On Sept. 13, 2023, President Valerie Smith announced in a campus-wide email plans to take a sabbatical during the upcoming spring semester. During Smith’s leave from Feb. 9, 2024 to Aug. 9, 2024, Provost Tomoko Sakomura and Vice President for Finance and Administration Rob Goldberg will take on the role of acting co-presidents.
In the email, Smith outlined the reasons for her sabbatical, as well as some of the difficulties faced in planning its timing. She initially intended to take leave during the Fall 2020 semester. While managing the college’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and senior leadership transitions, Smith decided to postpone her sabbatical to early 2024.
“Beginning my leave in February, rather than in early January, will allow me to engage in important work that happens at the beginning of each spring semester, such as discussions around fiscal year budget planning and the work of the faculty Committee on Promotion and Tenure,” Smith wrote.
In an exchange with The Phoenix, Smith said she plans to be away from Swarthmore during the majority of her sabbatical. When asked about her intended academic pursuits during this time, Smith mentioned that while she does not yet want to discuss the details of her project, she will be happy to share more information in the future.
Although Smith emphasized that she is contractually obligated to take leave before the 2024-25 academic year, graduating seniors had dissatisfied responses to the announcement. Spencer Watts ’24 described the Class of 2024’s unique situation in regards to the pandemic.
“I think the timing [of Smith’s leave] is an interesting choice since our [class] year didn’t have a First Collection,” Watts said. “We weren’t necessarily the most supported class. The college did a great job in helping us [through the pandemic], but in terms of the world environment and surrounding community, we didn’t have much [support],” Watts said of COVID-19’s impact on her college experience.
Watts understands Smith’s reasoning for taking leave during the Spring 2024 semester. However, she believes Commencement is a milestone event and that the Class of 2024 would have especially benefited from Smith’s presence at the ceremony.
“[President Smith] won’t be here for commencement … and the Class of 2024 also missed out on high school graduation because of the pandemic,” Watts pointed out.
Smith acknowledged that while she will not be at Swarthmore for Commencement this spring, she plans to celebrate the Class of 2024 before departing campus.
“I plan to find opportunities this fall to engage with the community to account for that lost time,” Smith wrote in her email. “For instance, while there is no substitute for Commencement, I look forward to inviting our seniors to a special celebration before my sabbatical in recognition of their hard work and achievements to date.”