Alison R. Byerly has been named the 17th president of Lafayette College. A nationally recognized scholar, she is one of the nation’s most prominent thought leaders on the role of technology in higher education today. She has extensive administrative experience at one of America’s most prominent and highly regarded liberal arts colleges with a long and deep involvement in and commitment to an interdisciplinary and global approach to higher education.
“I am delighted that Alison Byerly will be our president at this important point in the College’s history,” said Edward W. Ahart ’69, chair of Lafayette’s Board of Trustees. “A visionary leader, she has broad experience and a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities for undergraduate colleges now and in the future. She has a collaborative, open, and communicative style and brings great passion and humor in addition to enormous energy and enthusiasm.”
Byerly has served in leadership positions at Middlebury College for 13 years, most recently as provost and executive vice president. A member of the Middlebury faculty since 1989, she holds an interdisciplinary appointment as College Professor and has been a visiting scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, and Oxford University.
“A thoughtful, energetic explorer of the many new possibilities technology offers to teachers, researchers, and students in our colleges and universities, Alison is widely recognized in American higher education as an important voice for forward-looking change and effective consensus-building,” said Philip E. Lewis, vice president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. “With its proven capacity to meld fine programs in the liberal arts and in engineering, Lafayette will provide her with an ideal platform for developing more broadly the remarkable course of educational innovation that she promoted as provost of Middlebury.”
Firmly established among the nation’s most academically competitive and selective liberal arts institutions, Lafayette offers the rare combination of the liberal arts and engineering to an exclusively undergraduate student body of 2,400, the majority of whom live on campus. Byerly will take office on July 1, 2013 as the first woman president of Lafayette, which was founded in 1826. She succeeds Daniel H. Weiss, who will complete his service as president at the conclusion of the current academic year after having served eight years in the position. Weiss will assume the presidency of Haverford College in July.
“Lafayette is well positioned to continue to achieve its ambitious goals and aspirations, and I am confident that with Alison Byerly as president, the College will sustain and accelerate the outstanding momentum achieved during the presidency of Daniel Weiss,” Ahart said.
Byerly’s selection by the trustees capped a six-month international search. A committee of trustees, faculty, alumni, staff, and students solicited input from the Lafayette community and identified, reviewed, and interviewed a deep, diverse, and talented pool of candidates. Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates assisted in the search.
“All of us at Lafayette can be proud that our search attracted so many exceptional candidates. I would like to commend the search committee, led by Committee Chair Alan Griffith ’64 and Vice Chair Elisabeth Hughes MacDonald ’81, for its thorough, excellent work. I would also like to thank all faculty, staff, students, alumni, trustees, parents, and others who have contributed support and guidance in this important process,” Ahart said.
Byerly said, “I am greatly honored to be chosen as Lafayette’s 17th president and excited by the opportunity to lead such a dynamic and ambitious institution. As an undergraduate college that encompasses both the traditional liberal arts and a strong engineering program, Lafayette provides an extraordinary range and depth of opportunities to students, yet it remains deeply committed to the highly individualized, one-on-one mentoring that is the hallmark of the residential liberal arts college.”
“At a time when many liberal arts colleges are looking for ways to extend their reach further into the world of technology and to connect the traditional liberal arts disciplines with opportunities to pursue more project-based, hands-on modes of inquiry, Lafayette is well positioned to lead in these initiatives,” she continued.
Middlebury is unique among the nation’s most highly regarded liberal arts colleges in being a classic liberal arts college that also offers graduate and specialized programs operating around the world. Founded in 1800 and located in Middlebury, Vt., it has about 2,450 undergraduate students.
Byerly served as Middlebury’s provost and executive vice president from 2007 to 2012, following appointments as vice president for academic affairs, dean of faculty, and associate dean. She was responsible for all undergraduate faculty and academic programs, research centers, arts facilities, admissions, environmental affairs, and international programs.
Among other accomplishments, she oversaw an expansion of the faculty by 28 new positions since 2005, enhancing staffing of interdisciplinary programs as well as core departments. Byerly worked to build connections between Middlebury’s residential-life system and academic program by encouraging residentially-based programming of academic events and lectures. She also appointed a series of task forces on curricular innovation that generated proposals and policy changes to encourage curricular experimentation. This included a change in course-evaluation processes that was featured in a recent article in Inside Higher Ed.
Byerly played a key role in developing Middlebury’s partnership with the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California, a graduate school offering professional degrees and certificate programs with an international focus that was acquired by Middlebury in 2010. In addition to MBA, MPA, and MA degrees in international management, international policy, nonproliferation and terrorism studies, and translation and interpretation, the Monterey Institute offers certificates in such areas as conservation leadership, international negotiations and conflict resolution, business foundations, and project management. Middlebury and Monterey now offer five joint degree programs in fields that include International Environmental Policy, International Policy Studies, Teaching of Foreign Languages, and International Education Management.
“Alison was so effective at Middlebury because she had strong principles that guided her decision-making and was skilled at seeing the larger picture and long-term benefits of taking what was not always the popular, conventional, or easy path. Probably few provosts of liberal arts colleges have engaged as many proposals for innovation and change as she has,” said Ronald D. Liebowitz, Middlebury’s president. “Her broad range of experiences will serve her very well as president of Lafayette.”
Marna C. Whittington, chair of Middlebury’s board of trustees, said, “Alison takes a thoughtful approach to the broad challenges facing higher education today while also paying extraordinary attention to detail. She always works in a collegial and personable way that encourages dialogue and collaboration. She understands well the shared governance process and has worked very effectively with the board in these challenging times to identify the right priorities for Middlebury’s future.”
A leading voice nationally on emerging forms of digital scholarship, the changing role of the humanities in the digital age, the importance of curricular innovation, and MOOCs (massively open online courses), Byerly has lectured widely on these topics at the annual convention of the Modern Language Association (MLA), the biennial Media in Transition conference, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Communications Forum, and other venues. Her essays have appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed.
Byerly has an appointment as a visiting scholar in literature at MIT during the current academic year. In October 2012, she led an online seminar on evaluating digital scholarship hosted by NITLE, the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education. Earlier this month, at MLA’s annual convention in Boston, she led a workshop on the same topic and presented research on locative media and the environment. Later in January, she will speak on ways colleges and universities can respond to the opportunities and challenges presented by online education at the annual meeting of the American Association of Colleges and Universities in Atlanta.
Byerly is the author of two books, Are We There Yet? Virtual Travel and Victorian Realism, published in 2012 by the University of Michigan Press, and Realism, Representation, and the Arts in Nineteenth-Century Literature, published by Cambridge University Press in 1997 and reissued in paperback in 2006. Are We There Yet? connects the Victorian fascination with “virtual travel” with the rise of realism in 19th-century fiction and 21st-century experiments in virtual reality. Byerly began research for the project as a visiting fellow at Harris Manchester College, Oxford University, in 2002-03 and completed the manuscript while a visiting scholar at Stanford University in 2008-09. Byerly also is the author of many scholarly articles and book chapters, including “Technologies of Travel in the Victorian Novel” in The Oxford Handbook of the Victorian Novel, forthcoming from Oxford University Press.
Byerly has continued to teach regularly while serving as provost at Middlebury. Her courses over the last several years include Time and Narrative, a team-taught International Studies seminar on Politics and the Novel, and a multimedia course on Fictional Worlds.
“Alison’s rapport with students was excellent, and by maintaining her teaching responsibilities, she never lost touch with students, their latest thinking, and what was important to them,” Liebowitz said. “She was able to incorporate into her administrative agenda very effectively what students projected in the classroom or discussed with her during office hours or over dinner, which she often hosted.”
Among other leadership roles in national organizations, she served as a member of the Coordinating Committee of the Alliance to Advance Liberal Arts Colleges from 2010 to 2012 and as a member of the New Faculty Fellows Selection Committee of the American Council of Learned Societies from 2009 to 2011.
“Alison’s background in technology, including the history of technology, positions her as a leader in the liberal arts conversation about the future of technology in education,” said Rebecca S. Chopp, president of Swarthmore College. “Her abiding interest in supporting academic excellence, her sensitivity to the richness of tradition and the importance of innovation, and her amazing skills of listening and building consensus will make her a great president for Lafayette.”
A native of Glenside, Pa., Byerly earned a bachelor of arts degree with honors in English at Wellesley College in 1983, a master of arts in English at the University of Pennsylvania in 1984, and a doctorate in English at Penn in 1989. At Penn, she was the recipient of a University Fellowship, Dean’s Fellowship, Dean’s Award for Distinguished Teaching, and Mellon Dissertation Fellowship. As an undergraduate, she received Wellesley’s Jacqueline Award in English Composition and Mary C. Lyons Prize in Writing.
Byerly is married to Stephen Jensen, a medical editor. Their daughter, Laramie, is a sophomore at Carleton College, and their son, Ryan, is in his first year of high school.