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Welcome to a New Academic Year

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff Members,

Hello, and welcome to the 2023-24 academic year! I hope you enjoyed a pleasant and restorative summer. 

Seeing so many of you on campus during move-in and orientation was a pleasure, as always. The numerous incoming students and their families with whom I spoke expressed their appreciation for a successful, seamless transition to Swarthmore.  Thanks to all of you who helped make that possible — from the Orientation Leaders and Student Affairs team to our colleagues in Facilities and Environmental Services, and so many others. I am deeply grateful for your patience, kindness, and hard work.

Fall is a time of renewal at academic institutions. Many of us are catching up with colleagues and friends for the first time in months, and we’re forming new relationships with new members of our community. We are re-engaging in the kinds of intellectual and creative pursuits that draw us together, and we are rediscovering the joy of living and learning together in this beautiful setting.

We’re in the midst of several significant initiatives at the College. You will hear more about them in the weeks and months ahead, but I wanted to take this opportunity to provide a few brief but important updates now.


New Community Members

I’m pleased to extend a warm welcome to the talented group of incoming first-year and transfer studentsindividuals joining the faculty, and new staff members — including our new Vice President for Student Affairs Stephanie Ives. On behalf of the entire Swarthmore community, let me say that we are so glad you are here, and I look forward to meeting you before long. 

Strategic Planning

For the past 18 months, we have been developing Swarthmore’s first strategic plan since 2011. As I shared previously, this work is centered around three broad themes: the curriculum and our pedagogical practice, the student experience within and beyond the classroom, and preparation for leadership in a multiracial democracy and global society. Earlier this summer, the working groups focused on these areas concluded their work by submitting their reports and recommendations. The reports were based on a variety of factors, including analysis of current College practices and policies, engagement with the campus community, analysis of practices and innovations across and beyond the landscape of higher education, as well as other considerations.

I am in the midst of synthesizing this information into a comprehensive draft plan. Part of that review includes an analysis of the feasibility of the recommendations, including their financial implications. I look forward to sharing more specific information on the plan later this fall. Our goal is to secure Board approval of the plan by the end of this semester. 

Campus Construction and Renewal

Last month, I wrote to you about our ongoing construction and renewal work on campus. While I won’t recount all of the details I described in that earlier message, I do want to highlight a couple of significant updates:

To Zero By Thirty-Five

To Zero By Thirty-Five (or 20X35) is our energy plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035, and geoexchange heating and cooling is a critical piece of that plan. The drilling of more than 300 geoexchange wells on Metz Lawn is complete, and we are now working to connect the wells through underground piping to the geoexchange plant that will be housed in the basement of the new Dining Center. We remain on track to begin bringing some buildings onto the geoexchange system in 2024 and the entire campus by 2035.

Martin Hall Renovations

We are making good progress on the transformation of Martin into an interdisciplinary technological hub for all of campus. As a reminder, to support the work on Martin, a temporary construction road has been installed across the north quad by Singer Hall. Infrequent truck traffic will be coordinated with class schedules to avoid interrupting pedestrian traffic as much as possible, and flaggers will accompany trucks whenever they cross the quad. This path is meant for construction traffic only; please do not use it as a pedestrian walkway. This road will be in place through summer 2025.

The work on Martin has increased traffic at Lang Music Circle, which remains closed to pedestrians. To access the Lang Music Building, you will need to walk through the Lang Performing Arts Center.

Sharples Commons

We completed Phase I of the Dining and Community Commons project last year when we opened our new Dining Center. We plan to complete Phase II of the DCC, Sharples Commons, this spring. When it opens, Sharples Commons will be a hub of campus activity that fosters more community interaction and socializing, supporting our commitment to educating the whole student. It will include dedicated student meeting, storage, and lounge space and offer students, faculty, and staff a range of indoor and outdoor programmable areas. We are planning events to celebrate the opening of Sharples Commons; we’ll share more on that later this semester.

As all of the fencing around campus indicates, other construction projects are underway as well. This ongoing work will continue to disrupt the ways we navigate campus. Thank you again for your patience and understanding during this period of transformation. These various projects, both individually and collectively, support the College’s mission and will strengthen our residential learning experience.  

An Update on COVID-19

Many of us have read about a new variant of COVID-19 and an increase in COVID cases around the world. Fortunately, there are now indications that this variant may be less contagious and less immune-resistant than some originally predicted, but it is a reminder that we must continue to pay attention to COVID-19.

Our COVID-19 Planning Group continues to meet on an as-needed basis. While we returned, for the most part, to pre-COVID operations last year, when the national Public Health Emergency for COVID-19 expired in the spring, we began reevaluating some of our remaining policies. As a result, and in consultation with medical professionals, we no longer require employees to be vaccinated for COVID. That said, we continue to strongly encourage individuals to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on staying up to date with COVID-19 vaccines

Because of the residential nature of the student experience, and in keeping with our requirements around other vaccinations, we continue to require all students to demonstrate proof of being vaccinated against COVID with an FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine.

Please also note that we have disbanded the COVID-19 Employee Test Team (CETT); employees who test positive are no longer required to contact CETT or Human Resources. However, you must continue to follow the College’s testing and isolation protocols. More information on our response to COVID-19 can be found on the College’s COVID-19 site, including information on what to do if you are identified as a close contact, how long you should isolate if you test positive or are feeling symptomatic, and other useful information. (Please note that we continue to offer COVID leave time for staff members who are required to isolate due to COVID-19.) If you have questions about our COVID-19 policies and practices, please email

Winter Break Schedule

I want to be sure you are all aware that this year the fall semester runs later into December than it typically does. Finals will begin on Dec. 17 and end on Dec. 23 at noon. 

Once again, I’m happy to extend the winter break for staff by adding four College holidays to the calendar, which gives staff two consecutive weeks off. The break will begin Monday, Dec. 25, 2023, and normal operations will resume on Monday, Jan. 8, 2024. Not surprisingly, this has become a popular decision! I hope our staff members will be able to use this additional time to relax and enjoy the company of loved ones. 

I understand that some of you must work during portions of the winter break due to the responsibilities of your positions. As a reminder, benefits-eligible, non-exempt staff members who work on a College-observed holiday will be paid time-and-a-half for any hours worked. Exempt staff whose positions require them to work during this two-week period may make alternative arrangements for time off with the approval of their supervisors. Please consult with your supervisor if you have questions about your schedule. If you are a benefits-eligible staff member and have additional questions regarding eligibility for holiday pay, please see the employee handbook for further explanation, or contact the Human Resources team at

Thank you for your attention to these announcements. I look forward to sharing more on these and other important initiatives in the future. For now, I wish you all the best for an intellectually stimulating, rewarding, and pleasant fall semester.


Val Smith