William & Mary elects first woman president

William & Mary’s Board of Visitors today unanimously elected Katherine A. Rowe, currently provost of Smith College and a leader in digital innovation of the liberal arts, as the 28th president of the university. She will begin on July 1.

Rowe will succeed W. Taylor Reveley III, who is retiring June 30 after two decades with William & Mary, including 10 years as president. Rowe will be the first woman in William & Mary’s 325-year history to hold the presidency.

“The Board is thrilled to make this announcement and welcome Katherine Rowe to the William & Mary family,” said Rector Todd A. Stottlemyer ’85.

“Katherine is a widely respected and recognized leader, teacher, researcher, scholar, innovator and entrepreneur, and she is a passionate and articulate advocate for the importance of the liberal arts and their critical intersections with technology and research.”

He added, “We had a difficult mission: to find a leader to whom Taylor Reveley could pass the reins. In Katherine Rowe, we have found the ideal person to lead William & Mary at this point in the university’s history.”

Since 2014, Rowe has served as provost and dean of the faculty at Smith College in Massachusetts. Her areas of research and scholarship include Shakespeare, Milton, Spenser, Medieval and Renaissance drama and media history. She is deeply interested in design thinking, entrepreneurship and the digital humanities.

“It is an honor to be called to serve as the 28th president at William & Mary,” Rowe said. “Under President Taylor Reveley’s outstanding leadership over the past decade, William & Mary has become a model of intentional, mission-driven innovation in higher education. The vision of William & Mary conveyed to me over the past months, by everyone I met in this community, is so compelling: a deep appreciation of history and tradition; a commitment to fostering inclusive communities of teaching, learning and research; and an understanding of the value of change and innovation to advance a liberal arts mission. These commitments are essential to a university’s continued excellence in the 21st century. I am resolved to further that vision as we work together in the coming months and years.”

She added, “I am so excited to lead an institution that has – in addition to a premier academic program for undergraduates – distinguished graduate and professionals schools, championship athletic teams and a strong alumni culture of engagement and philanthropy. As someone who has spent 20 years at institutions with a deep commitment to educational access for students from all incomes and backgrounds, I am particularly drawn to William & Mary’s abiding commitment to serving the public interest. I look forward to working with – and learning from – the dedicated faculty and staff, talented students and William & Mary’s passionate alumni, parents and friends.”

A proven leader

At Smith College, Rowe leads academic strategy and planning, including overseeing all academic operations. She leads a nine-person senior team administering more than 600 faculty members and staff in almost 200 units, partnering with faculty leaders to empower shared governance.

As provost, Rowe works closely with the president, cabinet and trustees on a wide array of strategic priorities. During her tenure, Smith has transformed its liberal arts curriculum, greatly increased diversity in faculty hiring, launched one of the first statistical and data sciences majors at a liberal arts college (and the first at a women’s college) and broke national fundraising records for women’s colleges. She has also served as Smith’s interim vice president for inclusion, diversity and equity.

“I look forward to Katherine Rowe’s presidency with great enthusiasm and confidence,” said President Reveley. “A proven leader, Dr. Rowe understands American higher education and appreciates the vital role played by historic universities rooted in the liberal arts. She knows as well that we must be intensely entrepreneurial these days, open to new possibilities and willing to change. She has a keen appreciation for the part that alumni, in league with the campus community, play in William & Mary’s progress.

“Along with the Tribe writ large, Helen and I warmly welcome Katherine and her husband Bruce to William & Mary,” he added. “The President’s House, with its three resident ghosts, awaits their arrival.”

Rowe is co-founder and CEO of Luminary Digital Media, which has reimagined books with interactive reading apps that transform and enhance student engagement and learning of classic Shakespearean texts. She was also guest-editor for what is believed to be the first issue of a major humanities journal to experiment with open peer review when the Shakespeare Quarterly crowd-sourced its reviews in 2010.

This work has led to national recognition for Smith College and Rowe, who has been featured by the New York Times as well as the Atlantic’s special project, “Startup Nation: Ideas and Entrepreneurs on the Leading Edge.” She also represented liberal arts opportunities in teaching and learning data science at “Crunching the Numbers: An Atlantic Forum on Data Analytics and Tomorrow’s Workforce” in 2017.

“Dr. Rowe is a wonderful choice to lead William & Mary,” said Chancellor Robert Gates ’65, former U.S. Defense Secretary. “Taylor leaves a strong foundation upon which to build, and I look forward to supporting and working with Katherine as she moves the university forward.”

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