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A Bold Moment for William & Mary

At William & Mary, we often speak about bold moments – those moments in which, fearless and level-headed, we contemplate transformations that will advance our mission and make us more the institution we aspire to be. Fall 2019 finds us at just such a moment for the Alma Mater of the Nation. Together this year, we chart a course to advance William & Mary’s prosperity and distinctive excellence in the decades ahead. 

That awareness remained front-of-mind this week at the September Board of Visitors meeting, as I outlined my priorities for the year ahead. So I write to share with the campus four high-level goals for AY20 that I shared with our Board: we aim to cultivate a whole-institution mindset at W&M; we will launch and complete a strategic planning process and conclude our For the Bold campaign. And via those efforts, we aim to advance our organizational sustainability for the long term.

1. Cultivate a whole-institution mindset

Ice sculpture of the William & Mary ampersandOur ability to think and act as a whole university, for the university, is a strength we need to cultivate intentionally. Strategic Planning Steering Committee (SPSC) co-chairs, Provost Peggy Agouris and Dr. Jeremy Martin, authored an excellent blog post defining “whole-institution thinking” in the context of strategic planning. Understanding an organization as an ecosystem – an analogy offered by alumna and 2019 Convocation speaker Beth Comstock – illuminates our mutual dependencies. As part of a dynamic and complex institution, every William & Mary unit, department and constituency relies on the work of others. Provost Agouris and Dr. Martin write, “Throughout strategic planning and beyond, a whole-institution mindset means asking ‘what’s best for William & Mary?’ and holding the interconnected whole in mind.” 

To sustain that mindset requires a deeper understanding of how our roles and decision-making processes interweave. We have begun, therefore, with a road-show about our financial model and its strengths and weaknesses. As the year unfolds, the SPSC will share out information about institutional decision-making, our budgeting process and the internal and external trends we must respond to – in order to build the collaborative structures that will enable William & Mary to thrive.

2. Via our year-long planning process, deliver a focused strategic plan by fall 2020

In June 2019, I charged the SPSC with developing a strategic plan that will identify and address 3-4 of the most significant challenges and opportunities facing the university in the decades ahead. In realizing this charge, the SPSC will lead a planning process with three distinct phases, seeking input from the community at each step. As we conclude each phase, we will punctuate the transition to the next by playing back the SPSC’s findings so far.

Calendar showing phase 1 timeline in fall, phase 2 timeline in winter, and phase 3 timeline in spring

We begin our work with vision (the institution we aspire to be), mission (how we realize our vision) and values (who we strive to be in fulfilling our mission). These three distinct statements anchor our work together as a university community. They will guide us in forecasting and decision-making, in Phases II and III.

September 4: kick off. More than 200 members of our community came together for an introduction to this year-long process and to launch the phase of environmental scanning with the SPSC. At this open forum, faculty, staff, students, board members and alumni shared their sense of the key opportunities and challenges W&M will face in the decades ahead. Conversations at our tables focused on three core mission areas: teaching & learning, research & innovation and flourishing & engagement.

Oct. 1: review of draft vision, mission and values. At this second listening forum we invite the community to review drafts of the university's vision, mission and values statements. For our alumni and friends around the world, we will livestream the presentation portion of this session, so all may join.

Completing Phase I. In October and early November, the SPSC will canvas the university community for feedback and present final vision, mission and values statements to the Board of Visitors at their November meeting.

3. Triumphantly conclude our For the Bold campaign 

At the close of FY19, we reached just under $900 million of our $1 billion goal. Our top campaign priority – scholarship support – saw a nearly two-fold increase over prior year giving, with $276 million raised to date. Gifts of less than $100 collectively added up to nearly $1.8 million, or approximately $13 million over the life of the campaign. Our alumni participation rate for annual giving is now number one among all public universities and 14th among all public and private national universities – a dramatic rise in a few short years. We have seen a 250 percent increase in the number of alumni participating in new and expanded offerings – particularly career and networking opportunities – since the start of the campaign.

We are already witnessing the impacts of this campaign throughout our campus. In August, we launched a new Studio for Teaching & Learning Innovation, and in October, we will open our new Field Hockey Center. This fall, we celebrate the one-year anniversaries of the McLeod Tyler Wellness Center and the Shenkman Jewish Center. In the remaining nine-month sprint to the campaign's conclusion, we remain focused on a variety of philanthropic priorities. In addition to scholarships, teaching excellence, health and wellness and diversity and inclusion, the university aims to raise additional funds for The Martha Wren Briggs Center for the Visual Arts, home of the Muscarelle Museum of Art, as well as the Memorial to African Americans Enslaved by William & Mary and Athletics fundraising initiatives.

I am deeply grateful for our devoted alumni, parents and friends, the tremendous efforts of our University Advancement team, and the steady guidance of the Campaign Steering Committee and our regional campaign committees. Their tireless dedication brought us here and the support of everyone in our community – no matter the size of the gift – will carry us over the finish line. The W&M community knows that maintaining the status quo is not an option in a rapidly changing world. As we pick up the pace in the home stretch of the campaign, I find myself returning to first principles with a sense of great pride. The success of this campaign will increase W&M’s capacity to invest in the growth and transformation of exceptionally talented human beings.

4. Advance organizational sustainability

Coming to William & Mary from private higher education, I welcomed the opportunity to join an institution where the conversation about how to align our academic and financial models was already so lively and candid. Here is the reality: our academic and financial models do not align easily and the current alignment cannot be sustained over the long term. William & Mary’s high-caliber educational model prioritizes face-to-face learning and deep, personal relationships. Our public university financial model commits us to affordability, access, and to meeting full demonstrated need. Our size helps us sustain high-caliber academics but makes it very difficult to scale costs. To advance this unique model and secure William & Mary’s prosperity, we must seek creative ways to increase both revenues and organizational efficiencies over the long term.

Last week, the Board of Visitors approved our six-year plan. The Commonwealth requires all Virginia public higher education institutions to submit a six-year plan each biennium with annual updates if needed.

Our six-year plan includes a new iteration of the William & Mary Promise and is very much focused on our long-term future. As we begin a strategic planning process and take a long-term view of the university’s financial picture, we realize tuition will not be the primary answer moving forward, and we must focus on other sources of revenue. In addition to increased private giving, this also includes entrepreneurship opportunities, business and industry partnerships as well as new and creative approaches to how we deliver our exceptional educational services to meet the state's needs. 

To return to the ecosystem metaphor: every initiative we pursue in strategic planning and in the coming years must demonstrate a positive impact on our organizational sustainability, over the long term. As President Emeritus Taylor Reveley often said, each member of our community shares in that responsibility. Via creative thinking and by piloting new approaches, we will find the path to continued investment in our core priorities: competitive faculty and staff salaries, resources for research and curriculum, the ability to innovate as our fields and technologies evolve and robust scholarships for our students.

Each of us has a special obligation to leave the Alma Mater of the Nation better than when we found it. We all stand on the shoulders of the giants. Just as we benefit from the boldness and generosity of others who came before, we must act to secure an even brighter future for Alma Mater and for those who will follow.

Best regards,

Katherine A. Rowe