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Valerie Smith Leaves Princeton to Become 1st Black President of Swarthmore College

AR-150229933Valerie Smith, a Princeton University dean and scholar of African-American literature and culture, made history when she was named the first Black president of Swarthmore College in Delaware.

She was a unanimous selection by the school’s board of managers and will assume the position this summer.

“Swarthmore’s values very much align with my own,” Smith said to the Delaware Daily “ensuring that a quality liberal arts education is accessible and affordable and that students’ academic experiences prepare them to make a difference not just in their chosen field — whether it be in medicine, Wall Street, the arts or the classroom —but in the world.”

Swarthmore College is a small liberal arts school of about 1,500 students 11 miles outside of Philadelphia. For 2015, it is ranked No. 3 in Best Colleges in National Liberal Arts by U.S. News and World Report.

Smith, who grew up in Brooklyn the daughter of educators, earned her master’s degree and doctorate at the University of Virginia. In 1980 she started her career at Princeton as an English and Afro-American Studies professor. After a stint at UCLA, she returned to Princeton in 2001 as the Woodrow Wilson Professor of Literature and Professor of English and African-American Studies. She was the founding director of the Center for African American Studies, helping to transform it from an interdisciplinary program into a top-ranked center for teaching and research about race. Smith became dean four years ago.

At Swarthmore, Smith said she plans to “extend the college’s efforts to build a more inclusive environment for students, staff and faculty; to invest in more innovative pedagogical practices; and to cultivate national and international research and conversation about the value of a liberal arts education,” adding that she wanted to find ways to deepen connections between students’ intellectual and extra-curricular lives.

“I relish the opportunity to forge new opportunities for academic and service opportunities beyond the campus.”

The 12-member search committee of faculty, staff, student and alumni gave Smith a resounding endorsement.

“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,” said Giles Kemp, chair of the board of managers.

Added board member Salen Shuchman: “She is the perfect person to lead Swarthmore and to ensure we achieve our goals, in particular those regarding our academic program, sustainability, access and affordability and our engagement with the world around us.”

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