Sager Fund Restructuring Formalized, New Committee Formed

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 over three years of conversation, the formal plans for restructuring the administration of the Sager Fund, endowed by Swarthmore alumnus Richard Sager ’73, have been approved. Principally, the Sager Fund Committee (SFC) will be dedicated to allocating funding for a “Sager” speaker series on GLBTQ issues and interests, and will consist of faculty, students, alumni, staff, and administrators.

The plan “encapsulates several years worth of conversations…it’s as if you took all of these conversations and put them in a funnel, and finally got this concentrated scheme of what’s going to work,” Sager said.

Previously, the Sager Fund was predominantly dedicated to funding the Sager Symposia, annual (since 1988) week-long events tied to the Sager Fund themed around on a current topic for the LGBTQ community, such as “The Boundaries of Queer,” “Queer People of Color,” and “Queer Activism in Philadelphia.”

Around three years ago, Sager came to the college to discuss a restructuring of the fund, which up to that point had more-or-less obligatorily given funding to the Symposia year after year. Sager brought to the college a number of concerns: that faculty members did not receive committee credit for engaging in symposia planning, that the context in which the symposia thrived had changed, and that the Sager planning process had essentially become entirely student-led.

“What I observed—with no criticism implied on my part of students chairing committees—is that there was not the consistency that there is with a certain amount of supervision based on experience. There were years when students did mind-blowingly brilliant symposia, and there were years that they did things that were personal to a student or two and had very little interest to any broader community,” Sager said. After a mutual intensification last year of contact between the college and Sager on the point of restructuring the fund—a change Sager positively attributes to former Dean of Students Jim Larimore—the college began to develop the plan that has now been approved.

(Past Gazette coverage on the reasoning behind the history of the symposium and the conversations surrounding its restructuring can be found here. The symposium now exists in the form of the Queer Issues Symposium, which begins this Wednesday; tomorrow, the Gazette will publish an article discussing this year’s symposium’s organization and programming.)

Instead of primarily working to fund a single, concentrated event series, the restructured Sager Fund will serve as a source of funding for a number of high-profile events during the academic year. “The Sager Fund Committee will meet periodically throughout the year, and it will receive proposals from members of the community—faculty, staff, students—and they’ll be reviewed by the committee, and then they’ll be awarded funding,” Associate Dean for Multicultural Affairs Daryl Smaw said. “The goal in essence is to have the ‘Sager Series,’ which would be periodic events presenting high profile and prominent speakers.” Smaw indicated that, at this point, the college would be unable to provide an estimate of the magnitude of funds that would be available from year-to-year.

“While this is not to be interpreted as excluding individuals who are authorities in their respective fields and are so recognized, it is to be understood as recommending that more public figures who serve/represent the needs of the [GLBTQ] communities, and whose presence will attract the broadest audience, should be brought to campus,” the committee charter reads. Sager posed as examples of the kind of people who would fall under this banner: widely-read sex columnist and writer Dan Savage, Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA), and Gene Robinson, the first openly gay and non-celibate priest to be ordained a bishop in the Episcopal Church.

“I assume that, in the future, symposium events will try and apply for money through the fund,” said Maria Kelly ’10, Queer Issues Symposium co-chair.

One question Sager says should be asked is “what kind of impact [a given speaker] can have…I think because the college does such a great job from the serious academic side of things, that perhaps by providing something that is a balance, you can have more impact than just more of the same,” Sager said. “I think it’s a better use of the fund. I want to know if I’m giving money for something, it’s something that not only serves a popular function, but that it’s something people really want to go do. Not say to themselves, ‘Oh, that sounds dreary.’”

The charter also states that the committee may also co-sponsor relevant GLBTQ-relevant programming with other organizations, and fund both “programs dealing with unforeseen issues of significant importance to the [GLBTQ] community,” and the “activities of groups (on or off campus)” designed to further the goals of the Fund, “especially in the event that there are funds available which are not utilized on campus.”

However, regardless of these other potential uses for the fund, the main purpose of the committee—in both the language of the charter and in Sager’s opinion—is to help organize and fund the aforementioned “Sager Series” of speakers. This is “probably a more cost-effective use of the money, unless there are faculty that really want to dig in and work on the Symposium,” Sager said, further saying that he nevertheless trusted the judgment of the members of the reorganized committee.

Separately from delineating guidelines for granting funding for programming, the fund’s restructuring formalizes the funding of the Sager Internship. The internship has been awarded annually for the past four years by the Lang Center to financially support students “in internships with non-profit organizations whose primary missions address gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender issues,” according to text from the fund’s endowment. The intern is either selected from the Swarthmore Summer Action Award (S2A2) application pool, or—if no qualified applicant can be found from within that pool—is picked from recruiting elsewhere.

Presently, the committee consists of Smaw, Director of the Intercultural Center Rafael Zapata, Professor of History Pieter Judson ’78, Professor of Philosophy Tamsin Lorraine, and Professor of Theater Allen Kuharski. SFC membership now counts towards faculty members’ expected committee involvement, which is also relevant to tenure evaluations.

“For a long time, faculty were reluctant to say to me that this was a big issue for them,” Sager said. “It just didn’t seem fair, and it was a lot of work to do a good job.”

The first meeting of the committee will also include two representatives selected by campus GLBTQ organizations, three students appointed by Student Council (in concert with input from said organizations), and one or two alumni if possible.

According to Kelly, there should be a “meeting of the queer community next week to come up with a consensus with regard to what names to put forth.”

For the future, the SFC will consist of at least 3 or 4 faculty members appointed each year (at least one of whom identifies as a member of the GLBTQ community), and at least one representative from the college’s student GLBTQ organizations. In addition, the committee charter reads that “in no case will less than half the committee be representative of the GLBTQ community.”

“One of the things Sager wanted to do was ensure that queer students had standing representation on the committee…but, then, three more students can also apply. They might be queer allies who are out there, who might want to serve on such a committee. It provides a broader representation, but it does not exclude anyone,” Smaw said.

According to Smaw, the college’s goal is to convene the first meeting before the end of the semester, wherein the guidelines for the fund’s administration will be reviewed. “We can then establish a timeline for rolling out the basic information concerning the Sager Fund committee, and what the process will be for receiving proposals,” Smaw said.

He further indicated that that information would hopefully be out in “early Fall” of 2010, and, “using the same process as the Cooper Foundation,” the committee would then proceed to receive applications by the end of December and decide on awards. At this point, it’s uncertain as to whether any support from the Sager fund will be given to events during the 2010-2011 school year. “The committee will have to make its own decisions—do we want to make awards that will allow individuals to make a presentation within the year, or within the coming year?” Smaw said.

“It’s now up to us to watch the Sager Fund committee take up its own life and its own personality,” Smaw said. “I’m pleased that we’re near the end of this process, and that the work of the Sager Fund committee is going to continue to make an invaluable contribution to the life of the college—building an inclusive community that respects all aspects of diversity, and this is one piece of that.”

Queer Issues Symposium co-chair Kelly agreed, saying, “I think that it’s an exciting opportunity to have possibly large-scale queer-themed events on campus, and I hope that it goes over well.”

Throughout this process of redefinition, the Fund will benefit from an increase in its endowment as a gift from the elder Mr. Sager, who bequeathed an undisclosed amount to the Fund’s endowment in continuing respect for the work it has supported. “I think the relevant point isn’t dollar amounts … it’s that the parent of an alum who has had incredible respect for what his kid and his kid’s college have created over the years that one of the two educational institutions in his will were his own and mine, in equal parts,” Sager said.

The Phoenix