William & Mary’s Board of Visitors on Feb. 20 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, P ’16, P ’21. “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.”
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. Rowe works closely with the president, cabinet and trustees on a wide array of strategic priorities. During her tenure, Smith 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 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.”
Rowe is co-founder and CEO of Luminary Digital Media, which produces apps that 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, L.H.D. ’98, 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.”
THE PROCESS AND THE MATCH
After Reveley announced his retirement plans, Stottlemyer appointed a 19-person committee to lead the national search for a successor. The committee, chaired by Vice Rector H. Thomas Watkins III ’74, P ’05, P ’11, included board members, faculty and staff members, a recent graduate and a current student leader.
Committee members hosted more than 150 listening sessions involving nearly 1,600 people. Hundreds of emails and submissions were also received via the presidential search website. All of that feedback, Watkins said, was critical in helping the committee to narrow the candidates down to finalists to recommend to the board.
“At every turn, the committee found that Katherine’s experience and expertise complemented William & Mary’s strengths and the direction we heard from the community that the university needs to head in the future,” Watkins said. “We truly believe she will be a transformational leader for this university.”
In a short period, he added, Rowe has made an indelible impact as provost of Smith. During her time at the college, Smith revitalized its curriculum which, like William & Mary’s COLL Curriculum, emphasizes interdisciplinary teaching and learning, real-world problems and positioning students for futures characterized by rapid technological, social and cultural change.
“Katherine recognizes what William & Mary’s COLL Curriculum affirms: that the liberal arts with its key questions, critical thinking and ability to communicate across disciplines puts students at an advantage, whatever fields they enter after graduation,” said Suzanne Raitt, chair of the English department and faculty representative on the Presidential Search Committee.
Rowe was also the academic lead at Smith College for the $100 million signature capital project redesigning the main library. She successfully partnered with outside organizations and philanthropic donors to fund initiatives in statistical and data sciences and design thinking.
“When you think ‘data science,’ you probably don’t think ‘Shakespearean scholar,’” said Sue Hanna Gerdelman ’76, P ’07, secretary of the Board of Visitors and chair of the For the Bold fundraising campaign. “But that’s what is so exciting about Dr. Rowe and developments in the digital humanities, which is already a point of pride at William & Mary. Katherine is comfortable in a world of possibilities, where barriers between science and the humanities have fallen away.”
Rowe has also been responsible for navigating a period of rapid faculty hiring at Smith College, crafting a guiding strategic plan. The result was almost 30 academic new hires at Smith, roughly 45 percent of them scholars of color, representing the largest cohort of under-represented faculty hired in the college’s history. She has also been recognized for her commitment to under-represented students.
INNOVATIVE TEACHER AND SCHOLAR
Rowe earned a bachelor’s degree in English and American literature from Carleton College and a master’s and a Ph.D. in English and American literature from Harvard. She has also completed graduate work in Cinema and Media Studies at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Rowe spent 16 years at Bryn Mawr College as an English professor, department chair and director of the Katharine Houghton Hepburn Center for leadership and public engagement. There she was awarded the Rosalyn R. Schwartz Teaching Prize for Excellence and Innovation. Rowe also directed Tri-Co Digital Humanities and the Mellon Tri-College Faculty Forum. Before that, she was assistant professor of English at Yale.
Rowe has published “New Wave Shakespeare on Screen” with Thomas Cartelli, “Reading the Early Modern Passions: Essays in the Cultural History of Emotion” as co-editor and “Dead Hands: Fictions of Agency, Renaissance to Modern.” She also has editing credits in the “Cambridge Guide to the Worlds of Shakespeare” and introduced G.B. Evans’ “The Tragedy of Macbeth.”
The “Cambridge Guide to the Worlds of Shakespeare,” with more than 350 scholarly contributors from five continents, was honored in 2016 by the American Association of Publishers with two PROSE awards, considered the most prestigious in the publishing industry.
Rowe serves on Harvard’s Board of Overseers’ Visiting Committee of the Library and the Executive Committee of the American Council of Learned Societies. She has served as a trustee for the Shakespeare Association of America and has held other service positions in the Modern Language Association, International Shakespeare Association and Society for Cinema and Media Studies.
Rowe has coached Ultimate Frisbee for more than a decade, leading teams to state championships in Pennsylvania. She was a World Ultimate Club Finalist and a Women’s Nationals Finalist. She also co-founded the nonprofit Boston Ultimate Disc Alliance and the Carleton College women’s Ultimate team.
Rowe shares her love of Ultimate with her spouse, Bruce Jacobson. They have two adult children, Daniel and Beah.