This week, the College of William and Mary announced former Defense Secretary Robert Gates ’65 as the College’s next chancellor. Gates will take the post after our current chancellor, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, steps down in February at the end of her seven-year term. We congratulate Gates on his appointment, and welcome him back to his alma mater in this prestigious position.
As the excitement of Gates’ return to this campus as this campus as chancellor washed over us, we couldn’t help but wonder: What does the chancellor actually do? It is a prestigious position, to be sure, but does he get paid? Does he report to anyone? Does he have a say in college policy? Aside from fulfilling the title of chancellor, what does this individual do?
Chancellors past have included former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, former prime minster of the United Kingdom (and first female prime minister) Margaret Thatcher, and two United States presidents, John Tyler and George Washington — the latter our first American-born chancellor. But when it comes to the actual role and responsibility of the chancellor, what makes the post special? In the colonial era, the chancellor acted as the College’s representative to the crown. Obviously, the job has changed since then, becoming instead somewhat of a figurehead position, filled by a person who comes to the College on ceremonial occasions to interact with students.
Given Gates’ past as a Defense Secretary under two presidents (President Barack Obama even gave him a shout-out on this chancellor position), we are excited for him to become involved with the College. Just a few months ago, he held a position of great power and responsibility in our government, and we would like to see him use his past experiences to become a more active chancellor than those who came before him. Not only was he Defense Secretary, but he was also president of Texas A&M University and sat on the boards of corporations. He served in the CIA for 26 years and was Director of the CIA under President George H. W. Bush.
We do not think O’Connor or any other chancellors in recent memory have done a poor job, but we would like the chancellor to become a visible part of this university — and not just on Charter Day. We encourage Secretary Gates to visit the College often, to meet with students, and to become an advocate for the College. Gates is in a position to truly impact students’ lives, as well as this campus. The connections he can forge with the students and the knowledge he can give to them may help them to become the next Robert Gates, the next Sandra Day O’Connor or the next Henry Kissinger.
We look forward to Gates’ tenure as Chancellor, and we thank O’Connor for her service to the College. It is our hope that the College continues to produce similarly accomplished, service-oriented graduates who are pioneers and leaders of our country and the world.