Swarthmore College
  • So what do you do?

    Here’s our mission. In a nutshell, we try to ask “what is liberal education?” without beating the shortest path between that question and an anodyne, non-threatening answer to it. We want to know what that phrase has meant, currently means, and might mean in the future. We want to know why some people love the ideas and practices that are gathered around liberal arts education and some people disdain them. We want to explore this with Swarthmore faculty through their existing practices, with colleagues at the widest imaginable range of institutions, and with publics who are curious or doubting about higher education and its aspirations.

  • Do you really mean it when you say "you don't know what liberal arts is"?

    No. Everyone associated with the Aydelotte already has a lot of intuitions about what liberal arts means. Some of us have done specific scholarly research into the history of higher education. The Aydelotte has been engaged in specific research projects and programs that have added to those understandings.

    So why do we say that we don’t know what liberal arts means, even if we aim to find out? Because we take this to be basic to thinking about an ongoing research mission. Research is never finished and is always contingent. To be interested in researching what liberal education has been, is now and might yet become requires the suspension of certainty about any part of that ongoing work.

  • Who is your audience? Is the Aydelotte Foundation for me?

    The Aydelotte Foundation is for anyone interested in exploring the meanings and practices of liberal arts education. We are particularly committed to engaging with scholars and administrators at all kinds of institutions; researchers and writers working on issues related to higher education; prospective and current college students and their families looking for information about liberal arts education; and people interested in liberal arts education in international contexts.

  • How do I get involved?
  • Who is involved with the Aydelotte Foundation?

    Here’s a list of the Aydelotte staff members.

  • Liberal education is under attack! Don't you want to defend it?

    Yes. We believe in liberal education: its past, present and future. Our intuition, though, is that the vagueness and promotionally-driven defensiveness of most institutional conversations about “liberal arts” is costly in the present moment for a variety of reasons. We believe that it is time to stop deferring difficult conversations within higher education–not the conventional sense of “difficulty” preferred by “disruptors”, by people who can’t wait for us to fail–but the conversations about underlying values and philosophy that would help faculty, students and administrators make clear decisions in defense of our best traditions and aspirations. We think that it’s not surprising that many parents, students and wider publics are suspicious of liberal arts as a concept, because it is so generalized and undefined. We think the best way forward is through asking hard questions and doing serious research.

  • How do you fit into Swarthmore College? Are you an academic department?

    The directors of the Aydelotte Foundation have been drawn from its faculty, our Associate Director is a member of the administrative staff of the institution, and our current offices are on the second floor of Parrish Hall, right next to Admissions. So we’re definitely a proud part of Swarthmore College. At the same time, our mission stands somewhat outside the everyday business of college administration and teaching, and we have a strong interest in connecting to academic institutions that are very unlike Swarthmore. To some extent, we think we are somewhat sui generis and we want to be seen as such.

  • What's Aydelotte? Is that a person?

    Frank Aydelotte was the president of Swarthmore College from 1921 to 1940. He had a major impact not just on Swarthmore but on higher education as a whole. His signature initiative at Swarthmore was the Honors Program, influenced in part by Aydelotte’s excitement about his encounter with the early Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University. Aydelotte’s vision of Honors at Swarthmore emphasized wide-ranging seminars that crossed multiple disciplines and provided a life-shaping challenge to intellectually ambitious students. He went on to head the Institute for Advance Study at Princeton, where he took up Abraham Flexner’s interest in the “usefulness of uselessness”, a sense that liberal education needed to make room for basic research that had no obvious or immediate application. Our founding donor, James Lovelace, felt that Aydelotte was an inspirational figure with a strong connection to Swarthmore who was dedicated to trying new programs and thinking about the history and future of liberal education, and therefore just right for the name of our organization.

  • How do you say "Aydelotte"?


  • You're a foundation! Do you give grants? Can I apply?

    We’re not a 501 (c) foundation. We’re a foundation in the same sense as various think tanks and research institutes that use the word foundation in their names are. We’re part of Swarthmore College, but our title of “foundation” indicates that we are in many ways independent of its everyday administrative structure. The director of the Aydelotte Foundation reports directly to the President of the college, and the Aydelotte has its own outside Advisory Board.