Elizabeth Spiller Named Dean at University of California, Davis

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Elizabeth Spiller
Elizabeth Spiller, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, stands outside the Performing Arts Building, also known as the Liberal Arts Building or the old YMCA.

Elizabeth Spiller, dean of the Virginia Tech College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, has been named dean of the College of Letters and Science at the University of California, Davis.

The provost’s office has appointed Rosemary Blieszner, a faculty member in the Department of Human Development and Alumni Distinguished Professor, to serve as interim dean, while the university moves forward with an international search for a new dean.

“In just a few years, Elizabeth has helped to transform the landscape of liberal arts and human sciences at Virginia Tech,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Thanassis Rikakis. “The quality of our programs in these disciplines has always been extremely high, but we needed to shine a greater light on them. Elizabeth has advocated passionately for their worth, and we’ll always be grateful for the legacy she leaves.”

Since assuming the deanship in 2014, Spiller has overseen a dozen academic departments and programs, the School of Performing Arts, the School of Education, and three ROTC programs. Together these programs represent 450 full-time faculty members, an enrollment of more than 4,000 undergraduate primary and secondary majors, and 1,200 graduate students across 30 undergraduate majors and 37 master’s and doctoral degree programs.

Spiller has focused on expanding the college’s curricular offerings, enabling departments to create majors in such areas as multimedia journalism, national security, and criminology. Additional programs are being developed in security governance, creative technologies in music, social justice, sports media and analytics, and science and technology studies.

She established the Destiny Scholars program, using multiyear pledges to create four-year scholarships for underrepresented and underserved student populations. She initiated a strategic communications effort to focus on the distinctive value of the liberal arts and human sciences at Virginia Tech, as reflected in the redesign of the college website and the launch of a new magazine. Most recently, she created the Office for VT-Shaped Learning, which brings to life an educational construct she proposed in 2015.

Those initiatives have been reflected in the college’s recruitment successes. During Spiller’s time at Virginia Tech, the college has achieved a 59 percent increase in applications and a 42 percent increase in incoming freshmen. These were the largest percentage increases at the university and reversed a seven-year decline in enrollment across the college.

Before joining Virginia Tech, Spiller was the associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Florida State University. There she also served as director of the History of Text Technologies Program and associate chair of the Department of English, where she had been a faculty member since 2007.

The author of two books, both from Cambridge University Press, Spiller has published widely on Renaissance literature, the history of science in the Renaissance, and early modern race and ethnicity. Her scholarship has been recognized with major fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Fulbright Foundation.

Spiller holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Amherst College and a doctorate in English from Harvard University.

“I’m deeply grateful not just to Virginia Tech’s leadership, but to the faculty of our college as well,” said Spiller. “They represent a wealth of talent and a spirit of intellectual generosity. Their creativity in scholarship and teaching enrichen our students and, ultimately, the world.”

Spiller will begin her University of California, Davis deanship on March 6.