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High Stakes in Higher Ed

Swarthmore was a proving ground—and he’s grateful

Garikai Campbell ’90 has kept a piece of Swarthmore tucked away in his files for decades. 

The paper is one he wrote for a Literature of Conscience course he took with Professor Nathalie Anderson. Her hand-written notes line the margins. It’s a reminder, he says, of the singular nurturing quality of his Swarthmore education.

“I’ve always held her thoughtful critiques in that course as a model and a symbol of what I got from Swarthmore,” says Campbell, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of North Carolina Asheville and professor of mathematics. “Swarthmore pays incredible attention to the development of its students, in all aspects of their lives.”

Through demanding work, high expectations, and a community of care and support, Swarthmore raised the bar, he says.

The former Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow and Academic All-American wrestler has spent most of his career in higher education leadership working to diversify the sciences and “improve the conditions that allow for greater student success, whatever a student’s passion,” and strengthen the liberal arts institutions at which he worked.

“The lessons I learned at Swarthmore have been as much about the values of community and academic excellence generally, as anything about my particular major,” he says. “I give the faculty who mentored and guided me a healthy portion of the credit for any success I claim now.”

Still, articulating the strengths of higher education—and in particular, a liberal arts education—a critical component of his work, is increasingly challenging.

“The stakes are incredibly high, making it all the more imperative to be clear about the value of what we do at liberal arts institutions—to think creatively about our work, how higher education is structured, with whom we partner, and how our institutions have the impact that we claim to have and ought to be having.”