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A Note About the Spring 2024 Semester

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff Members,

This academic year marks my ninth as Swarthmore’s president. I am honored to serve in this role, and I look forward to continuing our work together in the service of this extraordinary institution.

Similar to a number of other college and university presidents, I have a contract with the College that includes a sabbatical, and my agreement stipulates that I take it before the 2024-25 academic year. In 2019, I started planning for a leave in Fall 2020, long before anyone had heard of COVID-19. After the pandemic hit, I postponed the planned sabbatical to prioritize the College’s response.

In addition, I have been managing several senior leadership transitions during the past few years. As I wrote last week, we will soon hire our inaugural vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion — an appointment that will complete the transformation of the College’s outstanding senior leadership team.

Given the status of these and other significant undertakings, and at the encouragement of the Board of Managers, I began to revisit the timing of my leave. After much thought and consideration, I have decided to take my sabbatical starting early next year, effective Feb. 9 through Aug. 9, 2024. Beginning my leave in February, rather than in early January, will allow me to engage in important work that happens at the beginning of each spring semester, such as discussions around fiscal year budget planning and the work of the faculty Committee on Promotion and Tenure.

I know this announcement will likely be met with a range of reactions and prompt numerous questions from across the campus community, some of which I may not yet be able to answer. But one of the reasons I arrived at this decision is because the state of the College is so strong. Our student body is among the most academically talented and diverse in the College’s history; we have an extraordinary faculty and staff committed to our mission of providing learners of diverse backgrounds a transformative liberal arts education; the College’s next strategic plan will be presented to the Board of Managers for approval in December; and major capital projects, such as the renovation of Martin Hall, the construction of the Dining and Community Commons, our campus renewal initiative, and our work on To Zero By Thirty-Five are well underway.

In short, while there is no perfect time to schedule this leave, I can’t imagine a better moment than this one.

In my absence, Provost, Dean of the Faculty, and Professor of Art History Tomoko Sakomura and Vice President for Finance and Administration Rob Goldberg will serve as acting co-presidents. Tomoko, who has served in a variety of leadership roles during her nearly 20 years at Swarthmore, and Rob, who previously served as an interim president at another liberal arts college, possess complementary strengths and skills and are well-positioned to share this responsibility. The three of us have been meeting regularly to discuss how to divide the work, establish appropriate roles and responsibilities, and identify the questions that must be answered before I leave. Our collective goal is to ensure the seamless operation of the College, uninterrupted by my absence. I am confident that Tomoko and Rob will lead the College well during my sabbatical and that you, the members of the Swarthmore College community, will support them throughout this interim period.

During my sabbatical, I plan to dedicate much of my time to scholarly pursuits — the type of work that drew me to academia early in my career. I will miss many of the special moments that occur during the spring semester, and I plan to find opportunities this fall to engage with the community to account for that lost time. For instance, while there is no substitute for Commencement, I look forward to inviting our seniors to a special celebration before my sabbatical in recognition of their hard work and achievements to date.

February is still some time away, and we will have the next six months together to discuss your questions and concerns and to share moments of joy and community.

My best,

Val Smith