Provost Michael Halleran finds his affection and respect for all things William & Mary growing with each passing day.
“What has struck me repeatedly over the last 2½ months is what a wonderful university this is,” Halleran recently told attendees at the annual college-wide faculty meeting. “From the high quality and dedication of the faculty, to our very remarkable students, to the dedication of our staff and alumni to be what we pride ourselves on being: a wonderful liberal arts university.”
Halleran’s enthusiasm was obvious during the gathering that serves as the faculty’s official kickoff to the school year. He gleefully referred to statistics such as the College’s freshman class of 1,395, its 200 transfer students, its 25 new tenured or tenure-eligible faculty members.
He described the new Miller Hall at the Mason School of Business as “magnificent . . . something for us to celebrate.”
He invited the entire faculty to actively participate in discussions of the first of six “Grand Challenges” adopted last year; namely, what it means to be a liberal arts university.
“Everything else flows from it,” Halleran said. “What does it mean as far as our balance between teaching and research? What does it mean in terms of integrating professional undergraduate programs? How do we take advantage of our attributes and turn them into our advantages?”
The remarks were appropriately reflective of someone who was described by various colleagues and associates at previous stops along his academic career as “a visionary,” “innovative and collaborative,” “progressive,” “inquisitive” and “entrepreneurial.”
“(Retired Provost) Geoff Feiss left very large shoes,” W&M President Taylor Reveley told the faculty. “I am happy to say that Michael Halleran has filled them ably. I think he is going to become one of our great leaders.”
Halleran, a distinguished scholar of classical studies who earned his Ph.D from Harvard University in 1981, came to the College from the University of Miami. He joined it in 2005 as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, which includes more than 4,000 undergraduate students, 600 graduate students and more than 400 faculty.
Prior to that, he had worked at the University of Washington since 1983, including an eight-year term as divisional dean of arts and humanities.
He drew on that experience in outlining one of the cornerstones of his academic philosophy.
“As dean at the University of Washington and Miami, every year my first question was, ‘Are we stronger in our faculty than we were 12 months ago?’ Faculty retire, faculty leave, some see their careers take off. It’s a difficult calculus, there’s no simple way to determine it. But if we are stronger in our faculty, our goals become achievable.”
The meeting’s question-and-answer session was, of course, punctuated by concerns over the recent state budget cuts assessed state agencies by Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine. At W&M, the cuts amount to $6.1 million, or 15 percent, of state support for the College’s operational budget.
Halleran, citing a 40-year nationwide trend in which public universities have seen constant slashes in support, echoed President Reveley’s long-held contention that public colleges in the Commonwealth need “new funding models” to complete their academic mission.
But he also implored faculty to engage in a broader view of the future.
“In the short term, we certainly will have some challenges,” Halleran agreed. “But in the middle term and long term, we will be fine and will continue to be a splendid institution because our budget is not what ultimately defines our vision.
“I always like to remind folks that the most important things we do as an academic institution – whom we hire and whom we teach, what we teach, how we teach it, what we want to look like – these things we control beyond all else and these things are important beyond all else.”