As Michael Halleran reflected on a decade in his position as the College of William and Mary’s chief academic officer, he shared what he saw as achievements that advanced the school’s ever-expanding academic landscape.
During his tenure, the student body became more diverse, the school added programs in business and science, built new facilities for education, including a recent launch for a Studio for Teaching and Learning Innovation, and progressed into the digital age with technology and online learning.
After 10 years as provost, he announced last fall he would step down.
“I’ve always thought of my job as fundamentally simple in the following two ways: one, I only have one constituent. My constituency of one is the College of William and Mary,” Halleran said. “The job I have as provost is also straightforward: to advance our distinctive educational excellence.”
One of the most remarkable changes, he said, has been the student body.
“It’s a more ethnically, racially diverse student body. It is the most socioeconomically diverse student body in our history. It is significantly more international,” Halleran said. “Ten years ago, around 1 to 2 percent of the incoming student population, undergrad, was international. It is now 7 percent.”
The curriculum at the college has become more innovative, stronger and robust, he said. The school has added a number of degrees in business and science, such as a masters in business analytics. In a meeting Wednesday, the board approved a program in data science.
In the last six years, the college started offering fully online courses and online programs in business, education and law.
Five years ago Halleran created the foundation for what would become a faculty-driven process to advance the curriculum to emphasize thought, research and global understanding. It was named College Curriculum or COLL.
As part of COLL, the school just passed a proposal to add a rubric which will require students take a course with a component dealing with diversity and multicultural issues.
“There’s been a slight shift which reflects a national trend: more students interested in STEM areas. But one of the remarkable things about William and Mary and I think it’s one of our strengths, is that we haven’t become basically a vocational institution,” Halleran said. “We have a lot of students getting serious, strong education in history, anthropology, sociology — even a few in classics, that is important. We do a lot of STEM, we do it really well, but we haven’t abandoned the other parts of what we do.”
He also gave credit to the board for its work on the school’s four-year tuition guarantee known as the William and Mary Promise.
“I want to say something about the promise because it was a very significant action,” he said. “There are many parents of the William and Mary Promise but I think this board deserves the most credit for adopting it six years ago.”
In advice for the future, Halleran said, the key question for William and Mary going forward will be how the school will align operating and budget models while simultaneously advancing its distinctive educational excellence. The school must also respond to the changing higher education landscape and broader societal landscape.
“I’m leaving this position in the forthcoming chapter of our history, so let me just offer a word of advice. And I mean a single word of advice: hedgehog,” Halleran said. “The epic poet Archilochus has a fragment that says, ‘the fox knows many things, the hedgehog one thing — but a great one.’ The way to success, the way you get better is by focusing on your core activity. I think from our perspective that is our distinctive educational excellence.”
In his final Ad Hoc Committee gathering, the board introduced a resolution in honor of Halleran, expressing its deep appreciation and citing his leading role in many of the school’s academic initiatives in the past decade. It passed unanimously.
Henry Broaddus, the vice president for strategic initiatives and public affairs, worked alongside Halleran, in different capacities, during his entire time as provost.
“He’s one of those people that brings that spirit to his work. He enjoys it, he sees its impact, he knows it’s meaningful and he’s driven by that.” Broaddus said. “We’re at a great place where this outgoing provost leaves an excellent legacy to be built upon.”
The board approved the appointment of George Mason dean Peggy Agouris to fill the provost’s seat in July. President Katherine Rowe thanked Halleran for his key role in the school’s initiatives during his time in a statement to William and Mary News in September.
“From his tireless advocacy for our faculty, students and the excellence of a William and Mary education to his ability to look beyond the curve and lay groundwork for so many innovative initiatives over the past decade,” Rowe said. “Our provost has made an indelible mark on this university.”
Halleran will leave the position at the end of June and return to his original passion, teaching classical studies as part of the college’s faculty.
“What I’ll miss more than anything are the people I work with. It’s a wonderful group. When I wake up in the morning I’m happy to go to work,” Halleran said. “I’ll come back and teach. That’s what I started doing, that’s how I got into this business and I just want to get back to it before the years run out.”
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