As a writer and teacher, I am a longtime fan of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. This classic handbook offers pithy guidance to would-be writers. In one key line, Strunk and White counsel, "Above all, do not be afraid to experiment with what you have written." This advice captures the mindset of an experienced wordsmith, open to any adjustments that increase the power of one's prose.
During the first phase of strategic planning at William & Mary, that spirit of experimentation animated the drafting process we used to create a clear and concise statement of the university's vision, mission and values. Drawing on many prior statements over the preceding centuries, and informed by research and wide-ranging conversation, the leaders of this process set out to test our thinking about what makes William & Mary distinctive.
During the November Board of Visitors meeting, the Board affirmed the result, codified in a completed statement put forward by the Strategic Planning Steering Committee. Here's how we got here.
Process playback: vision, mission, values
Starting point: July 1, 2019
Effective strategic management requires a compass: a clear statement of vision, mission and values to anchor strategy development. We started this year of strategic planning with vision and mission statements that needed to be updated and we identified the need for a third element. William & Mary's prior vision statement dated to 2008, the result of our last strategic planning effort. Our mission statement dated from 1994. At 431 words, it reflected the print-based communications of the time and did not translate well into digital formats. Finally, although we regularly reference community values at William & Mary, the university had no formal statement to convey such shared understandings.
So, over the summer, I appointed two drafting groups, led by Dr. Ginger Amber and Dr. Chon Glover. I charged them with creating a comprehensive statement that linked our vision, mission and values. Small enough to be nimble and composed of experienced wordsmiths, the two groups included faculty, staff, students and alumni.
Their work began with reviews of many W&M documents and prior statements and research into similar statements at peer institutions. Early in the process they framed preliminary language and then engaged representative bodies throughout the university to review, comment and advise. Based on this initial round of consultation, they refined the statement and circulated it to the broader W&M community.
The first full draft: October 1
On October 1, the drafting groups presented a first completed draft of the statement at an open forum that convened nearly 200 participants from all walks of campus life. That presentation was also livestreamed, so that even the farthest-flung members of the W&M community might contribute if they wished to. In table discussions and then in plenary, those present reflected on their initial reactions and shared advice with the drafting group. Strategic Planning Steering Committee co-chair Dr. Jeremy Martin noted, "when asked, about 90 percent of participants in the Oct. 1 community forum indicated the statement 'sounded like William & Mary.'" A number of themes emerged that also suggested opportunities for further consultation.
Round two, with further feedback and editing: October 1 — November 7
As a collective effort over the following month, the William & Mary community tested the question of what makes William & Mary a distinctive place to work, learn and serve. Many experimented with word choices and phrasing to refine a clear and powerful message. The Strategic Planning Steering Committee held a dozen presentations across campus, including at least one session at each of the university's five schools and sessions with W&M's staff, faculty and student governance bodies. Committee co-chairs also received, reviewed and responded to feedback submitted from the online forms. The feedback highlighted which parts of the statement resonated and what gaps remained. The drafting committee gathered and synthesized this input, then refined the statements a final time to sharpen and clarify their message.
Board affirmation and next steps: November 22 and beyond
On November 22, Drs. Ambler and Glover presented the final language to the Board of Visitors. The Board unanimously affirmed the three statements, formally concluding Phase I of strategic planning. Our vision and values statements are official. Our mission statement now begins a yearlong review process for approval by SCHEV.
I am enormously grateful for the work of our two dedicated drafting groups and the gifted university leaders who convened this broad and inclusive process. Thanks to their thoughtful work, we begin strategic planning from a position of strength. I am also grateful to the hundreds of contributors in the widespread William & Mary community who embraced this shared work with excitement. The result is an enduring message about what we believe distinguishes us as a community that will guide our university this year and for years to come.
As I write, we are now well underway with Phase II of strategic planning. Three subcommittees are conducting an outward-looking scan of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in our core mission areas: teaching & learning, research & innovation and flourishing & engagement. The Strategic Planning Steering Committee will continue to share their thinking with the broader community, via recommended readings and other documents on the planning website.
At the same time, we are moving forward on key initiatives. At the November meeting, the Board affirmed William & Mary's plan to partner with UVA to reach carbon neutrality by 2030. The plan was unveiled in conjunction with the announcement of a $19.3 million gift to establish an Institute for Integrative Conservation.
As we enter a busy stretch of our academic year — preparing for final exams and winter break — I hope you will continue to join us in imagining the future of the Alma Mater of the Nation in the 21st century.
Katherine A. Rowe