Parting shots and final thoughts on four years in Williamsburg

This column will be my last of both the academic year and my time here at the College of William and Mary. While devoting time to journalism may have been a poor career choice given the slow and painful death of the American newspaper, I doubt there was a better time in the recent history of the College to closely monitor the news and events that most concerned the institution and its community.

The historic events of the past few years have deeply affected the College. I was first brought into this community with then-President Gene Nichol. Some years later, though no surprise to me or anyone else who had been paying attention, I watched as he resigned. The community caught election fever last fall, witnessing the inauguration of the nation’s first black president. This paved the road for a bunch of out-of-touch goofs to throw a Colonial Tea Party, which, as a Massachusetts resident, was a tad insulting. More recently, we watched the first Tribe Football player since Darren Sharper ’96 get accepted into the NFL draft, and I’m looking forward to watching Derek Cox ’09 pick off passes in a Jacksonville Jaguars uniform soon.

During all my time here, the thing that I’ve enjoyed the most — besides Mug Night — has been the College’s unwavering commitment to the traditions and idealism of its earliest graduates. In the final analysis, the College still fulfills the ideal of quality education once espoused by Thomas Jefferson (class of 1762) and his contemporaries. There may be a finer academic institution of undergraduate learning in the country, but it can’t be by much.

Yet, for all of the College’s adherence to tradition and academic excellence, many people believe that the College struggles to provide the kind of healthy social experience that is both necessary for a well-rounded education and for attracting prospective students. Simply put, the College’s reputation is that it is no fun.

I happen to take issue with this in two ways. First, I’ve found that college is what you make of it. Anyone can have fun here, and campus groups do a great job of hosting events for the entire campus community. If students complain that they’re not having fun, it is either because they are a chemistry major or they are simply not trying hard enough.

Second, the City of Williamsburg is often a hindrance to student life. When you have professors and city residents spying on students and recording license plates, or when a Saturday night concert on campus is cut short and forced to exclude all profanity, you know you’re dealing with people that are off their rockers — literally.

But there is also a certain logic to this argument that cannot be ignored. I’ve long been a critic of the College’s alcohol policy, which most people acknowledge has pushed the social life off campus, causing clashes with city residents, drunk driving, and generally endangering student safety. It seems now that President Taylor Reveley is amenable to examining the existing policies, along with the current Greek housing problem, as on-campus social life, for better or for worse, has long been centered around the Units.
In order for any productive, reasonable changes to be made, however, it may be necessary to replace certain administrators who have long been advocates, if not architects, of the current policy. The College and the Board of Visitors should not be afraid to make judgments about campus officials who are doing more harm than good to the school and its students — they certainly made such judgments about Nichol. While these officials may be convinced that new policies are needed, for years their refusal to compromise makes this unlikely.

Soon, Reveley will announce the next vice president for student affairs. Having paid relatively close attention to this process, I’m very excited to hear the announcement. All candidates sound great.

Right now, the College stands at an important juncture and I’m not even positive that the next VPSA understands how hard his or her job will be. Naturally, Reveley must focus on fundraising, which is our only chance of funding the construction of new dorms to house more students, or developing a new arts complex on new campus. I’m optimistic that when the nation rebounds from the recession, the College will move forward with confidence.

At the same time, the new office of Student Affairs office must hit the ground running. All they have to do is figure out a new mascot (Ebirt), do something about the alcohol policy (fix it), help address Williamsburg’s open discrimination policy (free pancakes for everyone?), try to keep at least a few of the fraternities on campus (too late), and increase the campus’s diversity (get some). Have fun.

E-mail Alexander Ely at


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