Search for next president yet to begin

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August 29, 2008

10:41 AM

The search for former College of William and Mary President Gene Nichol’s replacement has yet to begin, according to Board of Visitors Rector Michael Powell ’85 and Interim College President Taylor Reveley.

Powell — who shares the duty of hiring a College president with the other members of the BOV — said that the hiring process is still in the early stages of planning.

“The board has not made any final decisions regarding the presidential search,” he said in an e-mail to The Flat Hat.

Powell did offer a suggestion as to the timing of the board’s future actions.

“We are actively discussing next steps with the William and Mary community in preparation for our upcoming board meeting,” he said. The BOV is scheduled to meet Sept. 25-26.

The Virginia Gazette published an article Saturday citing an anonymous source “in contact with members of the Board of Visitors” who said Secretary of Defense Robert Gates ’65 is currently the top contender.

Powell categorically denied the claim.

“The story in the Gazette is completely inaccurate,” he said. “They failed to get a comment from the board or the school. The board is in a consultation [and] discussion phase and has made no decisions on when to start a search nor developed a list of candidates.”

Reveley confirmed that the process has not yet begun. He was considered a top contender for the post during the last search, conducted in 2004 and 2005. Last week he told The Flat Hat that he hasn’t ruled out another run.

Powell referred to Reveley as “an outstanding leader.”

Dean of the School of Education Virginia McLaughlin ’71 was another finalist from the previous search. She said she will not seek the position this time around.

“I will not be a candidate for the presidency,” she said in an e-mail to The Flat Hat. “The College is in a different place right now. I find this a particularly exciting time to be dean of the School of Education.”

2004-2005 search focused on five

The College of William and Mary will be posting “help wanted” ads in the coming months as it searches for the 27th individual to hold the top post of president. But this job listing isn’t like most others; a cover letter and a resume won’t be enough.

Four years ago — the last time a presidential search took place — the process of filling the Brafferton took eight months, five candidate visits and a long series of public forums.

When former College President Timothy Sullivan ’66 announced his intent to retire in June 2004, the Board of Visitors faced a daunting challenge. Sullivan was a well-loved and visible presence on campus, and he left the College with enormous expectations for his replacement.

Keeping those expectations in mind, the board — which has the ultimate say in choosing College presidents — did not take the replacement process lightly. The members established a presidential search committee in the summer of 2004, charged with finding candidates for the College’s presidency. The committee was comprised of 22 members from every campus constituency, including students, faculty, staff, alumni, the Endowment Association and benefactors of the College. Then-BOV Rector Susan Magill ’72 chaired the team. The committee and its staff were so large that office space in Blow Memorial Hall needed to be reserved to house them all.

The committee held meetings throughout the summer of 2004, establishing firm timetables for their search. One deadline was made clear: They wanted a new president by the spring of 2005. The College sought help from the Boston-based non-profit academic firm Isaacson, Miller.

As the fall 2004 semester began, the hunt for a new College president began to intensify. The search committee started soliciting input from the College’s students, faculty and staff in public forums. Each campus demographic aired concerns and asked questions, and the committee relished the opportunity to hear feedback. Search committee member Ned Rice ’05, told The Flat Hat on Sept. 17, 2004, that the forums were “a chance to tell everybody here what you want in a new president.”

Along with search committee members, the forum featured two representatives from Isaacson, Miller who were looking to learn more about the College’s student population.

In January 2005, the BOV revealed a list of five candidates it had selected as semifinalists. It was also announced that these five — four men and one woman — would visit campus in the following weeks to participate in another round of public forums.

The candidates included then-dean of the University of North Carolina School of Law, Gene Nichol; current interim president of the College and then-dean of the Marshall-Wythe School of Law Taylor Reveley; Virginia McLaughlin ’71, dean of the College’s School of Education; Union College’s former president, Roger H. Hull; and a vice president of Tulane University, Lester A. Lefton.
Hull was the first to make an appearance at the College. His Feb. 19 visit was followed three days later by a session with McLaughlin.
The next candidate was Reveley, who took questions from students at a Feb. 21 forum, offering his take on the school’s finances, diversity, traditions and reputation. Participants were generally impressed with Reveley, praising his familiarity with the College and its students.

“Dean Reveley has done wonderful things for the law school,” Melissa Mott J.D. ’07 told The Flat Hat on Feb. 25, 2005. “He already knows what a great place [the College] is. He has a leg up on the competition in my mind.”

Reveley’s visit was followed by a visit from Nichol. His forum, like Reveley’s, focused on issues of campus diversity, funding and College traditions. Again, the presidential contender was met with enthusiasm from student participants.

“I really liked Nichol,” Noel Miller ’08 told The Flat Hat in the same article as Mott. “He was very exciting, a very impressive speaker and would be a good advocate for the school.”

Lefton, the final candidate, spoke with the campus community Feb. 28.

Confident that the candidates had been thoroughly sifted by every campus group, the search committee submitted its final recommendations to the BOV. The morning of March 14 — eight months after Timothy Sullivan announced his intention to retire — the board revealed its unanimous selection of Nichol as the College’s 26th president.

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