Board of Managers Chair Donates $20 Million to College

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.

With the announcement at Saturday’s Board Meeting of Gil Kemp ‘72 and Barbara Kemp’s $20 million gift to Swarthmore, the Strategic Plan’s capital campaign has scored its second flagship donation. The gift, which will help fund financial aid and a renovation of Cothier, follows on the heels of a $50 million gift from long-time donor Eugene Lang ‘38. Mr. Kemp, who is the Chair of the Board of Managers, spoke to The Daily Gazette by phone about his gift. 

Kemp said the gifts, which tie into major components of the College’s Strategic Plan reflect his experience in the Strategic Planning process.

“It wasn’t clear then [April] that this would happen, but I guess the stars are aligned in the right fashion and here we are,” Kemp said.

Kemp is also the benefactor of David Kemp residence hall, which he named after his grandfather, an endowed biology professorship currently held by Rachel Mertz, and a handful of other physical improvements on campus.

Financial aid will receive a large boost with $8 million of Kemp’s gift to fund what will be called the Global Scholars Program, a major expansion of aid for foreign and domestic students. While Kemp said that while details on the program are still being worked out, it could fund average awards for perhaps nine students at current levels. Those students would be those with a demonstrated talent for leadership.

The Global Scholars Program was based on an idea floated by President Rebecca Chopp, according to Kemp. Expanding aid to foreign students is an interest of many in the administration and on the Board.

“I think it was pretty clear that financial aid is at the top of the list of so many Swarthmore alums core values for the college and . . . although we give a lot of financial aid to international students, we’re not need-blind,” Kemp said. “I think there’s a desire, if you will, to move towards that.”

However, he said that making international applications need-blind is currently only an aspiration. Of making the international application process need-blind, Dean of Admissions Jim Bock ‘90 said “we’ve talked about this over the years. It’s always been a long-term goal.”

An additional $7 million dollars of Kemp’s gift funds is a renovation of Tarble (in Clothier Hall) that will remove the second floor (Upper Tarble) and redo the basement when the bookstore moves to the future Inn. “Clothier can be repurposed and create a space that will lead to more of a community,” said Kemp. “it just resonates with me as a smart thing to do.”

While the renovation is contingent on other projects, such as the completion of the long-awaited Inn and the creation of additional dance and theater space to replace the loss of Upper Tarble, “the process now depends on bringing in people that can help realize the vision,” he said.

The remaining five million dollars constitutes other unspecified “planned gifts,” according to a press release circulated by the Swarthmore Communications Office.

Kemp’s gift, while enormous on its own, necessarily prompts a comparison with Lang’s even larger gift. Kemp said that he hasn’t escaped that comparison.

“This commitment that we announced today is for the entire campaign, but we start today talking in the Board meeting and turning to Gene Lang, who is such a role model and inspiring figure, and recognizing that he’s slightly more than thirty years older than I am and he’s still going strong, and I would love be in as fortunate a position thirty years from to be able to make such a positive difference as he does.”

That two multi-million dollar donations should be announced so close to one another at the start of a major capital campaign signals that more donations may be on the way soon.

“We are certainly gearing up for a large capital campaign […] we’re certainly trying to lay the foundations for what I know will be an ambitious one, and also a necessary one,” he said.

Kemp said that he already knows of one such anonymous donation, although  the specifics of that donation are not yet public. But beyond that the campaign may begin to rely on larger numbers of smaller donations.

“I don’t think there are any Eugene Langs lurking in the background,” he said.

Foreshadowing the significance of the campaign, which will include an expansion of the physical campus as well as a deepened institutional commitment to financial aid, Kemp stressed that the College relies on donations.

“As you guys have spent time on the campus I think you’ve learned how we have an economic model that depends on current and past generosity,” he said.

-Max Nesterak contributed reporting. 

– Photos courtesy of Swarthmore College 

1 Comment

  1. Thank you to Gil and Barbara for this extraordinary gift. Your dedication to Swarthmore and its future is greatly admired and much appreciated.

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