After serving seven years as president of Colgate University, President of the University and Professor of Philosophy and Religion Rebecca Chopp announced last Saturday that she will be leaving Colgate at the end of May 2009 to assume the presidency of Swarthmore College.
“This was a difficult decision for me,” Chopp said of her move in the e-mail announcement sent to the Colgate community, “but it is one I make with confidence in and high expectations for Colgate. Confidence because I know that the Colgate spirit, the Colgate DNA, that drives this place will ensure that the university will continue to build on our strengths and seize every opportunity to advance as the nation’s leading liberal arts university. And I have high expectations because that is the Colgate way.”
During her tenure as Colgate’s fifteenth president, Chopp has collaborated with faculty, staff, students and alumni to effectively implement a strategic plan for boosting Colgate’s academic excellence; to establish a successful fundraising campaign that has brought in over $300 million for financial aid, academics, facilities, athletics and student life; to craft an innovative residential education program; and to oversee the construction of the Robert H.N. Ho Science Center, new townhouses and the Glendening Boathouse as well as the remodeling of the O’Connor Campus Center (the Coop) and the Case Library and Geyer Center for Information Technology (Case).
After such prolific leadership, it is unsurprising that the sudden announcement of Chopp’s departure is unsettling to some members of the Colgate community. However, Chopp has stayed at Colgate nearly as long as the average tenure of previous presidents.
“I’ve been here seven years, and the average presidency is eight years,” Chopp said. “Last summer, my husband and I realized we would be open to a move. When Swarthmore called, we recognized that it was a tremendous opportunity in a city we’re fond of and where we have many friends. Though I was not anxious to leave Colgate, I felt the timing was appropriate and the opportunity was great. I also knew [Provost and] Dean [of the Faculty] Roelofs would be a superb interim president. He’s been a guiding force in the strategic plan.”
Moreover, newly appointed interim president Roelofs, as well as other Colgate staff, faculty, students and alumni, have remarked that Chopp will leave Colgate in better standing than when she was appointed president.
“It is possible to move forward and be confident that we will find a [worthy] new president only because of what [Chopp] has done,” Roelofs said.
Chopp commented that one of her administration’s contributions which she is most proud of is Colgate’s amplified academic strength and commitment to academic pursuits, both inside and outside the classroom, demonstrated by the success of Colgate’s Debate Team, the expanding arts programs and the recent NCAA recognition that Colgate had the highest graduation rate of student athletes.
Chair of the Board of Trustees Chris Clifford ’67 has also observed the impressiveness of these achievements.
“Rebecca Chopp has been an outstanding president for Colgate and we are all very thankful for her vision and leadership over the past several years,” Clifford said. “Colgate is in a very strong position as a leading liberal arts university with excellent students, faculty, staff, alumni and trustees who all care very much about the future of the institution. As we search for our next president, I am confident that we will attract the best possible candidates who are eager to lead this wonderful institution and partner with all the remarkable people who make it so special.”
Chopp is likewise confident about Colgate’s future prospects.
“I think Colgate will continue to be one of the country’s finest undergraduate institutions and look forward to seeing that continue and hearing about life on campus, which I’m sure will expand and grow more robust,” Chopp said. “My favorite thing at Colgate has been the people. There’s a special quality about Colgate students, faculty, staff and alumni. I hope that students continue the [Colgate] tradition of deep alumni connectedness. It’s a treasure students need to protect.”
However, Chopp is not ready to hang up her hat at Colgate just yet. She has set ambitious goals for her remaining days at Colgate.
“In the short term, we [the administration] will put financial plans in place to do as much as we can in the current economic situation. We will continue furthering diversity and the diversity initiative and also hope to celebrate the successful passing of the Core revision,” Chopp said.
“In the long term, I hope to make sure that the Colgate DNA and spirit live on, to encourage alumni to continue to give back and to make sure Colgate supports the diverse interests and concerns of a broad student population,” Chopp said.
Roelofs referenced Chopp’s plans in discussing his own future plans for Colgate.
“We’re not finished dealing with challenges, but we are now on the right path,” Roelofs said. “In addition to good management, it’s important now to continue to advance academic quality, which has increased dramatically, and financial aid, which we have broadened access to. We should [also] include a continuing commitment to diversity, an area of both significant progress and profound remaining challenge. These are a continuation of commitments that President Chopp has emphasized.”
Roelofs also noted that Chopp’s move to Swarthmore, which is considered one of the top three private liberal arts institutions, from Colgate, recognized as one of the top twenty, will give her a more visible platform and enable Chopp to make changes that have a large effect on all liberal arts institutions.
“Even though this is a loss for Colgate and a gain for Swarthmore, this is a gain for the world of private liberal arts institutions overall,” Roelofs said. “That is the silver lining for Colgate.”
According to Chopp, however, members of the Colgate community can expect a bit more support from their fifteenth president, at least in terms of her athletic team loyalties.
“I look forward to Swarthmore athletics as I have enjoyed Colgate’s, but there’s no football or hockey teams at Swarthmore, so I will continue to be a fan of the Raiders and will support those great teams,” Chopp said.