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Sustainability, Access on tap

Greg Brown joined the College as vice president for finance and administration in June after the retirement of Sue Welsh, the longtime vice president for finance and treasurer of the College. Brown has worked in higher-education finance for 15 years, most recently at Barnard College. He talked to Bulletin writer Carrie Compton about his new role.

Tell me about how your role differs from your predecessor’s. 

After Sue’s retirement, I took on oversight of capital projects, public safety, dining, the bookstore, and I supervise the assistant vice president for risk management and legal affairs/director of equal opportunity. It’s a much broader portfolio, a model more common among most of our peer institutions. 

What are some of your most important upcoming initiatives?

The whole question of access and affordability is one of the most important conversations right now. Financial aid isn’t just about dollars. We have room to perform better, and a strong partnership is emerging among admissions, financial aid, and the dean’s office, which will be essential to getting us where Swarthmore should be in attracting more students from low-income families.

Sustainability is another big issue. There are some quick, easy things we can do to be more sustainable—like replacing boilers with high-efficiency units—and then there are longer-term things, but we can do an awful lot on campus gradually. With sustainability, return on investment isn’t a phrase we should be thinking about in terms of dollars and cents. Part of the return should be thought about more in terms of the human capital and environmental impact that comes with reducing our carbon footprint. 

Speaking of carbon footprint, does the College plan to further address the calls for divestment?

Divestment is a good symbolic action, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily effective. Science labs are notorious energy consumers, so I think it’s good that we’re making the new BEP [biology, energy, psychology] building a model of energy efficiency. (For see more on BEP here). We should always be looking for opportunities to invest in our own infrastructure. 

What are some of the challenges you anticipate in your role?

Space is a big challenge, which ties into the fact that educational institutions are constantly changing, so how do we not react to those changes but instead think ahead to them? 

Another big issue is the way students eat. More students come to Swarthmore with food allergies; more students are vegetarian, vegan, or gluten free. We need to provide for them without further escalating costs. As we look to expand the size of the College [another 200 students in the next decade], that’s another challenge: We need to come up with a dining solution that reflects student needs and honors the overall social experience.

How does our campus culture differ from Barnard’s?

In many ways it’s more similar than dissimilar, but the culture here is generally more deliberative. 

Swarthmore students do their homework, and they’re very, very thoughtful. The civic-engagement part of the culture here is a major difference between an inner-city school like Barnard and Swarthmore. It’s really invigorating, and I like that.