Staff Editorial: College deserves a search

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September 5, 2008

11:46 AM

Dear Board of Visitors:

Fewer than two hours after former College of William and Mary President Gene Nichol announced his resignation, your rector, Michael Powell ’85, handed Interim College President Taylor Reveley the job. Today, you likely are planning to remove Reveley’s interim tag without ever having considered other candidates for the position. We urge you to reconsider.

Our concerns do not lie in Reveley’s performance. We are instead unhappy with the search process — or lack thereof. Not nearly enough time has passed to properly assess whether Reveley is the best long-term candidate for the job, and failing to launch a search robs the school of an opportunity to find its best possible leader.

We’ll never know what went through Powell’s mind at the time of his snap decision to ask Reveley to take the job. Now, six months later, as you ready yourselves to install Reveley as president, the question arises: What if Powell had chosen differently? If you confirm him, fewer than two hours will have determined the College’s course for half a decade — if not longer.

Reveley and Powell gave the College community every reason to believe this presidency would provide a stopgap. When he stepped in, he called himself “interim, acting, temporary, man of the hour.” A permanent replacement would follow when the tumult had settled, they said. Of course, that was February, and the situation has evolved. But at no point has a search become unnecessary.

We fear that Reveley’s term will extend beyond our expectations. If, despite earlier assurances to the contrary, Reveley’s interim presidency becomes full-fledged, the College community will not be able to trust that you remain committed to a future search. It is this point that concerns us most. You have told us that Reveley’s confirmation will follow only if “there was a widespread belief that the time was not ripe for a search, or if our current and immediate challenges demanded strong, fully empowered leadership.”

We don’t understand why you consider the College community too fragile to handle a search. If nothing else, this community has proven in the last six months that it’s strong enough to handle even the most tumultuous of conditions. We also fear the hour for a search will never grow “ripe.” The College’s financial and institutional challenges will dissolve neither in one year nor five.

In an editorial last week, we stressed that any presidential search should end at Reveley — not begin with him. To be sure, we said, he might prove the perfect man for the job. But until you survey the field, by conducting an earnest search, it would be imprudent to conclude as much. Not long ago, we praised your careful consideration of Nichol’s tenure. Now, as the College seeks to replace him, we cannot offer that same praise for the processes that led to Reveley’s selection. The College is ready for a search. It deserves one.

Sincerely,

The Flat Hat Editorial Board

Austin Wright — Editor-in-Chief
Jeff Dooley — Managing Editor
Alice Hahn — Executive Editor
Brian Mahoney — Online Editor
Andy Peters — Editorial Writer

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