In 1987, then President of William & Mary, Paul R. Verkuil, spoke informally with some faculty at a cocktail party about the notion that W&M was a natural place to study and engage in research in public policy. An ad hoc committee of interested faculty from a few key academic units was created to explore what form the public policy program would take. The enthusiasm of the President and the faculty lead to the creation of the Thomas Jefferson Program in Public Policy (TJPPP) and the appointment of an interim director, David H. Finifter, Associate Professor of Economics. The first steps in developing the program were building an inventory of W&M faculty who demonstrated interests (teaching and/or research) in public policy, organizing a national conference on the timely and critical issues surrounding health care policy, and studying the kinds of public policy graduate degree programs around the nation. The first faculty inventory generated over 100 faculty across all five schools and several departments within Arts and Sciences. While that list was useful, it was ultimately pared down to around 25 or 30 faculty around whom the program would be built.
The health care policy conference was a success and the papers were published. This conference was intended to "announce" to the academic and practitioner public policy community that W&M was involved in the policy issues of the day. Over the next few years, a dozen more national and international conferences on topics ranging from higher education and public policy, the creation of the European Union and its implications for international trade, the role of NATO in the post-Cold War era, biotechnology and public policy, airline deregulation, picking the US president, ethics and national political campaigns, and the impact of the national savings and loan crisis on Virginia were held.
Meanwhile, the faculty and administration were being developed. Several faculty members were hired in key academic units and students were recruited once the MPP program was approved by the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV). The first entering class of MPP candidates arrived in Fall 1991 and graduated in 1993, the year of W&M's Tercentenary celebration. The curriculum was set and proved to be rigorous, challenging and relevant for the skills sought by public and private sector employers in the policy arena. In addition, TJPPP put together several joint programs with the Marshall-Wythe School of Law (JD/MPP), the School of Business (MBA/MPP), the School of Marine Science (MS in Marine Science/MPP), and the Computational Operations Research Program (MS/MPP). Soon after, the Center for Public Policy Research (CPPR) was created to support multi-disciplinary policy research (typically applied). The CPPR has a history of numerous federal, state, local, and private sector grants and contracts and support for the MPP program's capstone research course PUBP 610 -- Policy Research Seminar -- which links outside client agencies with second-year public policy graduate students. In 2003, the Schroeder Center for Health Care Policy was established to promote research on health care policy topics. Currently, the program is seeking to establish the Center for the Study of Energy and the Environment where the next generation of environmental leaders can emerge in areas of energy production, distribution, and regulation.
John Gilmour is the current Director of W&M Public Policy at the College of William & Mary as well as a Professor of Government.