Provost Michael Halleran would be the first to say that his job is not all smooth sailing. Over almost a decade serving as chief academic officer of the College of William and Mary, he has learned to reconcile the needs of students and faculty at the College with goals of the institution in regard to the national landscape. Halleran has announced his decision to step down at the end of the 2018-19 academic year to resume his job as a classical studies professor.
During his time at the College, Halleran has combated calamitous waters and embraced many winds of change. Under his tenure, the College has adopted a new financial model with the William and Mary Promise, overhauled the academic curriculum and formalized an initiative to incentivize diverse faculty hiring, among other efforts.
“There are some rough waves out there, the winds are stirring up, and so the answer isn’t just to stay put,” Halleran said.
College President Katherine Rowe said that it has been a pleasure working with Halleran since she was sworn in this summer. She said that his support ensured a smooth transition for her.
“It’s a big job, and Michael has done it exceptionally well for nearly a decade,” Rowe said in a written statement. “At the completion of this year, he will share with the late Gill Cell the longest tenure as provost in William & Mary’s history.”
Halleran characterizes his job as provost as a “communicatarian,” since he is responsible to one constituent: the College. There are many different programs, people and institutions under his purview. These include academic and research programs, academic budgets, institutional planning, faculty development, deans, information technology, e-learning and institutional research, among other administrative functions. The Reves Center, the Muscarelle Museum, the William and Mary Washington Center and the Omohundro Institute for Early American History and Culture also report to the provost.
While the demands for this job are extensive, Halleran said that he has enjoyed it immensely and appreciates the opportunity he has had to get things done on a larger scale. He has been able to implement initiatives that have changed the structure of the College.
One of those changes has been the conception and implementation of the COLL curriculum. During his first year as provost, Halleran led a campus-wide conversation. Using that dialogue as a starting point, he authored a paper that became the foundation of the new curriculum.
“Good practice says you should examine and reexamine things periodically,” Halleran said. “There was a sense among faculty that the GER had become a stale checklist.”
Halleran left the mechanics of creating this curriculum up to the faculty. According to Halleran, faculty were very careful and thoughtful about drafting the requirements. He encouraged them in this task to “think expansively” and take advantage of the chance to invigorate the general education of the College.
“If all we had done was tweak a GER or two I would have been disappointed,” Halleran said.
The curriculum is usually only overhauled once a generation and affects the life of every single student on campus, so updating it has vast implications. Halleran said that he believes it has been a success and has provided opportunities for students and faculty to think beyond and across disciplines.
Formalizing the initiative to increase hiring of diverse faculty was a critical project that Halleran was personally involved in. He presented on the lack of diversity in the faculty as compared to diversity among students and took some financial responsibility for hiring more diverse faculty.
Currently, if a dean approaches Halleran’s office about wanting to hire a faculty member who would add to a department’s diversity, the provost’s office will pay for a certain amount of their salary. However, that financial contribution would gradually decrease over the years.
“Diversity and inclusion are not the same thing,” Halleran said. “I would argue that you need changes in the former to accelerate in the latter. … We have work to do.”
College spokesperson Brian Whitson said that he respects Halleran’s ability to work well with faculty.
“He has done so much during his time at William & Mary, particularly when it comes to advocating for the faculty and ensuring we advance the academic mission,” Whitson said in an email. “I’ll miss Michael’s sense of humor in our leadership meetings — and his flashy socks.”
Throughout his tenure, Halleran said that he has sometimes been less effective than he wished he could have been. Citing translation errors as a challenge, Halleran said that there were times he felt that he could have done a better job communicating between the many different factions of the College that report to him.
Having been at the College for over nine years, Halleran has seen the institution grow in many different ways. He said that he values how the College has traversed sometimes perilous waters. While acknowledging the current political climate, he said that the College needs to focus on the essentials: What students and faculty value.
“We don’t need a radical fix,” Halleran said. “We are not broken, we are far, far from it. We are a wonderful vessel, a sailboat, we just have to tack into the winds.”
Regarding his successor, Halleran said that he is confident in Rowe’s ability to choose wisely. He hopes that they will be interested in academics and not have a particular agenda to advance. Most importantly, he hopes that they will want to make the College stronger and more welcoming, and above all, value the “particular excellence that is William and Mary.”
“I hope my successor is better in every single way,” Halleran said. “… I hope to see a university filled with even more opportunity than it is today.”
As for what is on the horizon for Halleran, he is anticipating taking a year of sabbatical and being able to take a breath and teach again. He said that he knew he wanted to teach before he even knew what it was that he wanted to teach. Taking a step down will allow him to pursue this passion.
“A dean or provost never started out their career saying I want to be a dean or a provost,” Halleran said.
Though he will no longer serve at the academic helm, Halleran has faith that there are open waters ahead for the future of the College.
“I am highly confident in the outcome of this voyage,” Halleran said.