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Academic Continuity Group Update

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff Members,

On behalf of the ad hoc Academic Continuity Working Group, we are writing to share information about our work and the important insights offered us by the campus community.

As you may know, the Provost gave us our charge last month to, in summary:

[E]xplore a range of options for how we structure the 2020-21 academic calendar and course delivery and return to President’s Staff with the pros and cons of those options by May 8. Each option has implications and ramifications for revenue and staffing. Though the immediate future remains uncertain, we have time to develop a suite of scenarios that allow us to live into our mission, even under suboptimal conditions.

Importantly, we were not charged with choosing the “best” scenario. Many factors beyond the scope of our charge are vital in determining how the College will move forward in the coming weeks and months. However, we are confident that our work, coupled with the work of the Financial Study Group, the Workforce Planning Group, and others will provide President Smith and the College’s leadership with what they will need in order to develop and share a plan for next academic year by mid to late June.

Even without the responsibility to make a specific choice or decision, this was a weighty task. We very much share a desire to continue in the fall as we typically would. Yet there is so much we do not, cannot, and will not know — about testing, vaccines, and travel restrictions, among many other constraints — that complicates our ability to plan effectively. 

Our main priorities, which guided and informed our thinking, included:

  • Ensuring the physical safety and wellbeing of every member of our community
  • Adhering to relevant government guidance and regulations 
  • Upholding the College’s primary mission to provide an exemplary liberal arts education 
  • Returning to on-campus instruction, residential communities, and traditional campus life 

It has been our utmost hope to uphold each of these priorities equally, and to trust that they are not mutually exclusive. 

Throughout our process, we solicited and listened deeply to the ideas, questions, and concerns expressed by everyone we heard from, including student government leaders and Resident Peer Leaders, faculty and staff in every academic department, and staff members in ITS, the Libraries, Off-Campus Study, Facilities Management, and within the Deans Division. In total, during the last week of classes last month, we held more than 12 hours of listening sessions. We also surveyed students, ultimately receiving more than 570 responses from students in all class years. Dozens of campus community members wrote to us individually as well. 

In writing and in live conversations, we asked people to respond to a series of questions. We have included them and collected what we heard in this document [pdf]. If there are any common threads, one is that different scenarios pose unique and distinct challenges to students and to each division, department, and discipline. It also became very clear that no aspect of any scenario would work well for everyone.

We have now shared our report and evaluations of various options with President Smith and met Tuesday afternoon with President’s Staff to discuss our report in detail.

We are grateful to all who shared and discussed their thoughts, questions, and concerns with us. You provided us with insights into what you value about Swarthmore, and educated us about the varied and detailed aspects of your work and commitment to students and each other. Together, you also inspired and encouraged us to believe that we will not just get through the challenges ahead, but that we will do so in a way that embodies what we as a College do best — with critical thinking, creative problem solving, and compassion. 

In gratitude,

Jean-Vincent Blanchard, Provost’s Office and Department of Modern Languages and Literature, French and Francophone Studies
Lynne Steuerle Schofield ‘99, Provost’s Office and Department of Mathematics and Statistics

The members of the Working Group:

Casey Anderson, Student Health Services
Jean-Vincent Blanchard, Provost’s Office and Department of Modern Languages and Literature, French and Francophone Studies
Varo Duffins, Financial Aid
Vince Formica, Department of Biology
Alisa Giardinelli, Communications 
Rachel Head, Office of Student Engagement
Patricia Reilly, Department of Art and Art History
Tomoko Sakomura, Office of Academic Success and Department of Art and Art History
Christy Schuetze, Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Lynne Steuerle Schofield ‘99, Provost’s Office and Department of Mathematics and Statistics
K. Elizabeth Stevens, Department of Theater
Ernie Wright, Business Office