President Rebecca Chopp is leaving Swarthmore College to begin work as the chancellor of University of Denver this fall. In a campus-wide email on Thursday, June 12, Chopp said that the decision to leave was one of the “most difficult” of her career, and said her husband’s health and a desire to be closer to family contributed to her decision.
Board of Managers Chair Gil Kemp ‘72 said President Chopp’s departure caught the board “totally by surprise.” As of two weeks ago, he said, the board was planning to renew Chopp’s contract for another five years. Chopp’s offer from University of Denver came in late May, said Kemp, which has resulted in a “very abrupt change of plans.”
Chopp began her term as President in 2009, and her departure makes hers the fourth shortest tenure as President in Swarthmore history. Chopp came to Swarthmore after serving seven years at Colgate University, before which she served as dean and Titus Street Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School. In addition to her presidential duties and teaching at Swarthmore, she was a key figure behind the Strategic Plan, an extensive college expansion project.
Constance Hungerford will succeed Chopp as Interim President. Hungerford is familiar to much of Swarthmore’s senior staff, having served both as Provost and as a member of several committees (including a past presidential selection committee). Hungerford was also “integral” to the Strategic Planning process, said Kemp, and has “earned the respect of the faculty, and of the Board.”
Kemp said that he is confident Hungerford will be an “effective” interim president, but said that he, vice chair Salem Shuchman, and the rest of the college’s senior staff will “work very hard to be supportive and help [Hungerford] in a variety of tasks that she’s going to have to work on.” Dean of Students Liz Braun agreed, saying that Hungerford has already begun conversations with both the board and president’s office staff, and will be using the summer to “get up to speed” on what is happening within the College.
The search for a new president will begin immediately. Kemp said that the Board will most likely hire a search firm during the summer before forming a search committee in September. Like many campus hiring committees, the presidential selection committee will include both faculty members and students. Although the search will begin immediately, Kemp said the delay in forming the committee is due to the fact that it would be “impractical” to have students and faculty involved during the summer. Although both Kemp and Braun agreed students will be involved in the process, the extent of the student body’s involvement is currently unclear.
While there is not a specific date a president can be expected, Kemp is hopeful that the process will yield a new president by “mid-winter or spring” of the coming year, depending on the existing responsibilities of the candidate chosen. When President Chopp was selected five years ago, he said, an agreement was made in February but Chopp only began work at Swarthmore in the summer, after fulfilling her responsibilities to Colgate University.
While the search begins for Chopp’s successor, Hungerford says she will be “carrying forward the momentum” of Chopp’s tenure. Rather than just being a “caretaker” for the status quo, she says, she plans to help the senior staff absorb what has been done over the past five years and “keep that progress going.”
Speaking specifically about the College’s continuing struggle to address concerns related to Title IX, Hungerford said that when new Title IX coordinator Kaaren Williamsen begins in July, the president’s office will work with both her and the Sexual Misconduct Task Force to take the next steps in reforming campus policy.
Unfortunately, Hungerford’s new responsibilities necessitate relinquishing some of her old ones. She was slated to teach a first-year seminar on Picasso and another course on the history of photography this coming fall, both of which will no longer be offered. The Art History Department will select replacement professors for classes she planned to have taught in the spring semester.
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