President, Swarthmore College
Since joining Swarthmore’s community as its president in 2009, Rebecca Chopp has focused her work on the College’s role in cultivating a global intellectual community that will create leaders in every field in the 21st century. During her first year, she embarked on an ambitious multi-city listening tour to hear from alumni, parents, and friends about the Swarthmore experience and how the College’s values can help shape future decisions. Chopp also oversaw a financial restructuring that, without layoffs or cuts to core academic programs, resulted in a sustainable five-year budget plan. Her endorsement of the DREAM Act, signing of the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, and joining the latter’s steering committee further enhanced Swarthmore’s legacy of ethical and social leadership.
Chopp is a well-known scholar of progressive religious movements in American culture and has recently focused her research on changing structures and cultures of higher education, on the role of liberal arts in a democratic society, and on religion and higher education. She has authored or edited five books and has published more than 50 articles in her areas of expertise. A native of Kansas, Chopp received a B.A. from Kansas Wesleyan University, an M.Div. from St. Paul School of Theology, and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.
Prior to Swarthmore, Chopp served as president of Colgate University, dean and Titus Street Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School, and provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at Emory University. Her tenures at these institutions were all marked by the bolstering of academic offerings and forward-looking strategic planning.
More than 20 vice presidents, deans, and vice provosts reported to Chopp at Emory, where she established three priorities for their work together: strengthening the schools and establishing cross-disciplinary programs, identifying new intellectual initiatives, and identifying and supporting colleagues with leadership potential. In her 15 years there, she also served as director of graduate studies for the Institute of Women’s Studies, dean of faculty and academic affairs at the Candler School, and Charles Howard Candler Professor of Theology at Emory.
At Yale, Chopp completed the rebuilding project for the entire Divinity School campus, developed an academic strategic plan that continues to be implemented, rebuilt financial and management structures, and implemented new approaches in alumni relations, communications, and fundraising.
As president of Colgate from 2002 to 2009, Chopp presided over the development and implementation of a comprehensive strategic plan that expanded the university’s academic space by the largest amount in its history; strengthened academic programs and developed new interdisciplinary institutes and centers; implemented a new vision for residential education that provides leadership education for students and new programs in arts, academic teams, and wellness; strengthened athletics; expanded university-community partnerships, including the establishment of the Upstate Institute; and developed the most successful campaign in Colgate’s history, with a goal of $400 million, which, by the time it had gone public, had raised more than half the goal while creating new alumni avenues of connection and support. During Chopp’s tenure, notable increases in admissions, improvement of student quality, and expansion of programs supporting diversity and globalization occurred.
Chopp’s many awards include the Alumni Achievement Award from the University of Chicago, the Alumna of the Year award from the University of Chicago Divinity School, and honorary doctorates in divinity from Wake Forest University, Hamilton College, Lehigh University, and Lafayette College. She is also the recipient of the Alumni Achievement Award from Kansas Wesleyan University, the Distinguished Alumna Award from Saint Paul School of Theology, and the Founder’s Day Award from Baker University. Chopp has served on the boards of the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the National Survey of Student Engagement and has served on the executive committee of the Annapolis Group, the Board of Trustees of the Carnegie Foundation for Teaching, and on the Council of Information and Library Resources. Chopp has also served as president of the American Academy of Religion and the Patriot League and is a past member of the Presidential Advisory Committee for the NCAA.
Chopp, who is 58, is married to Frederick Thibodeau. They have three sons.