2019 McCabe Lecture – Mary Schmidt Campbell ’69

2019 McCabe Lecture – Mary Schmidt Campbell ’69


– For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Valerie Smith, President
of Swarthmore College. (audience applauding) Thank you and I am delighted to welcome you to the
Annual McCabe Lecture, a highlight of Garnet Weekend. Thank you all so much for being here. As you know, we have dedicated
the 2019-20 academic year to celebrating Black
excellence at Swarthmore. Throughout the year, we will
explore the contributions of Black Swarthmorians in the
areas of activism, the arts, research, pedagogy, and civic engagement at the college and beyond. It is particularly fitting then for us to welcome Mary Schmidt
Campbell, class of 1969 and President of Spelman
College back to campus today, to speak to us about the
role of America’s colleges and universities in expanding access to educational excellence
in her lecture entitled, education, the new civil rights. In a few moments, two
of our McCabe scholars will formally introduce
President Campbell. My job today is to tell
you about Thomas B. McCabe, the person for whom this lecture is named. Thomas B. McCabe, a
graduate of Swarthmore’s class of 1915, was Chairman and CEO of Scott Paper Company, Chairman
of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, and Public Governor of the
New York Stock Exchange. Mr. McCabe believed deeply
in the value of education and was widely honored for his
contributions to the field. During his lifetime, he
received honorary doctorates from 15 colleges and universities including Swarthmore. President Harry S. Truman
awarded him the medal of merit for his contributions to education, business, and government. Here at Swarthmore, McCabe’s name, vision, foresight and generosity endure. Generations of students have studied in the Thomas B. and
Jeanette L. McCabe library and started and ended their
Swarthmore experiences in the Scott Amphitheater,
a gift from Mr. McCabe. The inaugural McCabe lecture established in Thomas McCabe’s
honor, was held in 1986. Since then, the lecture has
reflected his commitment to education and his belief
in young people’s potential to make their mark on the world. To that end, he also established the McCabe Achievement Awards
Scholarship Fund in 1952, which has awarded
scholarships to more than 300 Swarthmore students since then. Many of them are here today. Two of them shall be
Billups and Tyler White, our co-presidents of this
year’s McCabe Scholars. Shelby Billups is a
senior psychology major and cognitive science minor from the Eastern Shore of Maryland. When she’s not running
experiments in the lab, she can be found in Lange Music Building rehearsing with her a
cappella group Mixed Company, singing with the college
chorus and garnet singers or practicing for her role in
the upcoming opera Cassandra. Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, Tyler White is an environmental studies and political science double major, who hopes to Center the
voices of the most vulnerable to craft policy that will
combat climate change. On campus, he serves
as an academic affairs chair of the Student
Government Association, as an organizing member of
the environmental justice organization campus
coalition Concerning Chester, a presidential sustainability
research fellow and outreach coordinator for
the Swarthmore African-American Student Society. Outside of the demands
of his active schedule, Tyler loves music,
writing, trying new food, taking photos and the occasional run. Please join me in welcoming
McCabe Co-presidents Shelby Billups and Tyler White. (audience applauding) – Good afternoon and
thank you President Smith. We’d like to welcome everyone to the 2019 Thomas B. McCabe lecture. It is our pleasure to
introduce this year’s speaker Miss Mary Schmidt
Campbell, class of 1969. Mary Schmidt Campbell is
President of Spelman College, a leading college
dedicated to the education and global leadership of Black women. Before joining Spelman,
she served for more than two decades as a Dean
of the New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. An art historian and former curator, president Campbell began her career in New York as an executive director of the Studio Museum in Harlem. The country’s first accredited
Black fine arts museum and a linchpin in Harlem’s redevelopment. President Campbell received
a bachelor’s degree in English literature
from Swarthmore College and a masters in art
history and a doctorate in humanities from Syracuse University. She’s a fellow of the American
Academy of Arts and Sciences and sits on the board of the
Alfred P Sloan Foundation, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the High Museum of Art and
the J. Paul Getty Trust, as well as on the advisory
boards of the Bonner Foundation and the association of governing boards of universities and colleges. – President Campbell
served as commissioner of New York City’s Department
of Cultural Affairs under two mayors, and in 2009, President Barack Obama
appointed her vice chair of the President’s Committee
on the arts and the humanities. In 2017, she was appointed
to serve as a member of the Mayoral Advisory
Commission on city art, monuments and markers in New York City. President Campbell
recently completed a book, “An American Odyssey: The Life
and Work of Romare Bearden” for Oxford University Press. For this work, she received the 2018 Hooks National Book Award
from the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change
at the University of Memphis. She and her husband, George Campbell Jr., President Emeritus of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Arts, have three sons including
Kai Campbell, class of 1990 and six grandchildren. Today President Campbell will speak about the role of
colleges and universities and the role that they
should play to expand access to a diverse, inclusive
population in her lecture entitled Education, the new civil rights. What is the role of America’s
colleges and universities in expanding access to
educational excellence? – [Both] Please join us in
welcoming President Campbell. (audience applauding) – Thank you Tyler and Shelby. It’s so wonderful to be back
here at Swarthmore College. I missed my 50th reunion celebration, which was this year in June. So, I consider this sort
of my stand-in celebration and it’s wonderful. President Smith right there, I was so delighted when you extended the invitation for me to
deliver the McCabe lecture. I have to tell you I read everything President Smith sends out. And I love getting the messages
not only because I learn all about the incredible things
that are going on at Swarthmore, but in her words, I can hear
the values and principles that we cherish at Swarthmore. And I just want to publicly thank you for your extraordinary leadership. (audience applauding) And I can see from the two McCabe scholars that I’ve already met, we
are having such a great time having a conversation backstage that the group of McCabe scholars is quite extraordinary as well. Are you here? Can you stand if the other
McCabe scholars are here? I just want to acknowledge them and congratulate them. (audience applauding) You know one of our Spelman
alumni is Marian Wright Edelman who founded the Children’s Defense Fund. And she says that service
is the rent we pay for the privilege of
being here on this earth. And I’d like to think that when
life blesses you with gifts you have the choice to use those gifts to bless others, and it’s wonderful to see the McCabe Scholars doing just that. And congratulations to
the Black Cultural Center. It was not here when I
was here 50 years ago and I walked over and had lunch at the Black Cultural Center with a group of the students there and I thought what an extraordinary place. How dynamic, what a welcoming place it is, and it’s really, I’m really
delighted to see that we are using this occasion to celebrate the 50th anniversary of
the Black Cultural Center. Yes. (audience applauding) So my title of my talk this morning, my talk this morning has a long title. The whole title is, educational
equity the new civil rights, the role of colleges and universities in expanding educational excellence. And so the topic raises
a lot of questions. And what do I mean by
educational excellence and educational equity? And why is it so urgent
to expand that excellence and equity and for whom? And why should small
liberal arts colleges like Swarthmore or Spelman or any
other college or university, for that matter, bear
responsibility for that expansion? I mean if we were to take
on the responsibility of expanding educational
excellence and equity as part of our missions, how would we measure success? And don’t we already have
enough on our plates? About a month ago, President Smith and I participated in a presidents dinner at the National Press Club. A group of about a dozen presidents and as many journalists convene for an on-the-record dinner conversation about the most pressing issues facing higher education today. During the evening, an
abundance of topics came up. From enrollment fragility, changes in Title IX regulations, rules governing college athletic programs, threats to international
student populations. The overall vulnerability of
our fundamental business model. The impact of a looming economic downturn were just a few of the
topics we discussed. To listen to the conversation that night, you might come away thinking
that higher education is a severely beleaguered sector. And that presidents already
have an impossible task. Why would we take on
yet another challenge? Well the answer I believe
is that we have no choice. For one, demographic
changes are transforming the racial makeup and cultural
identity of our citizenry, the electorate, and the
composition of the public sphere. Consider for example the historic outcomes in the United States
House of Representatives after last year’s midterm elections. We elected more women and people of color than at any other time in our history. On the one hand the election
of those men and women is an embrace and celebration of our country’s growing diversity, on the part of a significant
number of Americans. In my state, the state of Georgia, we came hair’s breadth within electing the first African American
woman, Stacey Abrams, as the country’s first
Black woman governor. And I can’t resist observing that she’s a Spelman alumna. In the Democratic Presidential Primaries, an admittedly crowded field, there are several women as well as candidates who are Latinx,
Asian, and African Americans and it really makes the point
that our political landscape churns with change and possibility. On the other hand, shifting
political landscapes notwithstanding all types of inequalities are actually growing. Take for example college completion rates. In 2017, the National Student
Clearinghouse Research Center reported that at four-year
colleges and universities, these are national statistics. This is not necessarily
Swarthmore or Spelman. These are national statistics. At four-year colleges and
universities, the six-year college completion rate for
Black students was 45.9%. That’s under half. Under half of the Black students who go to four-year colleges, graduate. The completion rate for
Latinx students is 55%. So, that’s just a little over a half. College completion by contrast
is 67.2% for white students and 71.7% for Asian students. These trends repeat
themselves when we look at other types of educational credentials, such as certificates or two-year colleges. At two year in certificate
granting institutions, Asian and white students, complete at a rate of 63.2% and 62% respectively. Latinx students complete
at a rate of 45.8% and Black students at 38%. Black students not only
complete at a lower rate, they leave college with
significantly more debt. Income inequality is another trend that impacts educational excellence. And income inequality is greater now and growing more rapidly
than 50 years ago. A 2013 study completed
by Sean Riordan entitled the Widening Income Achievement
Gap makes the point. In 1970, families in the
90th percentile of income earned five times as much as families in the tenth percentile. In 2013, top earners made 11 times what low-wage families earn. Why does that matter? High income predicts access to excellent educational resources. High income students are more likely to attend excellent high schools, schools in higher income
suburban neighborhoods that typically have high
percentages of white students receive on average 53 billion dollars more in public funding than schools in poor, urban, typically
Black and Latinx neighborhoods. We know that income is the
most reliable predictor of attendance at the
country’s most selective and academically highly ranked schools. High income students are more likely to have had experiences
that build soft skills necessary for success, not only in college but in the workforce. Statistics for income growth
in Black and Latinx communities according to a 2017 forbes.com analysis, predict that income in Black
and Hispanic communities will decline in the next 20 to 30 years, as will net worth, even as some portions of those populations grow. Stagnant income and wealth will continue to pose barriers to these communities as they seek educational advancement. This convergence of
lagging college completion and tightening economic circumstances comes at a distinctly inopportune time. Our country’s workforce
needs are changing radically. Those without college degrees will find high-wage
high-skill jobs foreclosed. High-skilled jobs will depend
increasingly on the skills of a good liberal arts education. The possession of an agile growth mindset that can embrace lifelong learning, comfort with complexity and
ability for critical analysis, the capacity to engage in
cross-cultural exploration, the ability to solve problems,
work on teams, collaborate and the capacity for creative invention. Imagination, the ability to
envision what is not there and move with confidence
towards that vision will be as important a skill
as knowing how to code. When I attended Swarthmore,
which admittedly was a very, very long time ago, it was permissible not to
know what you wanted to be or what career you wanted to choose. Education as a pathway
to the world of ideas and knowledge, exploration of the new and the different and most importantly, exploration of yourself. All of those were paramount and I would venture to guess
that most college presidents still champion all of those
reasons for attending college. A rising tide of public opinion, however, questions the value of a
high price, liberal arts college education. They insist that the cost
severely burdens families and the debt that often
accompanies a college education, unduly burdens college graduates. Why should families and
students cripple themselves financially with debt to contemplate ideas and to undertake a
journey of self-discovery? The public and our politicians continue to raise their voices demanding
that undergraduate colleges justify the considerable
cost, time, and debt invested in going to a four-year college. They want to know what does attendance at our schools at the
very least contribute to a 21st century workforce. Now that I have served
as a college president for four years, I have to tell you that when I look at the state of Black America, 50 years after the Civil Rights Movement and 50 years after my graduation
from Swarthmore College, I want more from college
education as well. We thought civil rights
was a turning point. We all thought that civil rights
was going to be a milestone and that from that time
on, things in our country would get demonstrably better. But at every turn, there
are mounting inequalities. I’m going to give you just three examples. Infant and maternal mortality
rates for Black women and children outpace
the general population. Since 1970, our population
of young Black and Latinx men has been decimated, as the prison population
has risen by 300%. For virtually every major illness, from heart disease to
cancer, high blood pressure, you name it, there are
crippling health disparities in the Black community. I see all of these statistics
show up as realities in the lives of the
brilliant, high-performing 2000 Black women who
attend Spelman College. I want to feel that the
education that they’re getting is a ticket to a high-speed train to social mobility, economic liberation, and multi-generational wealth, as well as a journey of self-discovery. I want for them what Bettina Love refers to as abolitionist education. And I want others to
feel the way King did, when in 1963, he wrote the
letter from a Birmingham jail and spoke of the fierce urgency of now. But the truth is we are more divided now as a country than ever. And the stakes could not be higher. Technological change
stalks us at every turn. Every high-tech leader from Bill Gates to Yuval Noah Harari, the author of “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” to Stanford Business lecturer Tony Seba, to even one of our Democratic
candidates, Andrew Yang, tells us that we are
on the cusp of a major and disruptive technological revolution. Whatever has come before
the internet social media will seem to be modest ripples in the face of the volcanic
disruptions to come, we’re told that artificial
intelligence, machine learning, quantum computing,
advances of biotechnology will eliminate in the next 20 to 30 years, possibly 80 million unskilled jobs. Telecommuting teleimmigration
and robotics might eliminate some white-collar jobs as well. Yang was quoted in the New York Times as stating all you need
is self-driving cars to destabilize society. And we’re about to do the same thing to “Retail workers, call centers
workers, fast-food workers, “insurance companies,
and accounting firms.” If ever there was a need for
the fierce urgency of now it is today, right now. Where is our will to change and disrupt all of these trends, these
growing inequalities, these growing inequities? The good news is that we have exhibited unyielding will when it comes
to education in the past. Spelman College was born out of the will of Baptist missionaries. Two white women from Salem, Massachusetts, teachers who were determined
to come to the city of Atlanta to start a school for
recently freed Black women 20 years after the end of the Civil War. They called their school, the Atlanta Baptist Women’s Seminary and their school was started in the cellar of a Black church,
Friendship Baptist Church, which still is in Atlanta, supported by a Black pastor, Father Kroff. The seminary eventually was named for an abolitionist family, Laura Spelman Rockefeller, the spouse of the school’s benefactor, John D Rockefeller. The Pulitzer prize winning novelist Alice Walker, who is an alumna of Spelman, has one of her characters
in the Color Purple, attend the school in the year 1924, and that character in this Color Purple is writing a letter to her sister and she describes this school, this Spelman, what had become now Spelman College, as “astonishing.” Marshaling their will, women and men Black and White citizens created
an astonishing college for Black women in the 19th Century. A college that continues to
astonish 138 years later. In my lifetime when I
was 10 years old in 1957. Yes I am that old, what was then the Soviet Union launched a self piloted satellite that
orbited the earth, Sputnik. The Soviet Union was our
mortal Cold War enemy and the American public was outraged that they had outpaced us. And this country’s response was immediate. All of a sudden math and science ruled in elementary and middle
school and high school. All of a sudden my
elementary and middle schools had a gifted program and those of us with any hint of talent
were loaded up with homework and propelled into accelerated programs designed to make us smarter
and better educated. This sudden verse of
educational excellence was completely bipartisan. A Republican, General
Dwight D. Eisenhower, as president launched
the educational upgrades. The Democratic president who
followed him, John F. Kennedy, saw him and raised the ante. Kennedy challenged the
country to literally shoot for the moon and be the first
to put a man on the moon. The sense of reaching the impossible became a national priority. And education was one of the drivers. Swarthmore College marshaled
its will 50 years ago. As I said, this year’s the
50th reunion of my class, class of 1969 and when the
freshman class showed up on campus in the fall of 1965, there were about 20 Black students. I was among them. Swarthmore’s total student
population was 900, and our arrival pushed
the Black population over just 2% of the
total student population. And our arrival was a disruption. We disrupted what was then
a higher education norm. And that is the practice
of our elite colleges in this country, of accepting only one or two Black students at a time. By the time, we graduated the college was questioning deeply
the kind of place it intended to become. When I was at Swarthmore,
we had no Black faculty. There were no Black staff. There were no Black administrators. There were no Black members
of the board of managers, and that state could not be more different from the way Swarthmore College is today. Here we are, 50 years later, a radically different
educational institution, celebrating our 50th Anniversary of the Black Cultural Center. Celebrating the fact that
diversity reigns here. Diversity is the norm. And the student body, the faculty, the staff, the administrative leadership and the board of managers, your leader, diversity reigns and it enriches
the values and principles of excellence, service,
and ethical leadership. So, here’s the challenge
that I’ve put before us now. A challenge all of us to marshal the will, to play a role in achieving
educational excellence in the K through 12 environment, that bridges into our schools. I challenge colleges and universities, large and small, public and private, to take an active role in disrupting the trends that are hamstringing the prospects every day
right now of students in many of our K through 12
schools in our communities. I challenge not only our institutions, but our students, who
are motivated to serve and to take responsibility
for the students, who are coming after them, and so here are three
ideas I’d like to propose as possibilities for instigating change. One, I’d like to see a
national student-led program to achieve literacy in
our K through 12 schools. Two, I’d like to see a
national student-led program to achieve math proficiency in our K through 12 schools. And three, I’d like for
all of our institutions, our small liberal arts, large publics across the board to embrace teaching across the spectrum of education, and embrace that along with
focusing on 18 to 24 year olds. This was an idea frankly that I heard President Smith express
when we had our dinner at the National Press Club. So, let me talk about
how, a little bit about how we might begin to think
of those kinds of programs. When I came to Spelman, I
invited a group of principals from all of the local schools that were in our neighborhoods. Elementary, middle
school, and high school. I invited them to dinner and
frankly my goal was really to kind of share with ’em
all the wonderful things that Spelman was doing to
help out their public schools. I told ’em about the Stem programs and the math clubs and the chess clubs and all these music groups et cetera, and they were very polite
when they listened to me. And when I got finished, I asked them, I said so what could
we do that could really make a difference in your schools? And to a person, elementary
middle and high school, the principal said, “You
can help us teach our “students how to read. “They can’t read in the third grade. “They get to middle school “and they can’t read and
by the time they get, “the high school those
reading deficiencies “have totally crippled them. “And if you can do that,
you will have helped us “really achieve a major milestone.” So we took that to heart. We engaged a literacy expert. We sent out a call to our students. About 150 responded to our call and we trained them, rigorous training on how to teach literacy. We had approximately a 100 students who went through the training and decided they were going
to go out in the school. So, we sent those 100 students out to fifth, sixth, and seventh grades to teach literacy. After two years, we
received from the schools, from the reading specialists, the results. And the results demonstrated
that those classrooms that had the literacy
assistance of our students in fifth, sixth, and seventh grades, had reading scores that improved from 10% to 21%. Now there are many reasons that explained the improvement in the assessments. We know that the students who received the tutorials were
actually in school longer, and we know that having
a longer day in school typically raises performance. We learned that the students
loved to read out loud to the students and that in teaching them, this activity of reading as a group began to forge real ties and
connections between the students who were teaching them and the students who were being taught. But most of all what they said is that our students showing up consistently over and over and being
there over and over, develop the kind of trust that these students need in order to create a successful
learning environment. So, we’ve taken this notion, and we’re now intending to expand it to two other colleges and universities that are in our Atlanta
University cluster. Morehouse College and
Clark Atlanta College. And the idea and also, I’m
sorry actually three colleges and Morehouse School of Medicine, which is part of the cluster. With the idea that if
we could build a corps of 400 or 450 students who went out and who can maintain that consistency that our own students could
become the agents of change. Having thought about
that in terms of reading, we turn then to math proficiency. And in this case, we discovered a program that already existed. And I’m a big fan of if something
is working, replicate it. And this program was
started almost 20 years ago by Wayne State and it’s
something called math corps, but the principle of
students teaching students is still very much the same. So, what in fact math corps
is is deceptively simple. It begins with a group of math
professors in the college, and those math corps professors
provide rigorous training in math and the teaching
of math to their students to college students. During a six-week summer program, those college students
provide math instruction to a corps of high school
students in the afternoons. In the mornings, the high school students then teach a corps of
middle school students. And at the end of the summer over that six-week period, you have the college students, the high school students
and the math students, who’ve all participated in this chain of instructions so to speak. The instruction continues
through Saturdays throughout the school year, and over several years, what is evident in math
corps as its played out in other places is spectacular success. A rise in the ACT scores,
a rise in high school graduation rates, a rise
in college attendance and anecdotally high student
and parental approval. We plan to bring math corps
to Atlanta next summer, and we plan to again
engage all of the colleges that are in our cluster in the activity of having our students help
students help other students. And if you think of what we could do on a national basis, that could be a powerful engine of change. The third item is to educate
across the entire spectrum and as I said, this is an
idea that President Smith made during the evening that we spent at the National Press Club. She observed that higher education doesn’t have to limit itself
just to the 18-24 population. And that in fact if we
want to truly disrupt the inequities of income and education, we have to be present as institutions along the continuum. So, in addition to asserting
the presence of our students in K through 12, we need to
play a more aggressive role in the education of the
non-traditional student. For many years, Spelman has had a program for non-traditional students, but we naively expected
those students with families and jobs to be able to attend
the same schedule of classes available to our traditional students. But beginning to think creatively how we might offer that
program in different platforms, in different settings to make it possible for the non-traditional student to acquire a high level of educational excellence, is something we think is a challenge that we will have to
meet in the coming years. And finally I just wanted to
think about colleges in general and what they represent in our country. The scholar Carol Dweck
has written a great deal about cultivating a growth mindset, a nimbleness and agility of mind that allows us to pivot and
move as circumstances demand. Institutions that are
truly good institutions have to have a growth mindset and what I love about the
college I attended, Swarthmore, and the college I now serve, Spelman, is that they’re both
devoted to a growth mindset, even as they are stalwart in
defense of their long-standing values, mission, and purpose. And what I love too is that
both Spelman and Swarthmore are communities whose
faculty are dedicated to the success of each and every student. One of the former presidents
of Morehouse College noted that our colleges should
hold a crown over the heads of their students. They should hold a crown
and be willing to put in the hard work to
help their students grow into the crown. Swarthmore and Spelman are the kinds of learning environments that
believe that each and every student can succeed. And we embrace a sense
of radical hopefulness in our teaching and learning environments that enables those conditions to prevail. So, how would we measure success if in fact we were to take
this on as a challenge? This challenge to go out and try to grow educational equity in our country. Well I think we’ll know we’re succeeding when more high performing,
high-needs students not only fill the seats
of our best colleges and universities, but
succeed to degree completion. We’ll know we’re succeeding when philanthropists are competing to support those students. We’ll know we’re succeeding
when they master the skills and competencies of critical
thinking, solving problems, working collaboratively and speaking the language
of technology fluently. We’ll know we are succeeding when those same students not only graduate and go to professional
schools and graduate schools, but when they make
their way into the rooms where it happens, places
like the Supreme Court. They’ll challenge the
humanity of existing laws. We know we are succeeding
when those students enter the research laboratories where the fundamental work of
knowledge creation takes place and the knowledge created is shaped by the very fact that
they are in the room. We know we are succeeding
when they find their way into the classroom and
stand before their students as the possibility their
students need to see. We know we are succeeding
when we walk down the streets of this country and see a sea of crowns moving with sturdy
confidence through the world. Thank you. (audience applauding) Thank you, thank you. (audience applauding) Thank you, thank you. (audience applauding) Thank you. (audience applauding)

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