Biographical / Historical
Robert Cross was born on in Grinnel, Iowa, in 1924. He went to high school at Phillips Exeter Academy and then attended Harvard University for both undergraduate and graduate studies. He received his A.B. in 1947, M.A. in 1951, and Ph.D. in 1955. He was a pilot in the United States Air Force during World War II and a Major in the Retired Reserve. Cross came to Swarthmore for the first time in 1952 where he taught history for seven years. He was also the College's first Director of Admissions for one year in 1957. In 1959 he left Swarthmore to become a History Professor and eventually Department Chairman at Columbia University. In 1967 he was elected president of Hunter College, a position he held for two years before being named the tenth president of Swarthmore College in 1969.
The Swarthmore College Campus was in a period of turmoil when Cross became president in the fall of 1969. His predecessor, Courtney C. Smith had suffered a fatal heart attack in January 1969. In March 1970, the Swarthmore African-American Student Society held a two-day sit-in the President's office, leading to the establishment of a Black Cultural Center on campus. In May 1970, President Richard Nixon ordered American troops into Cambodia, producing campus-wide resentment. Many students refused to take final exams or turn in final papers. By fall, the campus had settled down, and Cross became known and well-liked by the students for his open style as President. During his tenure, he had to contend with the Federal Bureau of Investigation who made several visits, both on campus and off, investigating crimes committed in the area.
In his time at Swarthmore, Cross helped modernize the management structure, including creating the positions of provost and vice president for development. However, Cross decided that he didn't enjoy the pressures of college administration.. On October 1, 1971, President Cross announced his resignation effective the end of that school year.