College of William and Mary Board of Visitors Rector Michael Powell ’85 was in tears Friday during his
farewell to the College’s governing board, which he led for three years — through the ups and downs of the
Wren cross controversy and the departure of former College President Gene Nichol.
“I have had a roller coaster of emotions in this position, but I’ll tell you one that I’ve never had: regret,”
Powell will officially step down in July when his second term as rector comes to an end.
At the board’s Committee on Buildings and Grounds meeting early Thursday, there was discussion of a $355 million plan to expand the fine arts department on campus.
The plan, which would eventually tear down Andrews Hall, Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall and the Muscarelle Museum of Art, aims to consolidate the music, dance, theater, visual arts and art history departments on campus. The new complex would include a performing arts theater and concert hall.
Valerie Hopkins ’09, student representative to the Board of Visitors and member of the Committee on Buildings and Grounds, said that the plan is a model and subject to change at any time. Assuming fundraising for the project is successful, the project is slated to begin as early as 2014.
At its quarterly meeting Friday, the board also unveiled a framework for the College’s five-year strategic plan, called on the College to acknowledge and examine its historical role in slavery and elected the board’s new leaders.
Powell, the College’s first black rector, will be replaced by Henry Wolf ’64 J.D. ’66. Wolf will be the College’s first Jewish rector. He has served on the board since 2003 and as vice rector since 2006. He retired two years ago as vice chairman at Norfolk Southern Corporation.
John Gerdelman ’75 will succeed Wolf as vice rector. Janet Brashear will succeed Suzann Matthews ’71 as the board’s secretary.
The departing leaders presided over a board remembered for its divisive decision not to renew Nichol’s contract last year, leading to the resignation of a College president who was admired by students and faculty but controversial outside the College due to his progressive policies.
As hundreds of students last year skipped classes to protest, Powell and other BOV members came to campus to explain their decision, a rarity for a governing board that beforehand had been relatively unknown among students.
Powell’s tenure as rector is also marked by his decision on the morning Nichol resigned to ask Taylor Reveley, then dean of the College’s law school, to become interim president. Months later, the board installed Reveley as College president permanently.
“My connection to this place is deep,” Powell said in his farewell speech. “I leave with the belief that our
College is bigger than all of us.”
Powell leaves just as the board begins laying out a vision for the College’s next five years, a process led by a committee of more than 30 professors and administrators. Brashear and Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Jim Golden on Friday presented an outline of the vision, the College’s first comprehensive strategic plan since 1994.
The outline focuses on the College’s mission as a liberal arts university and stresses increasing diversity, finding new revenue sources, and building stronger alumni relations. Several BOV members questioned whether the plan is ambitious enough. Rector-elect Wolf criticized parts of the plan for focusing on the College’s current state, rather than on its future.
Eventually the board approved the outline. The committee will now develop specific implementation plans and timeframes, which should be ready in the fall.
Later on Friday, the board approved a resolution acknowledging that the College owned and exploited slaves from its founding until the Civil War and that the College discriminated against blacks during the Jim Crow era. The resolution expressed support for the Lemon Project, a long-term research effort named after a slave who was owned by the College. The board’s committee on academic affairs discussed the project at length on Thursday.
Expected to span five to 10 years, the Lemon Project will include seminars and research about the College’s historical role in slavery and its discrimination against blacks.
“We have a responsibility to go back and talk to the pioneering students who came to William and Mary in the ’60s and ’70s,” College Provost Geoff Feiss said. “How do we create an institution that honors its diversity and comes to grips with the harsh and bitter realities of what happened?”
_Megan Keeling also contributed to this article._