Interview with Incoming Board Chair Salem Shuchman ’84

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.

*Editorial Note, 2/28, 10:00 am: Headline was amended to clarify that Schuchman’s term begins in May.*

This is the transcript of an email interview with Salem Shuchman ’84, the incoming chair of the Board of Managers of the College. According to the College’s announcement, “Shuchman, whose appointment was announced at the Board’s quarterly meeting this past weekend, will succeed Tom Spock ’78, who has served as chair for three years, a full term as designated by the Board’s bylaws. Shuchman’s term will begin at the end of the Board’s meeting in May.”

Keton Kakkar: What are your primary objectives for your time as chair?

Salem Shuchman: As Board Chair, my role is to lead the board in its fiduciary and oversight responsibilities and work closely with President Smith to support her efforts.  Having chaired the Presidential Search Committee which brought President Smith to campus, I am looking forward to the opportunity to work closely with her.  We are in the middle of a comprehensive campaign and in order to meet the ambitious goals we’ve established for financial aid, future academic offerings, and buildings on campus, it’s imperative that we have a successful completion of that campaign.  I want to continue our focus on insuring that we have the amazing academic environment that distinguishes Swarthmore and that we can continue our policy of need blind admissions.

KK: The announcement of your appointment on the College’s website says you are committed to ensuring all qualified applicants can attend Swarthmore regardless of financial need. What steps do you see the board making to ensure financial accessibility? Will more money be allocated toward financial aid? How do you think Swarthmore’s aid support of students is compared to peer institutions?

SS: I think the current need blind policy of Swarthmore is evidence of our firm commitment to ensuring all qualified applicants can attend Swarthmore regardless of financial need.  This obviously has a significant cost so it is important that the Board insure that Swarthmore has the financial resources to support this policy both today and in the future. I believe that Swarthmore’s financial aid offerings are consistent with peer institutions.

KK: Do you have a vision for ways to improve student life? Either in continuing the college’s capital development plan or in another capacity? I know your daughter Michaela recently graduated from here, so you probably have a good sense of the needs of current students.

SS: Like others in the community, I look forward to hearing the recommendations from the ad hoc committee on well being, belonging, and social life.  Following those recommendations, I know the Board will get an update from President Smith as to what steps she will be taking.  As the Board considers capital projects, a number of them will help improve the quality of student life.  My wife, Barbara, and I have been pleased with how well the Matchbox is being used by students since that project was done to address concerns about inadequate or outdated workout and athletics training space on campus.

KK: How does a board member maintain impartiality when their child or relative is attending the school concurrently? Is there such an expectation?

SS: In my case, Michaela graduated in 2016 and my sons are only 12 years old. I do think having had a child attend Swarthmore gives Board members a wonderful insight into a current student’s experience at Swarthmore.  I know that was true in my case.  For many Board members, we attended Swarthmore quite a while ago and obviously much has changed.

KK: Do you envision the College’s investment plan changing? From my understanding, Swarthmore has traditionally been conservative in investments. Do you see this changing in the future? What do you have to say in response to the notion that less actively managed funds perform equally to those that are in the hands of active investment firms?

SS: The current investment approach regarding the college endowment has served Swarthmore well for many years. Our endowment performance ranks among the top of our peer schools. The portfolio has a well balanced asset allocation that I would not expect to change. In our case, our active managers have consistently outperformed their benchmarks so active management has served us well.  I know that the Investment Committee regularly evaluates all managers and considers using index or passive investment vehicles as appropriate.

KK: From what I understand you’ve been involved with the Lang Center. How do you see your work as a board member and soon-to-be Chair in relation to the ideals of social and civic responsibility? Is there a way to allocate an institution’s finances in a socially responsible manner while still maintaining a financial and fiduciary duty to the College?

SS: My connection to the Lang Center dates back many years.  My wife and I were both Lang Scholars and attended Swarthmore through the foresight and generosity of Gene Lang.  I appreciate and have been supportive of all the wonderful initiatives of the Lang Center regarding civic and social responsibility.  Such initiatives, coupled with many other activities by our faculty, students, staff and alumni represent part of our community’s desire to serve the common good.

The Investment Committee manages the college’s endowment to yield the best long term financial results, rather than to pursue other social objectives.  It is in the college’s long term interest to be able to sustain itself and continue to fund scholarships for students in future decades.  I believe that such a policy is consistent with our community’s interest and commitment to social and civic responsibility.

Feature image courtesy of

Keton Kakkar ’20

Keton entered Swarthmore with the class of 2019 and graduated with the class of 2020. He double majored in English literature and computer science and was awarded Honors at commencement. A former editor of this newspaper, he was responsible for merging The Daily Gazette with The Phoenix, among other initiatives. He grew up in Sands Point, New York, completed the last two years of his secondary schooling at Phillips Academy in Andover Massachusetts, and is a member of the class of 2025 at the NYU School of Law.

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