Valerie Smith, a distinguished scholar of African-American literature and culture, was named the 15th president of Swarthmore College Saturday, Feb., 21, 2015. She began her term in office July 1, 2015.
Prior to becoming president, Smith served as the Dean of the College at Princeton University where she was the senior officer responsible for Princeton's undergraduate academic program, including all aspects of the curriculum, undergraduate research, the residential college system, and other areas designed to promote the intellectual development of undergraduates, including study abroad and fellowships. She has also overseen the admission and financial aid offices, among others. Perhaps most significantly, Smith chaired a committee that studied the academic and cultural experience of low-income and first-generation students at Princeton; the committee’s recommendations are currently being implemented and have captured the imagination of alumni and others.
Smith first came to Princeton in 1980 as an instructor of English and Afro-American Studies; she received tenure in 1986. In 1989, she joined the faculty at UCLA as associate professor of English, where she ultimately served as chair of the Interdepartmental Program in African-American Studies. Smith returned to Princeton in 2001 as the Woodrow Wilson Professor of Literature and Professor of English and African American Studies. She served as the founding director and led a major expansion of the Center for African American Studies, evolving it from an interdisciplinary program into a dynamic and top ranked center for teaching and research about race. Smith was appointed dean in 2011.
Smith received her B.A. cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Bates College and her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. She is the author of more than 40 articles and three books on African-American literature, culture, film, and photography and is the editor or co-editor of seven volumes. Her most recent publications include Toni Morrison: Writing the Moral Imagination; The Norton Anthology of African American Literature (Third edition), edited with Henry Louis Gates Jr.; and Race and Real Estate, edited with Adrienne Brown (forthcoming from Oxford University Press). At Swarthmore, she holds tenured appointments in English Literature and Black Studies.
Smith’s numerous awards include fellowships from the Alphonse G. Fletcher Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Princeton’s President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching. She serves on the boards of Bates College, the N.J. Council for the Humanities, and McCarter Theater Center, as well as the leadership council of the Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science and the editorial boards of Women’s Studies Quarterly, Criticism, and African American Review, among others.
A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Smith comes from a family of educators. Her father, W. Reeves Smith, is a retired professor of biology at Long Island University, Brooklyn, and her mother, Josephine Smith, is a retired teacher in the New York City public school system.