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Leadership Transition in the Provost’s Office

Dear Students, Staff, and Faculty Members,

A few moments ago, Smith College announced to its community that it has found its next president. I am overjoyed (and a bit sad) to share with you that that individual is Provost and Dean of the Faculty Sarah Willie-LeBreton. Sarah will remain in her current role at Swarthmore through the academic year before joining Smith as its 12th president on July 1, 2023.

Sarah was recruited by Swarthmore in 1997 after having taught at both Bard and Colby colleges. She was charged with coordinating the Black Studies Program, developing an Introduction to Black Studies course, and contributing sociology courses on race and racism in America. With a dual appointment in the Department of Sociology & Anthropology and in Black Studies, Sarah served as the coordinator of the Black Studies program for eight years. During that time, she chaired the Diversity Task Force that led to the creation of a position in Student Affairs that is dedicated to supporting issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

In her role as associate provost, Sarah helped create pedagogy and diversity workshops for faculty across the College with now-retired Associate Dean for Multicultural Affairs Darryl Smaw. In addition to serving as a Mellon Mays and Rubin Scholars mentor, she volunteered for the Chester Children’s Chorus summer program, sat on dissertation committees at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Maryland, and helped review programs, departments, and curricula at nearly two dozen colleges for the American Sociological Association.

In 2003-04, Sarah served on the College’s ad hoc Committee on the Living Wage. Their work resulted in increases to the College’s minimum wage. She also sat on the 2009 ad hoc Financial Working Group that helped navigate Swarthmore through the Great Recession.

In 2018, after seven years as chair of the Department of Sociology & Anthropology, Sarah assumed the role of provost, which later evolved into provost and dean of the faculty. Sarah reorganized the office to better support faculty, staff, and the academic experience we provide to students. As part of that work, she relocated Institutional Relations and Sponsored Programs from Advancement to the Provost's Office in order to strengthen support of faculty research.

Sarah also collaborated with colleagues to increase the diversity of both tenure and non-tenure-track faculty; since she became provost, the percentage of faculty of color has increased from 22% to 28%. And Sarah oversaw the recruitment of the College’s first Indigenous tenure-track faculty member.

Throughout her tenure as provost and dean of the faculty, Sarah has been committed to providing appropriate resources to faculty in support of their teaching and scholarship. For instance, she worked with donors to support two interdisciplinary faculty positions initially funded through a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. And, as chair of the Faculty Compensation Committee, she led faculty and Board members, along with leadership from Human Resources and Finance, to bring faculty compensation into better alignment with our peers.

Sarah remains a critical voice in support of several important capital improvements to campus. She helped establish the Space Planning Operations Group, positioning the College to take a more strategic approach to managing the use of space across campus. She was instrumental in ensuring the completion of Singer Hall, and a driving force in the approval of the upcoming renovation of Martin Hall. 

Much of Sarah’s time as provost and dean of the faculty was consumed by the pandemic, and she played a central role in helping the College mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the College community. Her team worked with colleagues in Information Technology Services to organize pedagogy workshops on remote teaching, and she was a staunch supporter of principles that supported our community throughout the pandemic, including our decision to avoid layoffs and furloughs for staff members.

This is of course just a small sampling of Sarah’s innumerable contributions to the College across her 25-year career at Swarthmore. Throughout it all, she has exuded a spirit of inclusivity and compassion, excellent judgment, deep respect for shared governance, enthusiastic support for research and teaching, and good humor. I am profoundly grateful for all that she has done to support the College.

As you may know, 2022-23 was to have been the final year of Sarah’s first term as provost and dean of the faculty. Sarah indicated her desire to serve a second term, and during the past academic year, an ad hoc committee on the reappointment of the provost and dean of the faculty undertook the rigorous provostial review that is customary under such circumstances. I want to express my appreciation for the committee’s good and thoughtful work, and also for the time many of you took to participate in the process. Based on that review and Sarah’s excellent leadership during the past four years, I had intended to appoint her to a second term as provost. Obviously, we will instead begin the process of identifying Sarah’s successor.

The role of provost is among the most complex and demanding positions on a college campus. At Swarthmore, the individual is responsible for a portfolio of numerous departments and offices that consist of more than 450 faculty and staff members. Based on Sarah’s experience and the feedback she and the ad hoc committee have shared with me, I plan to evaluate, in consultation with the appropriate faculty committees, whether the role and the office are appropriately structured. I will share more about that process in the weeks to come. 

We will find time to gather and celebrate Sarah and all that she has done for the College. Until then, please join me in congratulating her on this tremendous accomplishment. In addition to being a thoughtful, passionate, and collaborative colleague, Sarah is also a dear friend. And while she will be greatly missed, I am thrilled for her and her family, and I am excited to see how she advances Smith, just as she has done for Swarthmore. 

All the best,