June 22, College of William and Mary President Katherine Rowe announced the initiation of the Campus Comprehensive Plan process to the College community. Set to be completed in the fall of 2025, the Campus Comprehensive Plan includes three components: the Housing and Dining Comprehensive Facilities Plan, the Learning Spaces Plan and the Landscape Plan. The comprehensive plan comes as part of the College’s multi-year course towards reaffirmation of accreditation in 2026.
“By 2025, the university must update our 2015 Campus Master Plan: a living document that guides how William & Mary stewards our multiple campuses to support our educational mission,” Rowe wrote in the announcement email. “That plan will be expanded, providing a comprehensive framework that includes three new elements focused on living, learning and working, and the landscapes in which we do so.”
Rowe set the estimated deadline for the Landscape Plan as summer 2024, with the Learning Spaces Plan set to be completed by fall 2024. The board of visitors already approved the finalized Housing and Dining Comprehensive Facilities Plan in April 2022.
Interim Associate Vice President for Business Services and Organizational Excellence Sean Hughes is the chair of the Campus Comprehensive Planning Committee. Hughes noted that the committee’s final product will replace the 2015 Campus Master Plan if accepted by the board of visitors in 2025.
“We anticipate the planning committee will produce a plan that focuses on the use of campus spaces to support living, learning and working,” Hughes wrote in an email to The Flat Hat. “In the past, that has looked like a traditional master plan with detailed commitments on future land use. That might be part of the comprehensive plan development, but the university is also focused more on developing a living document that outlines guiding principles and priorities that govern W&M’s future use of space. Still, it is very early in the planning process, which is anticipated to span roughly two years.”
The sixteen-person comprehensive planning committee is composed of several administrative members and deans. Professor David Armstrong is the only formal faculty representative on the committee and there are no student representatives. Hughes guaranteed that, though no students sit on the comprehensive planning committee, there is a student representative on each of the two subcommittees and there will be ample opportunity for student involvement in the comprehensive plan process.
“This is a long-term process that might include ad hoc committees, town halls, focus groups, surveys or any number of outreach efforts. It is not unusual to not ask students to commit to long-term committee assignments that span more than a year,” Hughes wrote.
Morgan Cook-Sather ’25 is currently the sole student representative on the Learning Spaces Planning Committee, chaired by Dean of University Libraries Carrie Cooper. As a student with an eye condition that makes her legally blind, Cook-Sather described her commitment to prioritizing accessibility in the Learning Spaces Plan.
“I think there’s a lot of stuff on campus that people with full sight don’t see. I think, visually, I have this perspective that other people just don’t really understand unless they, too, experience it,” Cook-Sather said.
Cook-Sather said that throughout her first year on campus, she has noticed gaps in accessibility in the College’s learning spaces that need more attention.
“I think sometimes, even with the assistance put in place, it still is a lot harder just to gain basic access to materials than it is for students who can read typical font books,” Cook-Sather said.
She shared a story of a professor who went above and beyond to help her digest the material of a non-accessible, physical textbook assigned for her course. The professor recorded herself reading the textbook in an audiobook format each week to present the material in an accessible format.
Cook-Sather says she hopes to help the Learning Spaces Plan think outside the box to be more inclusive in academia and consider perspectives from groups that may not always be the best represented in planning processes.
“I love William and Mary and I love being there and I feel very well situated,” Cook-Sather said. “So I’m happy to also be a part of something that can improve those conditions even more.”
Cooper said she committed to making learning spaces at the College more accessible and fitting for the 21st century. She has been Dean of University Libraries at the College since 2011, when she began transforming the ground floor of Earl Gregg Swem Library into a modern, digital learning space. When she arrived in 2011, Cooper noted that the ground floor had a small media center mainly devoted to staffing.
“We have got a beautiful, big facility, we need to make sure every inch is used well.”
“I was like, ‘We have got a beautiful, big facility, we need to make sure every inch is used well.’ So, we immediately launched into what should the ground floor be and what could the media center do to meet the needs of our film and media studies and also our new COLL curriculum,” Cooper said.
Cooper noted that she hopes to take what she has learned throughout her years of improving library learning spaces into the Learning Spaces Planning Committee. She said she hopes to direct the committee as a small group to facilitate conversations about necessary campus learning spaces improvements that include a broad coalition of students, faculty and staff.
“People want flexibility. They want to engage. They want to have engaged learning, and that means not just simply a lecture, it means a very conversational classroom where people ask questions, they direct the learning, and the teacher or the faculty member is there to facilitate learning in the classroom, and that takes a special kind of learning space,” Cooper said.
She noted that the committee will likely be putting together requests for proposals to have consultants aid in the planning process as well. Both the Learning Spaces Planning Committee and the Landscape Planning Committee will begin work at the end of July.
The Landscape Planning Committee is chaired by Associate Director of Grounds and Gardens Tony Orband. Orband studied horticulture and landscape design at Virginia Tech and has worked in residential design for over a decade.
“The new landscape comprehensive plan for William and Mary will identify principles and objectives for the university’s multiple campuses,” Orband said. “So it’s not just the William and Mary campus here in Williamsburg. The plan will guide the development of a cohesive and sustainable landscape that enhances the university’s academic mission, supports our community’s needs and reflects the university’s values and identity.”
Orband emphasized that sustainability is a major aspect of the committee’s focus. He hopes to see a reduction in the use of pesticide and herbicide chemicals wherever possible and plans to use newspaper as a sustainable substitute in place of fabric or chemicals to keep weeds at bay. He also plans to bring student involvement to the forefront in the committee, as the grounds and gardens team has also recently begun to do. The landscape planning committee has not yet chosen a student representative.
“This past fall was the first time that students have worked for grounds and gardens since the early 2000s,” Orband said. “So that’s worked out really well, we’ve had great interest in that. Some really hard working students have come out to join our team for just a few hours a week, sometimes for more than more than 20 hours. So it’s been very beneficial to have their help and perspective.”
Student Assembly President Sydney Thayer ‘24 told The Flat Hat that she is looking forward to seeing how the Campus Comprehensive Plan develops the College’s campus.
“We are excited to see that the university is making plans to improve the campus experience for all students,” Thayer wrote to The Flat Hat. “The ongoing updates to housing and dining come at the direct request of our campus community and we are excited to hopefully see more improvements come out of the development of the comprehensive plan. As the planning process continues we hope that the committees will recognize the value of student input and also consider the impact of the plan on current students.”
The planning process is part of the wider equation of the College’s 2026 reaffirmation of accreditation. The College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and approved to offer baccalaureate degrees, master’s degrees, education specialist degrees and doctoral degrees. The reaffirmation process occurs every 10 years and as part of its preparation, the College invests in strategic planning.
Matt Smith, the College’s assistant provost for institutional accreditation and effectiveness, sits on the Campus Comprehensive Planning committee. He noted that there are 72 quality standards that each SACSCOC accredited college needs to meet, and the Campus Comprehensive Plan helps the College meet those standards.
“I would say to students that it’s really all about continuing to ensure that the William and Mary degree that they get and the William and Mary name remain associated with an institution that is committed to quality, that is committed to continuing to improve and continuing to move forward to do right by the students.”
“I would say to students that it’s really all about continuing to ensure that the William and Mary degree that they get and the William and Mary name remain associated with an institution that is committed to quality, that is committed to continuing to improve and continuing to move forward to do right by the students,” Smith said.
When the Learning Spaces and Landscape Plans are completed, they will each be presented to the provost’s office, then submitted to the design review board and reviewed by the BOV as part of the Campus Comprehensive Plan.