Tuesday, Oct. 11, the College of William and Mary President Katherine Rowe attended the October Faculty Assembly meeting to give a presentation in response to the Open Letter she received from 214 faculty members. During her presentation and the question and answer period that followed, Rowe mainly discussed Vision 2026, the exploration of a computing and data science school, faculty hiring processes and diversity, equity and inclusion at the College.
According to the archive of monthly Faculty Assembly meeting minutes, the last Assembly meeting Rowe attended was May 14, 2020. The October meeting was held in Tucker 127A and had a crowded faculty audience — eager to hear the President formally respond to their frustration regarding a growing chasm between the College administration and faculty in strategic decision making.
“I hope that this can be a moment for faculty assembly fully to express your role as a representative body that ensures effective faculty participation in the governance of the university as a whole,” Rowe said. “I am so pleased to work with you on that goal this year. And the desire raised by all our colleagues who signed the Open Letter, the desire for more faculty involvement in strategic planning and those strategic issues is timely and it’s welcome.”
Rowe explained how in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, faculty engagement was not sufficient, and she hopes to see more this year moving forward.
“This fall is the first semester since 2019 that public health emergencies have not been my number one priority,” Rowe said. “It’s amazing. It’s a little disorienting. It’s awesome. So this is precisely the right moment to be very intentional on how we reaffirm shared governance together.”
“This fall is the first semester since 2019 that public health emergencies have not been my number one priority. It’s amazing. It’s a little disorienting. It’s awesome. So this is precisely the right moment to be very intentional on how we reaffirm shared governance together.”
When Rowe opened up the floor to questions, various professors voiced a feeling of a lack of opportunity for faculty involvement throughout the decision-making process and a consistent presentation of resolutions as fait accompli by administration. President of the Faculty Assembly Professor John Gilmour presented a metaphor to Rowe, saying that some faculty feel as if they have consistently been presented with an already iced cake with no room to make corrections.
“If you present it to somebody as a fully iced cake and ask for their advice, there’s not much they can do. And so sometimes for the faculty it feels like with decisions, we’re being handed an iced cake and asked for advice about it. So, what I would like is for you to explain how we can involve Faculty Assembly in important decision making in the cake assembly stage as opposed to the post-icing phase,” Gilmour said.
“And so sometimes for the faculty it feels like with decisions, we’re being handed an iced cake and asked for advice about it. So, what I would like is for you to explain how we can involve Faculty Assembly in important decision making in the cake assembly stage as opposed to the post-icing phase.”
Rowe noted that she plans to ask for suggestions and pull answers from across the entire College faculty moving forward.
“I’m pretty empirical and I work in phased ways,” Rowe said. “That’s what I’ve done since I got here. And that’s what I’m going to continue to do.”
Much of Rowe’s presentation to the faculty was concerned with responding to the criticism of Vision 2026 that the faculty presented in the Open Letter.
“For example, the release of the strategic plan, Vision 2026, was publicly announced without any opportunity for the Faculty Assembly or the individual faculties to develop the final plan, to review it, or even to read it prior to announcement at Charter Day and publication in the local media. Even today, many faculty do not comprehend how ‘Data,’ ‘Water,’ ‘Careers,’ and ‘Democracy’ constitute a compelling set of guiding stars, nor how these four parts are supposed to form a coherent vision for William & Mary,” the Open Letter read.
Rowe fielded multiple questions about the ‘data’ aspect of Vision 2026 and explained why the College is exploring a computing and data science school.
“We’ve had on queue, for something like four years since I got here, the desire to elevate in particular arenas of STEM. And data in particular, it’s not something that we went seeking, it basically came knocking on our door really loudly,” Rowe said.
Yet, Rowe heard questions from faculty like American Studies and English Professor Arthur Knight about whether the need for an entirely separate school for the discipline is necessary. Knight wanted to ensure that administration is running a cost-benefit analysis on this issue.
“What happens if we do it as a school? What’s good about that and what could be bad about it? And what happens if we keep it in Arts and Sciences? What could be good about that and what’s bad about it?” Knight said.
The importance of data from an administrative perspective lies, in part, in the notion of an impending demographic cliff on higher education, set to impact the College in 2026. Rowe explained that this ‘demographic cliff’ is the mark of a national rapid decline in the traditional college-going population of students. In anticipation of this enrollment decline, the administration is attempting to reconcile what the College does well with the desires of prospective students.
“Here’s what we know, as I said, our students coming in are seeking rigorous academics, and they associate that with strong STEM programs in a liberal arts context as the top characteristics of a great university,” Rowe said.
Rowe also noted that prospective students will want to see a heavy investment in career planning and development.
“We are really strong in study abroad, in research. And if we add internships to that for every major, we have a killer proposition to students who are really interested in pursuing lives of purposeful work, self determination, changing, having an impact in the world,” Rowe said.
Professor Iyabo Obasanjo brought up the idea that this demographic cliff notion also means that there will be changes to the racial and ethnic demographics of the College that require a serious look at the diversity, equity and inclusion policies of the institution moving forward.
“What those students, those diverse students are looking for are institutions that emphasize social justice.”
“What those students, those diverse students are looking for are institutions that emphasize social justice,” Obasanjo said.
Further on this topic, English Professor Suzanne Hagedorn drew attention to the Ivy Planning Group’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic Assessment of the College. The results of this report “will inform W&M’s Inclusive Excellence Framework and the Vision 2026 strategic planning effort,” according to statements from the College.
“Supposedly, as a result of the Ivy Planning Group report, we had to do a diversity training and there’s going to be a set salary equity study,” Hagedorn said. “It said that that salary equity study was going to be done as a part of Vision 2026. That was in February, it’s October now. When is that salary equity study going to happen?”
Rowe responded to questions of diversity, equity and inclusion noting that these principles are at the core of Vision 2026.
“Everything in our inclusive excellence framework, that DEI strategic plan that was developed before the strategic plan, is baked into every part of the strategic plan. So, you’ll see that called out separately and … it’s published that strategic plan. We are walking those core goals for inclusive excellence right through this strategic plan. We didn’t … change them because we think they’re the right ones and we think we need to drive hard for them. So that’s the … ‘where does DEI sit in the Vision 2026 itself?’” Rowe said.
Rowe also explained that solutions to tackle issues of environmental injustice are at the forefront of the “water” initiative of Vision 2026. She also noted the importance of the College continuing community and educational partnerships with minority groups in the greater Williamsburg area.
Towards the end of the meeting, Rowe returned to the topic of bridging the communication divide between administration and faculty that the writers of the Open Letter expressed.
“I would say, Arts and Sciences, like, we’re big. Part of the problem is scale. We have to figure out communication solutions that manage scale, so that when I feel like I’m bringing something forward, I can know if I actually have and if it’s landed with you, that’s critical,” Rowe said.
The next Faculty Assembly meeting will be held on Nov. 15.