Swarthmore College's capacity to advance liberal arts education both in the U.S. and worldwide received a major boost over the weekend-a $5 million commitment from James '79 and Anahita Naficy Lovelace to endow the Frank Aydelotte Foundation for the Advancement of the Liberal Arts. At a time when critics around the nation have alleged that liberal arts education is too impractical, the Foundation will highlight the benefits of the liberal arts both for individuals and for thriving democratic societies. President Rebecca Chopp announced the gift at a Board of Managers dinner last evening.
"Many threads came together to inspire Anahita and me to help support the Aydelotte Foundation, the central one being Rebecca's vision for a sustained effort to invigorate the practice of liberal arts education," says James Lovelace, who serves on Swarthmore's Board and is senior vice president and a portfolio manager for a subsidiary of Capital Group. He noted that the "tipping point" came when he asked Provost Tom Stephenson what significant initiative of the College is most important to faculty, and Stephenson pointed toward support for the liberal arts. "Tom's response," says Lovelace, "helped us to appreciate just how important this project can be to the culture of Swarthmore College."
Lovelace noted that he was first drawn to Swarthmore by "the unique access an undergraduate has to one of the best faculties in the world - essentially graduate-level interaction in the Honors Program. But it was really in the years after I left Swarthmore," he adds, "and pursued my life and career that I have come to appreciate just how valuable my Swarthmore experience was."
The Lovelaces' contribution honors both the memory and the lasting influence of the College's seventh president, Frank Aydelotte, who served from 1921-1940. Although Aydelotte is best known for launching the College's hallmark Honors Program, according to current President Chopp, Aydelotte's ultimate goal was to advocate for the centrality of the liberal arts in education, and the Honors Program was part of this effort.
"With this commitment, Jim and Anahita Lovelace are supporting the quality and inventiveness of Swarthmore's liberal arts practices," Chopp says. "By selecting the name 'Frank Aydelotte' for the Foundation for the Advancement of the Liberal Arts, they underscore both the rigor and creativity of liberal arts at Swarthmore and the obligation to inspire participation in the liberal arts not just for individuals, but for the greater good of society."
A $250,000 grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations in October 2012 enabled the College's Institute for the Liberal Arts to get off the ground. Over the past two years, the Institute has overseen several initiatives designed to explore the significance of liberal arts education. Among them is the Feb. 22 symposium on the Future of the Liberal Arts, featuring Swarthmore alumni who are in positions of executive leadership at liberal arts institutions. Going forward, the College will pursue its work to advance the liberal arts under the auspices of the new Foundation, whose work will be guided by the following objectives:
- To nurture the dynamic intellectual community of the Swarthmore College faculty.
- To engage in generative thinking about the future and purpose of the liberal arts and higher education.
- To foster curricular, pedagogical, and scholarly excellence and innovation and to disseminate the results of this activity.
- To facilitate collaboration and dialog among liberal arts institutions as well as those who live 'liberal arts lives.'
- To inspire greater appreciation of and participation in the liberal arts both within higher education and society at large.
According to its founding document, the new Foundation will "support the investigation of the perennial questions and great issues that form the heart of a liberal arts education through fostering rigorous and creative conversation, experimentation, and scholarly work," and will "advance liberal arts education by bringing together resources from across Swarthmore College with those from around the world."
"In the spirit of its namesake, Frank Aydelotte, this newly endowed Foundation will nurture and support the dynamic intellectual community of the Swarthmore College faculty," says Associate Provost Patricia Reilly, chair of the steering committee for the Foundation. "It will foster the ongoing development of our dedicated, innovative, and creative faculty, providing them with opportunities to share with, learn from, and inspire one another."
Reilly notes that through faculty seminars, innovation grants, and other programming, the Foundation "will enable faculty to lead more fully the liberal arts lives they model and provide for their students."