Winter 2024 Issue

Liberal Arts & Sciences: Past, Present and Future

By Katherine A. Rowe
William & Mary President

This magazine will reach your mailbox in the wake of a joyful Charter Day weekend. In 2024, William & Mary toasts 331 years. Our festivities will be especially sweet — with a victory lap for our All In campaign for W&M Athletics and smashing student performances as part of the Year of the Arts. • No other college or university connects past, present and future as compellingly as W&M. At Charter Day, we recall W&M’s founding documents and longstanding traditions. This university was established in 1693 as “a certain place of universal study” to educate students in “good and liberal arts and sciences … for all times coming.” That ethos of creativity runs deep in our community. Resourcefulness and collaboration have long been our superpowers. We build on our history in the present to shape a bright future.

All across campus, that spirit continues to drive innovation. This spring, plans are proceeding for the launch of a new school, bringing together our existing strengths in Computer Science, Data Science, Applied Science and Physics. This school will make history at W&M as a first in more than half a century. Each time W&M has leaned into a new arena in this way, throughout the past centuries, we have done so in response to the needs of our people and our moment.

I wrote last year about burgeoning interest in these high-demand fields, both at William & Mary and nationally. At W&M, it was students who first brought forward proposals to expand these areas, nearly five years ago. A few years later, entrepreneurial faculty leaders brought an intriguing pitch: that W&M might reorganize in a way that would grow our impact, raise our profile and maximize our ability to retain and recruit talent at all levels.

Over the past two years, W&M led an inclusive, thorough process of soliciting feedback from the full university community. A steering committee representing every school at the university then took this input and considered what the parameters for a possible new school should be.

Through this comprehensive process, it became clear that W&M’s breadth in the liberal arts and sciences could differentiate our school on a national scale. At W&M, as I have framed it, we keep the human in artificial intelligence. We approach data science and its applications as a new liberal art for the 21st century. We understand its toolkits as modes of critical thinking: where ethical, practical and human issues converge in the service of moral reasoning and good problem-solving.

W&M’s new school is starting from a place of strength. It will bring together more than 480 undergraduates, 166 graduate students, 9 degree pathways and 78 faculty and staff. Together they will be able to evolve their curriculum more nimbly, reimagine pathways through majors, develop local partnerships and accelerate research funding. Collaborative research and interdisciplinary connections elevate student learning across the university.

As in the past, this new school responds to key developments in our Commonwealth and nation. Virginia has prioritized talent pipelines, consistent with the Virginia Chamber’s Blueprint 2030 goals, so our reorganization has been warmly welcomed by leaders in the state and region.

Construction for the fourth phase of our Integrated Science Center (ISC IV), which will house the new school, is underway, with total funding from the commonwealth expected to reach just over $101 million. In October 2023, W&M’s longtime partner the Jefferson Lab was selected for a High Performance Data Facility, with an expected investment of $300 million to $500 million — which will allow us to expand research together. This achievement followed years of steady advocacy and support by W&M leadership.

At the time of this publication, a national search for the school’s first dean is underway. In early spring, we will seek final approval from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. We aim to open the school officially in fall 2025.

Charter Day celebrates the throughlines that have anchored W&M since 1693: boldness, a forward-looking mindset and a steadfast commitment to the liberal arts & sciences. Those commitments continue to inspire our vision, now in our fourth century.

I hope you feel — as I do — what an immense honor it is to be part of this community. These are the moments to take a long view and make long plays — so that the Alma Mater of the Nation leads in this century and for all times coming.