It is my great pleasure to introduce Rebecca Chopp to you as we formally "install" her as the 14th president of Swarthmore College. Our installation ceremony follows nearly a year of Rebecca's having already served ably as our president.
Board Chair Barbara Mather's full introduction.
I am honored to be inaugurated as Swarthmore's 14th president in this garden paradise and at a college that some have called the most scholarly institution in America.
Walt Whitman, friend to many of this College's founders, and great poet of democracy, once said: "Gratitude... has never been made half enough of by the moralists; it is indispensible to a complete character... the disposition to be appreciative, thankful.... I should say the quality of gratitude rounds the whole emotional nature."[i]
I want to express my deep gratitude to Barbara Mather and the Board of Managers who have entrusted to me the stewarding of this community; to the faculty who have so warmly welcomed and vigorously engaged me; to the students who have supported and challenged me; and to the staff who have generously offered me friendship and colleagueship. I am grateful for the presidents, from Edward Parrish to Al Bloom, who have led this community before me. I want to recognize two of Swarthmore's past presidents, David Fraser and Dorie Friend, who are here with us this day.
Gratitude, according to Whitman, adds vitality to life, and I am blessed with those who make my life vital indeed: Fred, my husband, and members of our family Nate and Lisa, Kathy and Bob, Tom and Colleen, Kathy, Gail, Pat and Peggy, and Polly. I also want to thank my friends who have travelled here, and I note with special appreciation, those among them from Colgate, Emory, and Yale who have come to celebrate this day with me.
Many people have worked very hard to make this gathering a time of celebration as well as intellectual engagement: Maurice Eldridge chaired a hard-working committee, and Sharon Friedler choreographed a wonderful arts event. Along with special thanks to those who have spoken during this service, I want to thank our panelists and their moderators: Professor Robin Wagner-Pacifici, Christopher Edley '73, Andrew Perrin '93, William Saletan '87, Professor Carr Everbach, Anne Kapuscinski '76, Christopher Laszlo '80, and Matthew St. Clair '97. I also want to thank Professor John Alston and his ensemble for their inspirational contributions this afternoon. Finally, please join me in a round of applause to thank our Swarthmore colleagues who set up the chairs, who prepared our wonderful lunch, who crafted the communications, who managed the lists, the robes, and all the other countless details.
For 146 years, Swarthmore College has educated citizens and leaders to contribute to the common good, to lead in their professions, to enjoy an intellectual life, to support the arts and culture, and to engage in athletics and in wellness. Across the decades, Swarthmore College has always existed as a forward-looking community, thinking imaginatively about how best to prepare Swarthmoreans for the future. It has done so, from its inception, by including women as students, professors, and managers even at a time when they could not hold property in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The College continued its commitment to innovation through the establishment of an engineering department in the early 1870s and the creation of its signature Honors Program in 1922. And it has always maintained a profound commitment to social responsibility, most recently supported by the Eugene M. Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, which was founded in 2001.
Swarthmore has also been willing to pause and reassess when it has fallen short of its own traditions of innovation and imagination. After decades of not accepting African Americans as students, Swarthmore demonstrated its full embrace of diversity and multiculturalism under the leadership of presidents Friend, Fraser, and Bloom. Although we have sometimes failed, as all human institutions do, at our best, we have shaped our future by looking critically and courageously at the needs of our students and of the world.
During this year, I have met thousands of alumni, parents, students, friends, and faculty who share a deep sense of belonging to this community. As I have heard their stories, perspectives, and hopes, I have been struck by how aptly one of my favorite passages from the work of Hannah Arendt captures the essential nature of this College:
Basically we are always educating for a world that is or is becoming out of joint, for this is the basic human situation, in which the world is created by mortal hands to serve mortals for a limited time as home. Because the world is made by mortals it wears out; and because it continuously changes its inhabitants, it runs the risk of becoming as mortal as they. To preserve the world against the mortality of its creators and inhabitants it must be constantly set anew. The problem is simply to educate in such a way that a setting-right remains actually possible... [ii]
As I formally assume the presidency of Swarthmore, I believe that we must, as has been tradition throughout our history, continue to educate in a way that a setting-right remains possible. We have to ask ourselves: How must the world be set anew? How must the world be set aright?
We must educate to set anew and set aright our relationship to the earth, to our climate, to the web of all existence. Under this canopy of trees, can there be any doubt that we must do all we can to sustain the beauty of this good earth; together, in this collection, can there be any question that we must care for one another and, equally important, for those who live without our resources? We must teach those who can innovate and set anew a world whose population will grow from 6.7 billion to 9.2 billion by 2050 — the year in which many members of this year's graduating class will retire. We must help our students and alumni lead in setting anew and setting aright issues ranging from pandemic diseases to climate-driven migration to the extinction of species.
We must educate to set aright and anew our common life, a life that has outgrown 19th and 20th century models of the common good. Government institutions are fractured; the foundation of our civic frame appears cracked. The gap between rich and poor in the United States and around the world is accelerating. Public educational systems in this country are now ranked 11th to 19th in the world, depending upon which international rankings one consults. Racism continues to be the tremulous fault line in our American experiment; violence and prejudice stain the lives of our children, the defenseless, and too many others across our culture. But while our common life seems crippled by dysfunction and confusion, America, as our alumnus Robert Zoellick '75 notes, has a trump card: its openness. Can we use that openness to create a new 21st-century commons? [iii]
We must educate to set aright civic discourse. In recent months, we have witnessed just how uncivil that discourse can become in both national and local arenas; how demeaning and cruel words can be, whether uttered in Congress, cyberspace, town halls, or on playgrounds. Television shows, blogs, and chat rooms too often encourage groupthink and uncivil discourse. Too many individuals want to cozy up with the like-minded inside some affinity group, want to wrap themselves in a cocoon of opaque information packaged to block out other perspectives. And it is far too easy to hurl hateful words in a mob or anonymously on the Web. We must educate people to listen to others whose views differ from their own; to deliberate and collaborate, to embrace complexity, and to seek consensus.
Education to set aright and set anew must be global in scope, aimed at creating world citizens or what the Stoics called kosmopolitai.[iv] It is no longer sufficient to set aright and set anew only on a local or national scale. We must learn to live together; we must learn to talk together across the boundaries and barriers of difference. We need Swarthmorean kosmopolitai who hear the cries of those whose rights are trampled, who have the discipline to build, and who have the capacity to innovate.
We educate to set anew and set aright in the midst of clamor: the clamor of the voices of the peoples of the world; the clamor of diversity; the clamor of different opinions, beliefs, demands, needs, and opportunities. The clamor of 24/7 information. The clamor of the ever-increasingly distressed birds, fish, and mammals of the ravaged earth, of the polluted water, of the air itself. Clamor engulfs us as both noise and demand.
Swarthmore College is blessed by its deeply rooted commitment to educate to set anew and set aright; we have at our command the intelligence and the imagination that, when guided by our values, will enable us to uncover and respond to the demands expressed in the midst of that clamor.
Three signature educational practices run through Swarthmore's history and serve as the vibrant source of our ability to reset and renew. These are, first, rigorous intellectual analysis-our long tradition of challenging our students and ourselves to think deeply, critically, creatively. Second is the cultivation of Quaker values such as equality, community, simple living, generous giving, speaking truth to power, and consensus decision-making. Third, educating for civic and social responsibility for the world-a value so powerfully expressed in the lives of the abolitionists and suffragists who founded this school and by the many alumni whose lives speak in a uniquely Swarthmorean way through the combined strength of their intelligence, moral values, and sense of social responsibility. These three practices constitute the heart of our beloved community — of our alumni, students and their parents, faculty, and staff. There is no college anywhere better prepared to educate for setting anew and setting aright than is Swarthmore.
To continue to educate for the world that lies ahead, our signature practices must evolve, as they have in the past. Next year, we will start planning for our future in a formal way. Listening and speaking together while learning about emerging trends in higher education, we will study our academic programs; we will take stock of our finances and facilities; we will consider new areas of technology and new activities for our students; we will review the state of our athletics program; we will analyze the data we gather; and we will reflect on our values. We will reason together and dream imaginatively as we think about our future. Doing so will require a great deal of hard work, but it will offer us an opportunity to engage in a collaborative process of discovery. We will do what we do best and what we love doing best: analyze the facts rigorously; debate robustly the meaning and implication of our values; deliberate carefully and thoroughly. We will extend the legacy of this special community by asking: What do our students need to learn and become for the world ahead? For now, let us ask ourselves: What, in the context of the present, do we find already in our midst that gives us hope that will guide us as we educate for the future?
Our willingness to explore the transformation of knowledge and learning is a hopeful sign. If the 20th century witnessed the end of the industrial age, the 21st may well be called "the knowledge age" as we now live in a postindustrial, knowledge-based global economy. Knowledge expands, driven by its own internal movements as disciplines identify new areas and new conversation partners. Knowledge and learning are framed now as sometimes collaborative and participatory and sometimes individual and abstract.
Technology has forever changed cognition, learning, and knowledge itself. Computational science allows us theoretical reflection, problem solving, and modeling in unforeseen ways. Many students in the digital generation may well prefer a "plug and play" learning style in which experimentation and participation become the entry point for sequential learning. Multiculturalism and globalization expand our ways of knowing, our patterns of learning, and the scope of what there is to know. The life-long pursuit of knowledge may in effect make the 21st century the age of a new, global culture of "perpetual learning."
If we are to set anew and set aright, we must use the new tools of knowledge together with our older tools of learning. But we must use these new tools and approaches wisely, responsibly, and critically. We have much to worry about in the new age of knowledge. I am concerned that the digital environment tempts us to abandon the requirements of civil discourse and militates against taking the time and doing the hard work to develop face-to-face communities. I worry about cultivating standards of excellence within new forms of knowledge. President Frank Aydelotte created the Honors Program at Swarthmore not to brand the school but to protect America from mediocre education. Our challenge in this new age will be to continue our distinctive role as standard-bearer for excellence in liberal arts education.
Another source of great hope for us as we address the challenges of the future is our potential to cultivate the imaginations of our students so that they might set the world anew as well as aright. The hope for the future depends upon our reimagining our traditional approaches and creating new solutions to the problems of the day. Richer, fuller imaginations in the sciences, social sciences, humanities, and the arts will be required of our graduates. To address the urgency of living sustainably, we need new scientific discoveries and new engineering designs. In order to re-imagine our common life together as citizens, we need what Andrew Perrin ['93] calls the democratic imagination.[v] In this country and around the world we must, as does Chris Laszlo ['80], create sustainable value by combining business sustainability with environmental sustainability.[vi] Social entrepreneurship, so at home in the Lang Center, can transform the way intractable problems are addressed on a global level and do so in a sustainable fashion.
I also want to underscore the critical necessity to cultivate the narrative imagination: the ability to follow a story; to understand carefully what characters are feeling and doing in ways different from what the reader might feel and do.[vii] To learn new ways of living together and to become kosmopolitai, we need to ensure that our students become experts at narrative imagination. We must feed all our imaginations with dance, poetry, music, theater, and the visual arts; that is, we must build the cultural and intellectual capacity of our communities through the arts. We must nourish and enjoy the arts to enrich cross-cultural understanding and to help us build common ground not only on campus but also around the world.
Across all disciplines and programs, in our practices and activities, we will need to focus on both the critical and the creative. We will need to be careful not to rush to be creative without also being critical since education is, by definition, meant to lead us out of the shadows of ignorance, wrong belief, and prejudice, so that when we enter into the light, we are able to see new possibilities. And innovation itself requires a critical stance, because, more often than not, it is about using, through analogical imagination, known insights and techniques in new ways. Swarthmore's beloved 19th century professor Susan Cunningham enjoyed telling students, "Use thy gumption."[viii] Today using your gumption must include both critical and creative thought.
Another area from which we can draw hope is the tradition of our life together as a community. The Swarthmore community, as I have come to know it, is one that continues to this day to reflect the distinctly Quaker blend of fostering individuals who search their consciousness and who live together listening and speaking, seeking to arrive at consensus.
Researchers in education tell us that two critical aspects of liberal arts education create the environment for excellence: The first is the engagement of faculty and students and the second is the nature of the residential community. This community provides a context for learning to listen, to speak, and to live together in an intimate setting with those from whom we are different.
Of all forms of education in our democracy, residential liberal arts communities most clearly express the link between education and preparation for citizenship that goes back to the founding of the country. Liberal arts colleges have taken seriously the responsibility to educate citizens for democracy by teaching critical thinking and thoughtful deliberation. They also cultivate in students an appreciation of the full range of ideas and values that support a democracy and then provide the opportunity for them to experience and test these values on a daily basis, side-by-side with their peers, their neighbors, their faculty. To educate for such citizenship, we must make sure everyone has access, economically and culturally, to that education. W.E.B. Du Bois rightly said: "Of all the civil rights for which the world has struggled and fought for, for 5,000 years, the right to learn is undoubtedly the most fundamental.... "[ix]
The challenge is to learn new ways of living that cross over longstanding fault lines of communication and that bridge into communities closed off by political beliefs, racial lines, religious beliefs, or class differences. We must move beyond being satisfied with statistical diversity; we must realize that our work is not finished just because we host many cultures on this campus and our student body is economically diverse. Now the real work, filled with opportunity and challenge, begins. And our own community of diversity and deliberation must be one that also builds bridges in a global context fostering conversation that, as Anthony Appiah says, "can be delightful, or just vexing... or mainly... inevitable."[x] What models of the common good can we build in which both what we hold in common and our diversity are upheld?
Hope in an Age of Clamor is the title of this address, and with the weight of those words we shall conclude this gathering. Swarthmore is, as it has always been, an act of radical hope in the clamor of the world. The founders, members of a small group called Hicksite Quakers, practiced radical hope by establishing this college in consonance with their work as abolitionists, suffragists, and peace activists. Time and time again throughout our history we have minded our light and tried to be both the conscience and leader of American education. Most importantly, we have transformed the lives of our students, educating them to be leaders and even laureates of their professions but also shaping them to live responsibly both in their individual lives and for the world around them. Swarthmore has never been and shall never be an ivory tower, a cloister, or just an ordinary college. In this age of clamor, Swarthmore is and shall be a radical act of hope to educate in a way that makes possible the setting aright and setting anew of the world.
[i] Walt Whitman, Complete Poetry and Collected Prose, edited by Justin Kaplan (New York: Library of America, 1982), 1208f.
[ii] Hannah Arendt, "The Crisis in Education," in Between Past and Future (New York: The Viking Press, Inc., 1961), 192.
[iii] Robert Zoellick, "After the Crisis?" Real Clear World, 28 September 2009, http://www.realclearworld.com/articles/2009/09/28/after_the_crisis_97214.html (February 2010).
[iv] For a retrieval of the Stoics' notion of world citizens or kosmopolitai for liberal arts education, see Martha C. Nussbaum, Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education (Cambridge, Mass., and London: Harvard University Press, 1997), 52-67.
[v] Andrew J. Perrin, Citizen Speak: The Democratic Imagination in American Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 2.
[vi] Chris Laszlo, The Sustainable Company: How to Create Lasting Value Through Social and Environmental Performance (Washington: Island Press, 2003).
[vii] Nussbaum, Cultivating Humanity, 85-92.
[viii] Frances Blanshard, Frank Aydelotte of Swarthmore, edited by Brand Blanshard (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1970), 151.
Note: Blanshard quotes Professor Cunningham as saying "Use thee gumption." Quakers often used "thee" instead of "thou," but I have preferred, upon the advice of Christopher Densmore, curator, Swarthmore Friends Historical Library, to use "thy" as it is grammatically accurate.
[ix] W.E.B. Du Bois, "The Freedom to Learn," W.E.B. Du Bois Speaks: Speeches and Addresses 1920-1963, edited by Philip S. Foner (New York: Pathfinder, 1949, 1970), 230.
[x] Kwame Anthony Appiah, Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006), xxi.