Change is In the Air in the Lang Center, but an Old Face is Gone

The Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility underwent significant changes this summer. New plans were developed, and the mission of converging the curricular and extracurricular was renewed. These changes required both the introduction and conclusion of positions within the Lang Center.

Associate Professor of Political Science Ben Berger was hired as Executive Director, and Cynthia Jetter (formerly Director of Community Partnerships) began a new assignment reporting to the President’s Office as Executive Director of the College Access Center of Delaware County and Director of Collective Impact for the Chester Higher Education Consortium. In addition, Dr. Jennifer Magee has moved into a new position as Associate Director of the Lang Center, Dr. Katie Price was welcomed as the Coordinator for Co-Curricular Programming and Outreach, and Arto Woodley (who is completing a doctorate in Higher Education Leadership at Widener University) will be serving in the new position of Associate Director for Engaged Scholarship. One change that was notably felt, however, was the termination of the Assistant Director of Student Programs position and its well-regarded holder, Debra Kardon-Brown.

Changes to the Lang Center were recommended by an External Review, conducted by faculty from Swarthmore’s peer institutions Bates College, Carleton College, and the University of Richmond, which have civic engagement centers comparable to Swarthmore’s. Professionals from these centers did an evaluation of the efficacy of the Lang Center. Swarthmore’s administration arranged for the External Review as Professor Joy Charlton, who served as Executive Director of the Lang Center for eight years, announced plans to return to teaching full-time. “Much of what we’re doing is only possible because of the tremendous growth that Joy nurtured,” said Ben Berger.

The External Review team consulted with faculty members and stakeholders and referred to the Lang Center’s founding documents when making their recommendations. The External Review then reported how current operations of the Lang Center compared to other similar centers at other colleges and to its original mission.

“The single most common refrain was that we need to return to the original vision, which was that the Lang Center needed to be something that really connected up the curriculum with the community [and] connected up analysis with action,” said Berger.

The Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility will continue to evolve as new programs develop. Some circulating ideas for improvement within the new framework include expanding the Chester Community Fellows Summer Program in order to increase its accessibility for interested students and the creation of the Associate Director of Engaged Scholarship position, which connects faculty research and teaching with community partnerships.

There will also be four new faculty-led programs at the Lang Center, where students can work closely with faculty members in their research and community engagement. One of these programs, the Urban Inequality Initiative, will be led by Keith Reeves, Swarthmore’s Political Science department chair and expert in mass incarceration policies and effects. Another program in the works is called Global Affairs and is intended to teach students about international politics and policies through faculty expertise. In addition, Professor Christine Shuetze will be spearheading a program called Health and Societies, and Professor Pallabi Chakravorty will steward a new Arts and Social Change program in tribute to Sharon Friedler, who retired last year as Director of the Dance Program.

But why was the position of Assistant Director of Student Programs, previously held by Kardon-Brown, no longer necessary under the new framework? Ultimately, it was due to limited resources. The External Review strongly encouraged greater connection between the Lang Center’s extracurricular community work and Swarthmore’s academic curriculum. That meant bringing on new positions and hiring new experts, as was the case with the Coordinator for Co-Curricular Programming and Outreach position and the Associate Director for Engaged Scholarship position.

Kardon-Brown said her goodbyes to the Swarthmore community in a Facebook post regarding her position’s termination, but acknowledged that it was part of a larger transformation to the Lang Center. Grieving the loss of the position was Lang Center Associate Brittni Teresi ‘19. “Of course I’m going to miss Deb […] Her role was really important […] Debra was a huge favorite, she was always smiling and always super happy,” Teresi said, and she was not alone in her grief: on Kardon-Brown’s Facebook post announcing her termination, 80 comments were left by Swarthmore alums and students expressing disbelief at her absence and appreciation for her contributions.

“There [were] very understandably some students and alumni who were aggrieved and felt there was going to be a loss, because there was a position that they had grown accustomed to that wasn’t going to be there any longer,” said Executive Director Ben Berger. Nonetheless, Berger has since attempted to shed light on the pragmatism behind the changes at the Lang Center.

“When news first came out, not from the Lang Center, but just from other people who were talking to each other, that one of our staff positions was going to be eliminated, it wasn’t fleshed out with all the other positive things that [were] then going to come on top of it,” he said.

In response to student concerns over her termination, Kardon-Brown wrote, “I have neither the degreed credentials nor the academic skills sets needed to place the Center deeply within curriculum. It’s not personal, it is strictly business. The mission changes and the structure must change to meet the mission. Nobody is trying to cover up anything, I swear.”

Along with expressing their sadness over losing Kardon-Brown, students and faculty are also trying to look at what the future holds for the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility. “[I] was sad to see Deb go, but I know this was done with the best intentions to improve the mission of the Lang Center, and I’m interested to see how the new structure of the Lang Center plays out as it is implemented,” wrote Lang Center Associate Maria Castaneda Soria ‘18.

Though there are new additions to celebrate, students and faculty alike will sorely miss Debra Kardon-Brown and the contributions she made to Swarthmore. “It’s hard to see change happen. It’s [even] hard for us at the Lang Center…truly, to see that change happen[s],” said Berger, “but our eyes are on the prize, and we already see what the returns are.”

Image courtesy of swarthmore.edu


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