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College warmly welcomes its 15th president

Warmly welcomed on a snowy February day, Valerie Smith met hundreds of the students, staff, faculty, and Board members she will soon serve as Swarthmore’s 15th president.

An intensive six-month search for a successor to Rebecca Chopp, who became chancellor of the University of Denver in August, resulted in the Board’s unanimous approval Feb. 21 of Smith, Woodrow Wilson Professor of Literature, Professor of English and African-American Studies, and dean of the college at Princeton University.

A search committee of faculty, students, staff, and alumni Board members, led by Salem Shuchman ’84, selected Smith following extensive communitywide consultation. 

In sharing the news with the Swarthmore community, Giles Kemp ’72, chair of the Board of Managers said, “Valerie Smith is a respected scholar and a wise, effective leader with impressive accomplishments that closely align with Swarthmore’s values. Her colleagues consistently praise her judgment, integrity, and commitment to making a liberal arts education accessible to all students.”

Smith’s appointment was warmly and enthusiastically received. In addition to the energetic buzz at Eldridge Commons on that snowy Saturday, the news ignited Swarthmore’s social media platform and continued for days. 

Smith, who has authored more than 40 articles and three books on African-American literature, culture, film, and photography, has spent most of her career at Princeton, where she founded the Center for African American Studies. She became dean in 2011. Smith received a B.A. cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Bates College and M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia.    

Before Smith’s appointment officially begins July 1, Constance Cain Hungerford will continue as interim president. During the transitional period, Smith plans to visit campus quietly to learn as much as she can about the College. She intends to spend her first year “listening to and learning from different members of the community, both on and off campus,” she says. “I’m eager to begin those conversations. I’m excited to be working for a college with such an inspired sense of mission.”

In seeking the position, Smith says, “I was interested not so much in being a president but in being the president of Swarthmore. I found your defining features to be irresistible—the way you put such a premium on the value of collaboration, that you are committed to academic rigor, yet inspired by the importance of making a difference and having an impact on the common good.” 

+See Valerie Smith meet the campus here.