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Letter to the Community

Letter to the Community Regarding
the Town Center West Project

by Rebecca Chopp

Rebecca Chopp
Swarthmore College President,
Rebecca Chopp

Dear Friends,

This weekend, the Board of Managers endorsed the College's proposal to self-develop the Town Center West project, which includes an inn, restaurant, and the relocation of our campus bookstore to a new building on the south side of campus and in close proximity to the Borough's commercial district. Although condominiums or apartments were once considered a possibility at the development site, they were not recommended to the Board in this proposal. The College also previously considered using an external developer for the project but concluded that the self-development model would give the College greater control over the project details and the ongoing operation of the development and would also reduce financial and operational risks. The Board was especially interested in assessing whether this proposal would help us achieve goals central to our academic mission and will continue to be very engaged in making sure the project is financially feasible without detriment to other College programs. After careful deliberation, the Board concluded that work on the self-development model should continue given the project's capacity to help the College achieve both longstanding and emerging strategic objectives. It is important to note that there is still much more work to be done by the College and Borough before the project can be finally approved.

In the strategic planning process that continues on campus, and in alumni conversations I am hosting as well as those being hosted by Alumni Connection chairs around the country, a number of common themes consistently arise. Some of these reflect our core values - maintaining our rigorous academic program; upholding our need-blind admissions process; affirming our commitment to our financial aid policies; and lifting up diversity, inclusivity, and engagement in the global environment in which we live. Another common theme is space, time, and support for the robust and evolving intellectual life of faculty and students. Faculty members need to have space for cross-disciplinary conversation in a time when knowledge is increasingly about the ability to bridge between disciplines and across common problems, such as sustainability. Departments and programs also wish to bring to campus alumni or small groups of faculty from other institutions to expand resources available to students and to provide ongoing engagement with faculty. And both faculty and students have expressed the desire to find more ways to engage in conversation outside the classroom on topics that may further enrich our intellectual community. An inn could serve our life together as one form of an intellectual living room, providing a gathering place in addition to the more formal spaces available on campus.

Another common theme that has emerged is the College's leadership role in higher education. Many alumni, faculty members , staff and students voice a long-held desire that we play a more active, and more visible role regionally, nationally, and internationally in order to contribute in a more meaningful way to the conversations about the future of the liberal arts. An inn could provide space for conferences and workshops on topics relevant to the future of liberal arts and higher education.

What we imagine for the south end of campus, which has the additional feature of being in close proximity to a regional rail line, is a kind of "hub" of intellectual energy, a gathering place for our own faculty, students, and staff; for internationally renowned scholars and speakers; for alumni, parents, and friends of the College who visit with us; and for a closer, stronger connection between Borough residents and College community members.

The Town Center West concept actually began many years ago when the Borough began exploring ways to revitalize its commercial district. While the project has gone through periods of dormancy, it gained new life last June when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania approved a $2 million grant to the Borough of Swarthmore, enabling it to continue its revitalization efforts. In the eight months since, steady efforts have been underway to research the financial viability of this project and to look carefully and critically at the potential benefits this project might bring to the campus community, as well as the Borough.

I am very pleased that the Board supports this project though I am aware that there are many decision points still ahead. I look forward to numerous campus conversations about this proposal beginning next Monday, Feb. 28, when Rick Pastorino, a hospitality industry expert who is a principal at RevPAR International, Inc., will share with us an overview of the hospitality industry across the country and region. Suzanne Welsh, vice president for finance and treasurer; Stu Hain, vice president for facilities and services, and I will also welcome questions and comments in this forum. We will host two sessions, one at 4:30 p.m. and another at 7:30 p.m. in Science Center 101.

Another community-wide conversation will be held on Wednesday, March 2, focusing on labor issues. As you may recall, Swarthmore Labor Action Project (SLAP) hosted a forum in November to which they invited Adrienne Eaton, chair of the Labor Studies and Employment Relations Department of Rutgers University's School of Management and Labor, to share why she supports neutrality agreements and a card-check method of union organizing. We would like to build upon our campus' awareness of these topics, and provide multiple points of view on this complex set of issues. To that end, we have invited Michael Goldberg, professor at Widener School for Law, Richard Wainstein, supervising attorney from the Philadelphia office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and Marshall Babson, former member of the NLRB and partner in the labor law practice of Hughes Hubbard and Reed to join us in a panel discussion moderated by Professor of Economics Mark Kuperberg. The three panelists will explore the full range of issues associated with neutrality agreements, card check processes, and private-ballot elections as well as the role of the National Labor Relations Board in union campaigns and elections. Maurice Eldridge, vice president for college and community relations; Melanie Young, vice president for human resources, and I will also be happy to respond to questions and suggestions. This session will be held at 4:30 p.m. in Science Center 101.

Let me be unequivocal about working conditions for any potential future employees of the inn and restaurant-the College has a long, positive history of ensuring competitive wage and benefit packages, a safe and healthy working environment freed from threats or intimidation, and positive relationships between staff and managers. Our commitment to these conditions holds true for any staff person working on our campus and will include those who will work at the inn and restaurant. We also support workers' rights to make choices about whether to form a labor union and to do so in an environment that is respectful and free of harassment or intimidation from any party. As we begin to discuss these complex issues more fully, I know that we will all be open to each other's position and, in the tradition of this community, listen deeply with open minds.

There are other good, important questions that the inn project has elicited and these too, will be addressed in future public sessions. For example, how will the project attend to sustainability issues; how might traffic flow be affected particularly at the Chester Road/Rutgers Avenue intersection; and, of course, what might this development actually look like? Some of these questions will be addressed in other forums and some, of course, will await further work with architects and experts in traffic and land planning. A number of questions and answers have already been provided on the Town Center West website. If you are interested, I urge you to read through the site to learn more.

This is an exciting time for the College. Building upon an incredibly strong, long standing academic program and a robust and diverse community, we have a strategic planning process well underway with incredible energy and engagement from every stakeholder group in our community. Now we also have the opportunity to develop an inn, restaurant, and campus bookstore to reinvigorate the center of the Borough's commercial district; to create a vibrant conference and meeting space for all members of our community as well as for visiting scholars and current and prospective families; to engage in conversations that enrich our intellectual lives; and to help address the future of liberal arts.

In the coming months, I look forward to robust civil discourse and undoubtedly some debate about this proposal. Please come out to one or more of the Town Center West conversations to learn more, ask questions, challenge assumptions, and respectfully deliberate with others. That, after all, is what we aspire to do best.


Rebecca Chopp