Expanding the Classroom

The strategic plan proposes two changes to Swarthmore’s curriculum: development of interdisciplinary programs and improved support for student research, off-campus study, and work experience.

The plan proposes that the college employ “several full-time positions for visiting faculty members to supplement interdisciplinary efforts.” Early on, President Chopp explained, many thought that “we could invent community based learning.” However, community conversations resulted in the realization that Swarthmore was already thinking interdisciplinarily.

“People are chomping at the bit,” Chopp explained. “It’s how do we address our structures, how do we find support, how do we make it possible for people to do problem-based learning, community-based research?”

However, the plan does not specify which interdisciplinary programs will be implemented, a disappointment to Adam Rosenberg ’13, who served on the Knowledge, Teaching, and Learning Working Group. “I would have liked the report to have been more specific about new areas where the college sees a need
to focus. Especially given extensive student interest in areas such as Ethnic Studies, Environmental Science, and Neuroscience, no guidance
on either what areas are lacking currently or how to go about identifying them is a little disappointing,” he explained in an e-mail.

Besides hiring new interdisciplinary visiting professors, the College intends to clarify policies to make sure that tenure-track professors, who advance primarily through their department, do not feel disadvantaged by participating in interdisciplinary work. They also intend to offer stipends to faculty for course development and releases during the summer, thereby facilitating special interdisciplinary course offerings during the academic year.

The strategic plan also describes a challenge facing faculty at Swarthmore: students expect one-on-one summer research opportunities with faculty (and increasingly require them to be competitive for jobs and fellowships), but faculty also require time for their own research, creative expression, and professional development. Although there is no explicit mention of a move to the 2-2 course load in the plan, Strategic Directions does leave open the possibility of implementing the proposed decrease in the coursework obligations of faculty, as reported in The Daily Gazette.

If that plan were to be carried out, although professors will be teaching fewer classes, they will have more time to engage students through research opportunities.The College intends to support the new opportunities for both students and faculty. Swarthmore has traditionally funded faculty research and travel to academic conferences less than its peer institutions, and so intends  to close the gap. For students, the plan proposes to establish a “teaching, learning, and research project” to bring together existing initiatives at the Lang Center and Study Abroad office for two purposes: improving student’s public speaking, informational, visual, and quantitative literacies, and administering student research fellowships, internships, and other summer experiences. The College also intends to expand funding of research and independent work experiences for all students, and to improve faculty benefits from taking Swarthmore students as summer research assistants, which President Chopp described as “high impact learning.”

In addition, the plan proposes a Center for Innovation and Leadership for Students, which Dean Braun described as a program to “promote more collaboration between the wonderful things that are already happening … build on that to improve students’ overall experience help students link their experiences inside the classroom with experiences outside the classroom.” The Center has been envisioned to work with Career Services, the Program for Socially Responsible Leadership and the Jonathan R. Lax Conference on Entrepreneurship.

The first step, Dean Braun explained, will be doing an inventory on campus of what current opportunities already exist, how they are or are not linking up with one another, and how different organizations work together on collaborative projects.

“Students I think,” she says,“will need to have a lot of input about what that center will look like.”


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