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A&S Dean Kate Conley to return to classroom in 2020

  • Kate Conley wears a green jacket and stands in front of a bookcase
    Kate Conley:  The dean of Arts & Sciences will return to teaching as a professor of French and Francophone Studies in fall 2020.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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Kate Conley will step down as dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences at William & Mary next May.

Conley, who has served in the position since 2012, will return to teaching as a professor of French and Francophone Studies in fall 2020. The university will conduct a national search for the next dean.

“Kate led the William & Mary faculty of arts and sciences during a wonderfully generative period,” said President Katherine A. Rowe. “She has dedicated her service equally to care for faculty members and students. She championed innovative curricula, increased funding to improve student outcomes, advocated for balance between teaching and research and strengthened diversity and inclusion efforts.

“With her scholarly acumen and passion for teaching, she brings a wealth of insights with her as she returns to the classroom and to her research.”

As dean, Conley helped establish the COLL Curriculum and the Center for Liberal Arts. She also worked closely with the St Andrews Joint Degree Programme, led Arts & Science’s diversity and inclusion efforts and supported the creation of several new majors and minors across Arts & Sciences, among other accomplishments.

 “William & Mary is thankful for the extraordinary work Kate has undertaken and successfully accomplished at the university in her years as dean,” Provost Peggy Agouris said. “Her list of accomplishments and devotion to faculty excellence sets a high benchmark for her successor. I’m glad that she will lead the Faculty of Arts & Sciences through this school year and that she will continue to offer her teaching and research among our talented faculty.”

Prior to her work at William & Mary, Conley was the associate dean of the faculty for the Arts & Humanities and Edward Tuck Professor of French and Comparative Literature at Dartmouth College. She said that the faculty of W&M drew her to the university.

“One of the reasons I love the William & Mary faculty and respect them so much is that it’s a faculty that is passionate about what we do, teaching and research,” she said. “They’re passionate about the education we provide our students.”

Conley saw that passion during discussions about the university’s new general education curriculum, the College Curriculum (COLL), which was voted on soon after her arrival at the university. While the process of adopting a new curriculum included healthy debate — and at times disagreement — once it was approved, everyone began looking for ways to make it as beneficial as possible to students, she said.

“Developing and adopting a new curriculum is never easy at any institution,” Conley said. “At William & Mary, I found more willingness to compromise in order to find a solution that works for everyone, and that spirit has impressed me from the start.”

During her tenure, Conley has found multiple ways to support faculty. Collaborating with Gerald Bullock, executive director of development for arts & sciences, Conley helped raise more than $100 million toward the university’s For the Bold capital campaign and greatly expanded the Arts & Sciences Annual Fund.

“It has expanded what faculty can do in their own research the work they do with their students tremendously,” she said.

Conley also created and implemented a dozen new procedures for the dean’s office, regularizing the promotion process to senior lecturer, retirement agreements and pay for chairs and directors. In addition, Conley created a new committee to more equitably distribute faculty awards and term professorships.

She was also very involved in instituting the W&M Promise and supported a non-tenure-eligible faculty policy to hire more lecturers, increasing the teaching ability of the faculty. And she introduced a Flexible Merit policy that gave faculty the chance to balance their teaching and research for their annual merit review, in consultation with their chairs.

“Kate’s efforts on behalf of Arts & Sciences have been extraordinary throughout her tenure as dean,” said Lu Ann Homza, dean of educational policy from 2013 to 2017. “She has worked for transparency, equity, and excellence in all three spheres of research, teaching and service. We have achieved so much during her tenure.”

Under her leadership, Arts & Sciences introduced the university’s first e-learning courses — a goal of Conley’s when she started at William & Mary. In addition, A&S invested more in digital humanities, a data science minor and major were approved, the Program for Asian and Pacific American Studies was established, a new Engineering Physics and Applied Design track in physics was added and the Richard Bland fellows and scholars programs were developed. Conley also secured a $900,000 grant to support the COLL Curriculum and newly established Center for Liberal Arts.

“Supporting faculty initiatives, supporting chairs and directors so they can be successful, supporting the programs and curriculum so that they can be successful, this was my mission in coming,” said Conley.

Working closely with Dean Virginia Torczon and the Office of Graduate Studies, Conley increased support for graduate students. Graduate stipends have increased, including the Zable graduate fellowship as a means for recruiting top students to W&M’s graduate programs. Conley also instituted fellowships to help graduate students conduct research before they embarked on a year of dissertation writing — a year made possible through competitive fellowships introduced by and now named for former Provost Michael R. Halleran. Those efforts have greatly reduced the time-to-degree for those graduate students, Conley said.

“Dean Conley has been highly successful in leading the Arts & Sciences faculty for the past eight years,” said Halleran. “Among her many accomplishments, I would point to innovations in curriculum, greater support for faculty in many ways, the expansion of the roles played by non-tenure-track faculty, and increased attention to diversity and inclusion. Arts & Sciences is stronger because of Dean Conley’s leadership.  I greatly enjoyed our seven years of partnership as provost and dean.”

Acting as chief diversity and inclusion officer for Arts & Sciences, Conley formed the Arts & Sciences Council for Diversity & Inclusion and prepared the first Arts & Sciences diversity action plan in conjunction with the deans, the faculty affairs committee and the Office of Diversity & Inclusion. Working with Chief Diversity Officer Chon Glover, she recently created a new position to lead diversity efforts in A&S, and the search to fill that role is underway.

Conley has long supported WMSURE, which offers undergraduate research experiences to under-represented students, including first-generation students. She and former Charles Center Director Joel Schwartz secured an $800,000 Mellon grant in 2017 to expand WMSURE’s efforts, adding five faculty fellows who each mentor three students.

In addition to her duties as dean, Conley has remained active in her scholarship, publishing multiple journal articles and even a book, “Surrealist Ghostliness,” in 2013. She has also served as an advisor to first-year students, one of whom asked her to oversee an independent study this fall.

While she is proud of what she has accomplished as dean, Conley is ready to return to the classroom.

“I came to William & Mary because I saw an opportunity to really support the mission of arts and sciences and the faculty here, to create a fantastic new curriculum and to bring research to the classroom, and I’ve done everything I could in order to make that possible,” she said. “I am proud of that, and think it’s a good time for me to go back to my first love, which is research and teaching.”