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Enhance the Swarthmore Liberal Arts Education for the 21st Century

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Jump to section: Conduct a review of the curriculumStrengthen interdisciplinary teaching and research | Invest in the faculty | Connect students’ academic experiences to real-world problems

As one of the world’s leading liberal arts institutions, Swarthmore is committed, first and foremost, to intellectual and creative excellence. Swarthmore stands out for the breadth and strength of its offerings in the arts and humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences and engineering. Teaching, learning, research, and creative production all thrive in the small, liberal arts environment that encourages collaboration and the exchange of ideas between students and faculty and between students themselves. Grounded in their area of academic emphasis, our students develop a strong sense of social responsibility; transferable intellectual and practical skills (such as communication, analytical, and problem-solving abilities); and the capacity to apply that knowledge in real-world settings.

To prepare our students to learn and flourish in an uncertain world, we must invest in our traditional areas of strength as well as in emerging fields that often lie at the intersection of disciplines. In a period of great technological disruption in which many students are drawn to the creative possibilities of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), we have the opportunity to support their interests from the strength of the liberal arts, ensuring that all students, whatever their areas of specialization, develop digital fluency and are exposed to the uses, possibilities, and challenges of data science and artificial intelligence. At the same time, we must ensure that students comprehend the inherent value of the arts and humanities in a world characterized by great change; these are the fields that help us navigate the future by teaching us about the past; that cultivate critical understanding and creative production; and that foster engagement with those whose experiences and perspectives differ from our own. 

This plan proposes a review of the curriculum, an expansion of the faculty in accordance with strategic priorities, access to experiential learning opportunities for all students, and greater investment in our teaching and learning resources.

Goal 1.1: Conduct a review of the curriculum by Spring 2025, with recommendations for an updated curriculum implemented by Fall 2027

To ensure that our academic program remains true to our core values while providing our students with the range of knowledge and skills they will need to thrive as global citizens in an uncertain world, we will undertake a review of our curriculum. The curriculum review will:     

  • Ensure that students encounter the breadth of curricular offerings and benefit from the value of studying the arts and humanities, social sciences, natural science and engineering, and interdisciplinary studies.
  • Develop expertise in digital and computational literacy across the curriculum.
  • Evaluate the College’s writing requirement and the teaching of expository writing and related genres.
  • Consider whether the College’s language requirements adequately prepare our students to navigate the global environment they inhabit now and will enter more fully after graduation.
  • Build the capacity of the Teaching and Learning Commons, the Office of Global Engagement, and the Office of Sustainability to support the curriculum's goals.
  • Revise the Honors Program to retain its distinctive association with intellectual rigor while ensuring its continued success.

Goal 1.2: Strengthen interdisciplinary teaching and research

Interdisciplinarity plays a prominent role in a liberal arts education. Interdisciplinary approaches enable more nuanced understandings of complex phenomena; interdisciplinary collaboration fosters creativity and innovation by bringing together diverse perspectives and expertise to develop novel solutions. We cannot fully avail ourselves of future opportunities or adequately address the grand challenges of today and tomorrow from the perspective of a single discipline; doing so requires the insights, approaches, and techniques honed through interdisciplinary teaching and learning. 

Over the years, Swarthmore has created numerous interdisciplinary programs which have evolved differently over time. This plan proposes a multifaceted approach to strengthening interdisciplinarity at Swarthmore in acknowledgment of the different goals of various initiatives.

  • Expand interdisciplinary teaching through a “Seeds of Change” initiative, which will support periods of collaborative study and course preparation among groups of two or more faculty from different departments. 
  • Support interdisciplinary teaching approaches to the innovative, creative, and ethical uses and regulation of technology, such as artificial intelligence and data science, by creating an initiative inclusive of Arts, Culture, Technology, and Society (ACTS).
  • Strengthen select existing interdisciplinary programs, such as Black Studies and Environmental Studies, to support their goal of becoming new academic departments. Explore the growth of Native and Indigenous Studies as an area of focus in Environmental Studies, to complement existing faculty and student interest and to acknowledge the centrality of Indigenous nations to land management, the preservation of biodiversity, and the mitigation of climate change.

Goal 1.3: Invest in the faculty to sustain and enhance the College’s reputation for academic excellence

Our faculty members are dedicated teachers and distinguished scholars who engage students in research and creative projects both in and outside the classroom. The resulting close faculty and student relationships fuel the intellectual curiosity and love of learning that are hallmarks of a Swarthmore education. These relationships transform the lives of our students, enhance their potential to contribute to their chosen profession and to their communities, and, in many instances, extend long after our students graduate. As such, they anchor the connections our alumni feel to the College. 

Due to a variety of factors, including the growth of student interest in STEM disciplines and economics; the expansion of the student body; the shift to a four-course teaching load for faculty; and the increased reliance on visiting faculty, Swarthmore’s treasured high-quality teaching and learning environment is under unprecedented pressure. Research conducted in 2021-22 by the Council on Educational Policy (CEP) pertaining to faculty size and teaching load showed that, over the prior decade of planned enrollment growth, the attendant planned growth in tenure-line faculty has not kept pace. While our visiting faculty make a critical contribution to the quality of teaching and diversity of perspectives in the classrooms, overdependence on them places additional burdens on current tenure-line faculty to maintain the College’s academic quality.

To retain and build on the College’s reputation for academic excellence, we must invest in the faculty. We will build the capacity of our faculty to provide the close-knit intellectual engagement that characterizes the academic community, and we will examine and rebalance the proportion of visiting faculty to tenure-track faculty. 

  • Increase the size of the permanent faculty, with a first phase of 10 tenure lines to meet existing needs and new initiatives. Subsequently, align existing and additional faculty capacity with the framework provided by the curriculum review. 
  • Strengthen opportunities to reinforce faculty research by increasing the number of second-semester leaves the College makes available to support sabbaticals.
  • Promote connection, production, and dissemination of the faculty’s scholarship and creative work.

Goal 1.4: Connect students’ academic experiences to real-world problems and expand the impact of a Swarthmore education

Expanding educational opportunities beyond the classroom will better prepare our students to address the needs and opportunities of the rapidly changing global environment. After all, the world itself is a dynamic learning environment with lessons that complement the knowledge students gain in the classroom. To better prepare our students for a lifetime of personal and professional success and impact, we will develop deeper collaboration across departments, expand high-impact curricular and co-curricular programs, and provide additional opportunities for experiential learning, ensuring that every student has access to transformative experiences beyond the classroom.

  • Invest in and develop curricular/co-curricular collaborations similar to the President’s Sustainability Research Fellows and Inclusive Excellence Fellows programs, allowing students to apply what they are learning to projects that affect the College and surrounding areas and acquire skills such as developing ideas, collaborating with peers, managing a project, and communicating findings to an audience of specialists and non-specialists alike. 
  • Create residential academic programs with internship components in other cities, both within the United States and across the globe. 
  • Provide all Swarthmore students with a funded beyond-the-classroom experience, such as an internship, summer research project, or academic year abroad or summer study abroad opportunity. (See the "Swarthmore Promise" for more details).