Swarthmore College names new president

     President of Swarthmore College, Valerie Smith (Laurence Kesterson/Swarthmore College)

    President of Swarthmore College, Valerie Smith (Laurence Kesterson/Swarthmore College)

    Swarthmore College has a new president. Valerie Smith, a dean at Princeton University, was named yesterday as the 15th president of the liberal arts college in Delaware County.

    Smith, a scholar of African American literature, has taught at UCLA as well as Princeton. At Princeton, she was in charge of the university’s undergraduate academic program.  She’ll take over at Swarthmore in July.

    “Valerie Smith is a respected scholar and a wise, effective leader with impressive accomplishments that closely align with Swarthmore’s values: access and affordability, dynamic undergraduate learning opportunities, and educating students to be leaders who value the common good,” Giles Kemp, chair of the college’s of the Board of Managers, said in a news release.

    Smith expressed faith in the liberal arts model of higher education, saying that Swarthmore is an exemplar of that approach.

    “I have experienced and witnessed firsthand the power of the liberal arts to encourage critical thinking, discovery and innovation; to help us ascertain what makes life meaningful; and to function as an engine of social mobility and change,” Smith said.

    As Dean of the College at Princeton, Smith recently chaired a committee that studied the academic and cultural experience of low-income and first-generation students at Princeton.

    Smith first came to Princeton in 1980 as an instructor of English and Afro-American Studies, moved to UCLA in 1989 before returning to Princeton in 2001.  The Brooklyn, N.Y., native served as the founding director and led a major expansion of Princeton’s Center for African American Studies, and is a scholar of the work of Toni Morrison.

    Smith replaces Interim President Constance Cain Hungerford, who will resume her position in the Art Department when Smith arrives.

    The previous president, Rebecca Chopp, resigned last June after a somewhat stormy five years at the helm, which included controversies over sexual assaults on campus, the choice of commencement speakers and the college’s investment choices.

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