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.
Dear Fellow Swatties,
Thank you for considering my candidacy for Educational Policy Representative!
A few quick words about me: I’m a rising junior from New York City studying Biology and a Special Major in Environmental Governance. I am co-facilitator of Earthlust, have contributed to the Ecosphere Coalition restructuring process, and am a member of Swarthmore Mountain Justice. I also love playing the violin in Swat’s orchestra and chamber music ensembles. I am currently leading a student-run effort to revise and expand the Environmental Studies Program to hire tenure-track ENVS professors and offer our first-ever ENVS major. We’ve met with other students, the ENVS faculty committee, President Chopp, and Provost Stephenson. Currently, we are working with the ENVS faculty to submit a formal, program-sponsored proposal to the administration this fall.
Like many of us, I was drawn to Swarthmore because of its unparalleled commitment to applying academics toward social change. Our community of students, staff, and faculty prides itself in responding to our most pressing issues of global injustice and in being at the forefront of critically rethinking established paradigms. From our vibrant group of activist student groups to the Lang Center’s community-based learning courses, Swarthmore has in some ways already succeeded in realizing this creative vision. We must highlight these strengths and ensure their continued vitality.
Even so, we’ve come to a crossroads in the history of Swarthmore’s institutional and curricular evolution. Swarthmore lags critically behind our peer institutions in probing and reassessing the old barriers wedged between traditional academic disciplines. While we have a solid array of interdisciplinary “programs,” few offer a major and virtually none possess the authority to hire tenure-track faculty. Most programs cannot offer a regular suite of courses because participating professors’ primarily responsibility is to support their disciplinary home department.
As Educational Policy Representative, my first priority will be to work with students, faculty, and the administration toward moving beyond our antiquated exclusive emphasis on traditional, disciplinary “departments.”
In addition to ensuring that our traditional departments receive the resources they need to continue their record of excellence, we must breathe new life, autonomy, and authority into our most innovative, cross-disciplinary programs, from Gender and Sexuality to Peace and Conflict Studies. To do this, we need to:
- develop a system for enabling programs to match departments’ ability to hire core faculty
- institutionalize a path for securing at least one interdisciplinary faculty hire for every year new positions are created, either fully into an interdisciplinary program or to be shared jointly with another department or program
- generate new cross-listed, interdisciplinary coursework
- create new venues for critical, trans-disciplinary panels, discussions, projects, and informal gatherings
- further share resources between and across programs, departments, and colleges within the TriCo
Traditional departments like Chemistry, Economics, History, and Philosophy will only gain from the wealth of new courses and perspectives ushered in by these steps.
At the same time, I will seek to amplify opportunities for fieldwork, community action, and extra-Swarthmore collaboration. With support from the Lang Center, we have a fantastic group of community-based learning courses each year. Moreover, our student groups continue to lead the way in pushing for social justice within and outside the College. Yet we haven’t broadened these efforts to reach the hundreds of other pockets of academic learning that are in place each semester alongside them. By encouraging faculty collaboration with local practitioners, action-research projects, and long-term national and international relationships, we can move further in this direction.
I will also immediately establish pathways for communication, collaboration, and critical discussion between all three levels of educational life here at Swat: the administration, academic faculty and staff, and students. In particular, I will:
- regularly host open discussion meetings – inclusive to Swarthmore students, faculty, staff, and members of the administration – on pressing themes or issues that bridge across our educational curriculum, campus community, and broader College presence
- hold office hours to chat with fellow students about any and all ideas, concerns, or questions
- meet frequently with faculty, staff, and members of the administration to gather and act on their varied perspectives and knowledge
In the short-term, my other priorities are to:
- develop a better, more systematic method for designating and designing writing courses
- ensure that any reductions in faculty teaching load during the transition to the 2-2 course system are appropriate given the existing capacity of each department and program, or are preceded by the necessary new hires
I believe that amidst all the complexity of the 21st century, there is nothing more crucial than synthesizing discourse across disciplines and applying new ideas toward creating solutions for real-world problems. I hope you will join me in pushing Swarthmore to embrace this approach through immediate curricular action.
Thank you so much,
Ben Goloff ‘15