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Moving Ahead

On July 14, with the departure of Rebecca Chopp, Constance Cain Hungerford, Mari S. Michener Professor of Art History, became interim president. A seasoned teacher and administrator, Hungerford was provost from 2001 to 2011. In mid-July, she chatted with Sherri Kimmel, editor of the Swarthmore College Bulletin, about how to keep the College tracking toward its strategic goals.

In your nearly 40 years at Swarthmore, what have been some of the changes you’ve observed?

Two particularly significant changes come to mind. First, diversity. Since I arrived at Swarthmore, it’s unquestionable that the racial, ethnic, and the socioeconomic diversity of the student body has changed. It’s dramatically evident, when you walk around campus or when you look at the population in a class. I’m also aware of the impact of technology. The students who come to us have vastly different habits about how they acquire information and how they process that information, and that changes the dynamics in the classroom a lot.

So, diversity being one core value, what are some of the other ones?

Our commitment to social justice, to the idea that we have a responsibility to use the privileges that we have—the Swarthmore education itself—to the betterment of the larger society in which we live. That larger society may be fairly local, but it is really also national, and now international. I think the intellectual values that we have, the insistence on rigorous thought, the appreciation of creativity, those have always been part of who we are. The passion for intellectual excellence is very much with us still.

Some interim presidents view their role as maintaining a holding pattern until the next person arrives. Does that reflect your approach?

No, I would say not. I’m very aware of the momentum that Rebecca had created for the planning process and for moving ahead and realizing the goals of that process, and I want to keep that momentum going.

You were very involved in the crafting of the strategic plan. Are there particular aspects that you intend to concentrate on during your time?

One that has emerged powerfully is the sustainability initiative. It’s very exciting to learn what we’ve done already, to think about the intentionality with which we’re identifying challenges, to work on how we can educate ourselves to address those challenges. The Aydelotte Foundation, which moved from a planning idea to realization very quickly because of Rebecca’s inspiration and the active support of Jim Lovelace ’79, is going to be a wonderful project to continue to advance. The buildings that we have underway are going to be really fascinating to see move forward, especially the BEP—the biology, engineering, psychology building.

Do you see the alumni as a resource for you during your year in office?

I’ve been really touched by how many of my former students have contacted me in the last several weeks. It’s been a great reminder of how the experience that we shared is at the heart of this institution. There are lots of alums who I don’t know, but I’ve always been impressed when I’ve met them, on the road and on campus, with how much they exemplify what we do here. They testify to the value of their experience. Their lives exemplify the importance of the kind of education that Swarthmore provides. The more they can share who they are with our students and with the larger world, the better.

What do you think the strengths of the College are in comparison to other top liberal arts colleges?

For me, it’s always been the unabashed delight in the life of the mind. Our students share the faculty’s emphasis on intellectual inquiry and creativity. And that makes us somewhat different from other elite, small residential colleges.

How do you feel about the state of the College today?

We’re in really excellent shape. Especially through this transitional year, we’re extraordinarily fortunate that we have a great team of senior administrators who are really dynamic, leading in their areas. So part of my role is simply to help them do what they’re already on course to do. We have amazing faculty and students, who are smart, motivated, and passionate about their interests. We have a wonderful body of alumni who love the College,and many of whom do their utmost to help. We also have a Board that is very committed to helping the College. So it’s a really great team to work together with through the coming year.