certain of the College’s extraordinary future and look forward to the next 15 months of working with all the constituents of this community to insure that future.

DG: How do you see the role of the president in the life of the college, and on that topic, what do you see as important missions for the next president? What qualities do you think are important for your successor to have?

The president is centrally responsible for articulating the mission of the College and managing the terrific, but complex community that delivers on that mission. In addition to all that the new president will bring, he or she must embrace the College’s distinctive values, relate to this community and other communities with respect and care, engage with understanding and comfort a diverse and global world, be able to raise the funds essential to sustain the College’s excellence, and be able to lead the College in exerting the impact on American education that Swarthmore is uniquely positioned to offer.


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    Jack Dooley says:

    President Bloom has been an outstanding president for Swarthmore College. Swarthmore was very wise to select him at a very young age 18 years ago with the view that his leadership would evolve conjointly with Swarthmore’s strategic goals and so he could devote many years to carrying out his vision. Yale made the same courageous choice in a 45 year old Richard Levin in the early 1990s. At the time. Levin had just been appointed Dean of Yale’s Graduate School, his first appointment in central administration. In both cases, Swarthmore and Yale were viewed as taking gambles on individuals who had relatively slim portfolios of experience in institutional administration. Both institutions have excelled in large part due to the steady and sustained leadership of young, inherently strong leaders. The search committees emphasis on the candidate’s ethos and visionary leadership rather than years in service was key to the identification and selection of these exceptional leaders.

    I hope that Swarthmore will choose wisely again and look for a young, energetic and visionary leader rather than a sitting President. Such a person can once again align completely with what is unique about Swarthmore and bring the same level of energy to Swarthmore that Bloom brought following his appointment from Pitzer College.

    It would also be wonderful if the Board of Managers would make a serious effort to identify and appoint either a female or minority President. Such leaders are being appointed across the land and there are now superbly trained minority and/or female leaders emerging across America. What better way to let the world know that Swarthmore’s commitment to diversity extends throughout the institution?

    The choice of the next President is exceptionally important. May the Board of Managers have the courage to look under every rock to find a new leader with the vision, charisma and commitment to liberal education required to position Swarthmore for continued success.

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    john derrickson says:

    I am speaking as a grateful member from town. Swarthmore College is different!

    For years I enjoyed attending the semester Student Dance program. Creative, energetic, and fun. But what impressed me the most was the audience’s amazing support for each of the student dancers. It is no wonder that President Bloom is proud of the caring attitude at Swarthmore. Sincere support helps each of us to try a little harder.

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