How Swarthmore’s President Was Chosen

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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.

On Saturday, February 21, Valerie Smith was named the 15th President of Swarthmore College. The Presidential Search Committee, made up of a group of Swarthmore alumni, faculty, staff, students and Board members, selected Smith as President. However, few outside of the committee know how this selection process occurred.

The search process for president began with the selection of the Search Committee. Salem Shuchman ‘84, a member of the Board of Managers, was appointed the Chair of the Search Committee by Gil Kemp, the Chair of the Board of Managers. The rest of the Committee was selected in September.

“The search committee is intended to be representative of the Swarthmore community and as a result, included staff, faculty, students, Board members and alumni representatives,” said Shuchman.

Following the formation of the committee, the committee began establishing what they were looking for in a president. The committee met with students, faculty and staff to get a better sense of what the community was working on. During these discussions, the committee asked a range of questions, including “What do we want the College’s future to look like?”, “What kind of leader can help our community realize that vision?”, “What qualifications and characteristics do we believe are important in our next president?” and “What are key opportunities and challenges that the next presidents should be prepared to tackle?”

From these meetings, the committee created the Position Statement, a 20-page document that was designed to familiarize candidates with the college community and the characteristics the committee was looking for in a president.

According to the Position Statement, provided to The Daily Gazette by Shuchman, some of these characteristics included, “a distinguished record of academic and administrative accomplishment, reflecting a keen intellect, excellent communication skills, the ability to innovate and think strategically, the capacity and drive to fundraise, the ability to motivate others and build consensus, a lively sense of humor and wit.” In addition, candidates were expected to have “a personal commitment to the core values and traditions of Swarthmore College.”

The position was posted on the presidential search website in October, and during October and November, interested candidates applied for the position. The search firm, Storbeck Pimentel, helped the committee advertise the position and collected information from prospective candidates. The committee also received nominations from faculty and alumni, and contacted those who were nominated to see if they expressed any interest in the position.

Upon receiving all of these applications, the committee narrowed down a list of candidates to meet in person. These meetings were held at the end of the fall semester. This field of candidates was then narrowed down even further by these in-person meetings, as well as calls to the candidate’s references.

“The search committee made almost 100 reference calls over the course of the search process,” Shuchman said.

From this group, the candidates were narrowed down even further through a set of meetings with small groups of faculty, staff, students and the committee. Finally, the committee met, and decided on a candidate to recommend to the Board of Managers. On February 21, Valerie Smith was presented to the Board of Managers and was approved as the 15th president of the college.

According to Shuchman, there are benefits to having an candidate from outside the college serve as president.

“I think there is a benefit to having someone with a different set of experiences from other educational institutions,” said Shuchman. “They can bring a very valuable perspective and new ideas. Those candidates would obviously need to learn about the things that are unique to Swarthmore and get to know our community.”

The Swarthmore community has expressed excitement over welcoming Valerie Smith as our 15th President in the fall.

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