College Continues “Swarthmore Forward” Strategic Plan

Courtesy of Shinz Jo Ooi

This February, Swarthmore President Val Smith shared the “Swarthmore Forward” strategic plan with the campus community. The plan represents the product of a college-wide eighteen-month planning process and “underscores our steadfast belief in educating the whole student,” according to the plan’s website.

“Swarthmore Forward sets forth initiatives that will further enrich our academic offerings; deepen our community connections; and reinforce our commitment to inclusivity, sustainability, and well-being,” Smith’s email said.

The planning process began in Spring 2022 and continued into Fall 2023. The plan was then approved by the Board of Managers in December.

Purview over the strategic planning ultimately belonged to the President’s Office, which is common in higher education according to Chief of Staff and Secretary of the College Erin Brownlee Dell. However, the effort was then decentralized and taken up by many members of the campus community, including students, faculty, staff, and members of the Board of Managers, representing a wide range of diverse views and perspectives.

The work was split up between three working groups. The first working group focused on “Curriculum and Pedagogical Practices” and was chaired by Rachel Buurma, co-director of the Aydelotte Foundation and associate professor of English, and Stephen O’Connell, the Gil and Frank Mustin Professor of Economics. 

The second working group, focusing on “Student Experience Within and Beyond the Classroom,” was led by Ben Berger, executive director of the Lang Center for Civic & Social Responsibility and associate professor of political science, and Tomoko Sakomura, Acting Co-President of the college and professor of art history. 

Finally, the third working group focused on “Leadership in a Multiracial Democracy and the World” under Director of Sustainability Elizabeth Drake, Claude C. Smith ’14, Professor and Chair of Political Science Dominic Tierney, Assistant Dean of Integrated Learning and Leadership, former Director of the Center for Innovation and Leadership Katie Clark, and Associate Professor of Sociology Nina Johnson. The groups were directed to integrate three themes into their work: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Sustainability (in all forms), and Community Cohesion.

 “​​Their work included a review of current College practices and policies, engagement with the campus community, analysis of practices and innovations across and beyond the landscape of higher education, as well as other considerations,” Dell said. 

Director of Strategic Initiatives Denise Crossan supported these groups in efforts for community involvement that included pop-ups, surveys, focus groups, workshops, and retreats.

The plan includes many specific initiatives spread out across the four goals.

The first goal focuses on the role of Swarthmore in the 21st century, including strengthening interdisciplinary programs, supporting the Black studies and environmental studies programs’ goals of becoming departments, and strengthening Native and Indigenous studies. The college also aims to add ten new tenure lines (permanent faculty positions) as the first phase of a process of faculty expansion, offer more leaves to support faculty research, and expand opportunities for fellowships and programs that connect learning to nearby areas. 

As part of Swarthmore’s aim to “educate the whole student,” the college is considering a required first-semester seminar to introduce new students to campus. Additionally, the plan mentions the fostering of skills for active learning, relationship-building, embracing diversity, and engagement with different perspectives, as well as initiatives that focus on different levels of impact that individuals and the community have on the world. Swarthmore Forward also includes ideas to expand the role of academic, extracurricular, and career advising.

The plan’s third goal articulates the need for building a community ready for success in “a multiracial, multicultural democracy, and the world.” Plans toward this end include the creation of a gap-year program for incoming students and admitting an annual group of twenty to 25 transfer students from community colleges. Beyond this, there are goals to ensure appropriate resources for centers across campus, integrate different sectors of the community, continue to build relationships with the city of Chester and remove financial barriers to experiential learning. 

Finally, Swarthmore Forward lays out a fourth goal of building on existing construction projects to continue to renew campus facilities. This includes completing the “To Zero by Thirty-Five” plan and the Martin Hall renovation, as well as replacing the Lamb-Miller Field House and upgrading Cunningham Fields. The college will also create a facilities master plan and look into other potential places for upgrade and renovation of facilities.

With the plan now approved by the Board of Managers, the college is looking to begin the process of implementation. 

“While we have outlined ambitious plans, we do so with an eye toward affordability and financial sustainability. Some initiatives critical to our vision, such as the Textbook Affordability Program and the SEPTA Key Access Program, are ongoing and will not require additional resources. ​​Other initiatives are enhancements of existing programs,” the plan reads. “Finally, several initiatives will require additional resources, such as instituting a College-sponsored gap-year program for newly admitted students, establishing Swarthmore programs in other cities, and adding new tenure-track faculty. As we enter the implementation phase of the strategic planning process, we will evaluate the cost of implementing new or expanding existing programs and initiatives and determine the best financing mechanism to achieve our goals.”

Dell says that the College is “excited to engage with students, faculty, and staff as we begin to implement the plan.”

When asked about how the goals will be prioritized, Dell remarked, “All of the goals in Swarthmore Forward are College priorities. That said, as we move into implementation, we recognize that some will need to take place first to inform others.”

At this point, there is little information on a timeline of the college’s future implementation process of Swarthmore Forward. “We are working with campus partners to develop an implementation plan that takes that fact into consideration, and we look forward to sharing more with the campus community when those details are finalized.”

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