W&M Leadership Transformation (Purge?) Nearly Complete

by James A. Bacon

Katherine Rowe took the helm of The College of William & Mary July 1, 2018. In three-and-a-half years as president, she has replaced most of the deans and senior administrators carried over from the tenure of her revered predecessor W. Taylor Revely III. The overhaul is summarized in the graphic below, created by a W&M source who asks not to be identified.

Business School Dean Larry Pulley announced his resignation earlier this month. No replacement has been announced.

It is common for university presidents to replace senior officials with newcomers who reflect their priorities. In this case, achieving “diversity” appears to be a top consideration. Of the six major appointments, only one is a White male. That would be totally fine if the new appointees are the best-qualified people for their jobs. Are they?

I have no knowledge of the individuals involved so I have no basis upon which to make that call, and any judgement would be highly subjective anyway. Another way to approach the question is to compare the prestige of the positions Rowe’s picks occupied previously and the prestige of the institutions they came from.

William & Mary is ranked by U.S. News & World-Report‘s 2022 Best Colleges survey as the 38th best “national” university in the country. Below I list the university and its ranking of where W&M’s new leaders came from, as well as their previous titles.

Peggy Agouris, Provost
Previous titles: Dean of the College of Science, chair of the Department of Geography and Geoinformation Science
Previous employer: George Mason University
Rank: #148 in national universities

Amy Sebring, Chief Operating Officer
Previous title: Senior Associate Dean for Finance and Administration
Previous employer: Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine
Rank: #172 in national universities
Note: W&M hired Sebring in 2015 as chief financial officer, and promoted her to Chief Operating Officer in 2018

Christopher Lee, Chief Human Resources officer
Previous title: Vice Chancellor for Human Resource Services
Previous employer: Virginia Community College System
Rank: Not rated

Maria Donoghue Valleca, Dean of Arts & Sciences
Previous title: Senior Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and Strategic Planning
Previous employer: Georgetown University College of Arts & Sciences
Rank: #23 in national universities

Robert Knoeppel, Dean of the School of Education
Previous title: Dean of the College of Education
Previous employer: University of South Florida
Rank: #103 in national universities

Benjamin Spencer, Dean of the Law School
Previous title: Justice Thurgood Marshall Distinguished Professor of Law
Previous employer: University of Virginia
Rank: #25 in national universities

It is unsurprising that W&M would recruit candidates who held less lofty positions or worked at less prestigious institutions. Every candidate wants to advance his or her career by moving to a more prestigious institution or by occupying a position that offers more pay and prestige. W&M is not likely to poach many top administrators from Harvard, Yale or Stanford. The same is true for every public institution in Virginia. Moreover, it’s not as if Ivy League schools have all the academic talent. There are plenty of great people at less illustrious schools.

That said, my first question is this: did Rowe pick the best people W&M could find, or did she have to delve deeper into the prospect pool, settling for less- credentialed and less-accomplished candidates to hit her diversity and ideological objectives?

I honestly don’t know the answer, but given the fixation on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in higher-ed today, it’s a fair question.

The second question is this: have Rowe’s selections increased the leftist ideological orthodoxy at W&M or contributed to intellectual heterogeneity?

The purpose of this post is to raise questions. I invite reader responses and commentary. I would love to hear from those with first-hand knowledge of the internal politics at W&M.