Inaugurated as Lafayette’s 17th president Oct. 4, 2013, Alison Byerly is a nationally recognized scholar and one of the nation’s most prominent thought leaders on the role of technology in higher education. She has a long and deep involvement in and commitment to an interdisciplinary and global approach to higher education.
Under Byerly, Lafayette launched the public phase of its $400 million “Live Connected, Lead Change” campaign, the most ambitious fundraising effort in the College’s history, Nov. 21, 2014, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
The campaign seeks to strengthen the connections between liberal arts and engineering, to better educate students to meet society’s increased demand for science and technology while preparing them to think critically and creatively. A second priority is to provide support for innovative and interdisciplinary teaching and learning, creating an immersive, 24/7 educational experience. A third goal is to build a campus community that creates lifelong connections among students and gives them the intellectual and social skills they need to succeed.
The campaign kickoff was held on the eve of the 150th meeting between Lafayette and Lehigh in college football’s most-played rivalry. The game, before a sellout crowd of more than 49,000 people in Yankee Stadium, capped a week of celebration among students, faculty, staff, and alumni on campus, in New York, and across the country.
Campaign gifts have included $27.9 million from Kent Rockwell ’66 to support initiatives in science, technology, and innovation, and a gift of $10 million from an anonymous donor toward financial aid for students.
The Oechsle Center for Global Education opened for classes in 2015, housing international affairs, Africana studies, and other interdisciplinary programs; the Department of Anthropology and Sociology; and the study abroad office.
Byerly convened three Presidential Task Forces in 2014, charging them with examining strategic issues related to curricular innovation and technology, enrollment size and program capacity, and the integrated student experience. The groups’ reports are available online.
Also in 2014, a new building opened downtown as part of the Williams Arts Campus, which will include two buildings for the College Theater and Film & Media Studies programs, the Ahart Family Arts Plaza, and the Williams Visual Arts Building.
In conjunction with her inauguration, Byerly hosted an online conference, inviting presidential colleagues at national liberal arts colleges to share their insights and thoughts on the myriad of challenges facing higher education.
Byerly has been recognized for her active use of Twitter, a relatively uncommon practice for college presidents.
Before becoming Lafayette president, Byerly served in leadership positions at Middlebury College for 13 years, most recently as provost and executive vice president. A member of the Middlebury faculty from 1989-2013, she held an interdisciplinary appointment as College Professor and served as a visiting scholar at MIT, Stanford, and Oxford.
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 MIT Communications Forum, and other venues. Her essays have appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed.
While serving as a visiting scholar in literature at MIT, Byerly led an online seminar on evaluating digital scholarship hosted in October 2012 by the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education. In January 2013 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 that month, she spoke 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, 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.
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 2010-12 and as a member of the New Faculty Fellows Selection Committee of the American Council of Learned Societies from 2009-11.
Byerly is a member of the Board of Trustees of Lehigh Valley Health Network.
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 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. They have a daughter, Laramie, a student at Carleton College, and a son, Ryan, in high school.