With her hand atop a Bible, Katherine A. Rowe was sworn in as the 28th president of the College of William and Mary during a ceremony led by Gov. Ralph Northam on Monday.
The Bible was a deliberate choice: known as the Thomson Bible, Rowe selected to borrow it from the special collections of the Swem Library.
It is an original published by Jane Aitken in 1808, the first woman in the United States to publish an English translation of the Bible, making it a fitting choice for the university’s first woman president in its 325-year history.
“Being inducted as the 28th president of this great institution is an incredible honor,” Rowe said. “William and Mary occupies a unique place in history. It is the second-oldest institution of higher education in the nation, and the first to be granted a Royal Charter. In 1918, we became the first co-educational public university in the commonwealth, a 100-year anniversary we celebrate this year. …
“More than any other school, William and Mary has shaped the character of our country over the last three centuries. Our alumni are public servants and thought leaders in every field of endeavor. This is a core part of what it means to be the alma mater of the nation.”
Rowe, 55, unanimously was appointed to the position by the Board of Visitors in February. She succeeds W. Taylor Reveley III, who announced last April that he would be retiring on June 30 after 10 years as president.
Rowe’s term began on July 1, but Northam led the ceremony Monday to swear that she would support the constitutions of the United States and Virginia as well as “impartially discharge all the duties incumbent” upon her as president of the university. About 300 people crowded into the Great Hall of the Wren Building on campus, some spilling out into an overflow area outside.
Rowe comes to William and Mary after four years as provost and dean of faculty of Smith College, a private women’s college in Massachusetts. Before that she spent 16 years at Bryn Mawr College, a women’s college in Pennsylvania, as an English professor, department chair and director of the Katharine Houghtan Hepburn Center for leadership and public engagement.
She also is co-founder and CEO of Luminary Digital Media, which reimagines classic Shakespearean texts with interactive reading apps with the goal to enhance student engagement and learning. She worked for six years at Yale University as an assistant professor of English.
As of 2016, 30 percent of college presidents were women, according to the American Council on Education, and about three in four were serving for the first time as presidents.
Rowe has a bachelor’s degree in English and American literature from Carleton College, and a master’s and Ph.D. in English and American literature from Harvard University.
In addition to Rowe’s $500,000 base salary, she may be eligible, at the board’s discretion, for a bonus payment of up to 15 percent of her salary, or $75,000. Starting Dec. 1, 2019, the university also will make annual $75,000 contributions to a deferred compensation plan.
She will live in university housing, receiving allowances for an automobile and professional and club memberships. Her moving expenses, sick leave and other “standard” benefits are “consistent with the university’s policies and plans,” spokeswoman Suzanne Seurattan said in February.
Rowe said Monday that she plans to spend the next three months hearing from students, families, alumni, faculty, staff and others in the William and Mary family to hear what drives them, what they need to succeed and how they connect with the university. One immediate plan is to finish the university’s $1 billion For the Bold fundraising campaign with a bang by the time it ends in two years.
She said funding, innovating and listening will be key to providing the leadership that will shape the university’s mission of educating its 8,600 students.
“Our students will, and must, be the intellectual pioneers and moral anchors of our democracy,” she said.
“With a William and Mary education, our students become effective citizens, able to navigate a changing world with grace: to reflect deeply, to innovative nimbly, to build communities and to live lives of creativity and fulfillment.”
Hammond can be reached by phone at 757-247-4951 or on Twitter @byjanehammond.