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At the heart of Swarthmore's academic experience is the special relationship that exists between students — intelligent, well-prepared, imaginative, and highly motivated — and the faculty with whom they work in and out of the classroom.
It's enormously exhilarating to teach Swarthmore students, who are uncommonly bright and willing to take chances and ask questions. And the College's small size and 8:1 student-faculty ratio make it an ideal setting for faculty to get to know students well and become their intellectual mentors.
This begins in First-Year seminars, which are designed to give entering students an immediate opportunity to engage in intensive discussion on a lively array of topics (in groups of no more than 12), in order to develop the skills needed for constructive participation and effective communication. Close academic relationships then deepen as students work with faculty in small, double-credit Honors preparations and on research projects that frequently culminate in conference presentations, poster sessions, and/or joint publications. This results in faculty looking forward to students becoming their collaborators, and students striving for and attaining that goal. Not surprisingly, external examiners who come to campus to administer oral exams in the Honors program are often struck by Swarthmore students' intellectual maturity.
Collectively our faculty is expert, stimulating, and diverse: 98% hold Ph.D.s or other terminal degrees, 39% of the tenure-track faculty are women, and 16% identify themselves as persons of color. Many hail from countries outside the U.S., and of those from within, the vast majority have spent time working or pursuing scholarship abroad. Because we are uniquely an undergraduate institution, our students are not taught by graduate students serving as teaching assistants. Rather, it is our remarkable faculty — thinkers and doers who infuse the curriculum with their rich histories, intellectual passions, and significant scholarly accomplishments — who teach Swarthmore students.
We look for very special people when we appoint new faculty. We search out scholars and artists who are active participants in the creation of new knowledge and who venture beyond the limits of received wisdom. In this respect, we compete with major universities, relying on a generous sabbatical policy and annual research and travel stipends to help faculty stay productive. We look for teacher-scholars who recognize the particular culture of a small liberal arts college and want to work closely with undergraduates — candidates who are consciously choosing not to be at a university, where more of a professor's efforts are focused on graduate students.
Above all, we are interested in individuals who will be outstanding teachers, deeply knowledgeable and eager to engage others in the practices of learning and critiquing their fields of expertise, and from that critique exploring further and developing new insights.
While we are concerned to teach certain basic fields of knowledge, we are even more interested in pushing boundaries: Swarthmore is a place for innovation and interdisciplinary work. Our aim is to empower students to teach themselves new things and take on challenges throughout their lives, so we work to cultivate a range of skills that will equip them to do that. We want to foster students' ability to read critically and analytically, to be numerate and scientifically literate, to be probing thinkers capable of keen analysis and nuanced understanding.
The result is a vibrant community of individuals eager and able to express themselves lucidly, both orally and in writing; to interact confidently and respectfully with others despite difference of opinion; and, ultimately, to become agents for positive change in whatever sector of society they find best fits their talents, goals, and passions.