Lafayette College President Alison R. Byerly has informed the Board of Trustees that she will step down when her current contract ends at the conclusion of the academic year on June 30, 2021.
Byerly became Lafayette’s 17th president and the first female leader of the once all-male college in 2013.
In a memo to the College community, Byerly described this moment as “a clear inflection point for both the College and for me,” noting that a long “journey of recovery and renewal … awaits Lafayette and other institutions of higher education” following the COVID-19 crisis.
“A transition now,” she added, “will allow the Lafayette community to work alongside new leadership to define a shared vision for the road ahead.” The College will be entering a new phase of planning for a fundraising campaign and celebration of its bicentennial in 2026.
“I am very grateful to the Board of Trustees for the opportunity to lead this extraordinary community and for their strong support and friendship throughout my presidency,” Byerly stated. “It has been a privilege to work with Lafayette’s inspiring faculty, dedicated staff, talented students, and loyal alumni, parents, and friends.”
During Byerly’s tenure, Lafayette launched an aggressive plan to more than double its financial aid budget, and the College’s Live Connected, Lead Change campaign raised $426 million, exceeding its $400 million goal.
Robert E. Sell, chair of the College’s Board of Trustees, said, “Alison’s tireless dedication to the College, her deep commitment to the community of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and parents, and what I like to refer to as her intellectual fearlessness are of the highest order. Alison’s reverence for the institution, her unwavering professionalism, and commitment to excellence are exemplars for any individual serving in an executive capacity regardless of industry … The College was strong when she arrived and is stronger following her presidential term.”
Sell also acknowledged the contributions to the College and to the local community of her husband, Steve Jensen, noting, “Easton and the greater Lehigh Valley have benefitted immeasurably by Alison and Steve’s commitment and involvement.”
Byerly noted that this timing would allow her to take a sabbatical before undertaking the next phase of her career. Byerly plans to spend next year as a visiting scholar in English at the University of Pennsylvania, where she will be affiliated with the Price Lab for Digital Humanities.
In addition to the highly successful fundraising campaign, Byerly’s accomplishments at Lafayette include the opening of the $75 million Rockwell Integrated Sciences Center, the largest capital project in the College’s history, and adoption of a Climate Action Plan to reach institutional carbon neutrality by 2035.
In 2016 she launched a new strategic direction, Affordability and Distinction through Growth, to double the size of the financial aid budget by growing the size of Lafayette’s student body by 16 percent over nine years. The plan also calls for 40 new faculty positions. As of May 2020, the plan had added 17 faculty positions, grown the financial aid budget by 30 percent, and increased the student body from 2,533 to 2,703. The incoming classes enrolled after the launch of the plan brought the highest SAT scores and greatest student diversity in Lafayette’s history.
Prior to assuming leadership of Lafayette, Byerly was provost and executive vice president at Middlebury College. She is the author of two scholarly books—Are We There Yet? Virtual Travel and Victorian Realism (Michigan, 2013) and Realism, Representation, and the Arts in Nineteenth-Century Literature (Cambridge, 1998)—and has written and spoken extensively on the role of technology in higher education. Byerly holds a bachelor’s degree with honors in English from Wellesley College and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Pennsylvania.