From new opportunities for alumni to join forces with students in service efforts at home and abroad to the upcoming challenges of state budget cuts, President Gene R. Nichol briefed alumni on a number of important issues facing the College in the future.
The president’s talk was held Friday in the University Center’s Commonwealth Auditorium as part of the Alumni Association’s annual academic lecture series held each year during Homecoming Weekend. Nichol spoke briefly and then took questions for nearly an hour and covered a variety of topics, including student volunteer service, campus security, recent William and Mary success in the Fulbright program, fundraising, construction projects, underage drinking and efforts to improve diversity on campus.
During his talk, Nichol discussed the recently announced cuts in state support. Governor Timothy M. Kaine released a plan earlier this month to reduce state spending by about $300 million across the Commonwealth—including $3 million at William and Mary—in an effort to make up a $641 million revenue shortfall this biennium. The $3 million in cuts at the College amounts to a reduction in state support of 6.25 percent for the current year. Later this year, officials will learn if the cuts are to the College’s base budget, which means they are permanent and not a one-time measure.
The College is working with state representatives in Richmond so that everyone understands the impact they could have to William and Mary’s academic mission. The cuts also underscore the importance of private fundraising, Nichol said.
“If we have to prepare for cuts of that magnitude, it will be difficult,” Nichol said.
Nichol began the talk by recognizing two William and Mary faculty members – Timothy Barnard (visiting assistant professor of American studies and English and coordinator of Mellon projects in the humanities) and Cindy Hahamovitch (associate professor of history) -- recently awarded Fulbright Scholar Program grants to conduct research abroad. Nichol said the College’s faculty and students have a long tradition of success in the Fulbright program.
William and Mary, according to a recent report in the Chronicle of Higher Education, is among the top 20 of research universities in the country in terms of producing Fulbright awards for students. “That is in total numbers – not adjusted for size,” said Nichol, adding that William and Mary, with 11 students last year receiving Fulbrights, was behind the much larger UCLA and just ahead of others such as Duke and Dartmoth.
Nichol said the success in the Fulbright program is just one example of the efforts of William and Mary, and its students, to make a mark in society.
“I’m as sure as the sun will come up tomorrow – and it will rain during our (homecoming) parade – these students are going to change the world,” said Nichol, adding that a recent study showed that William and Mary students volunteer more than 323, 000 hours of community service each year. While much of that service occurs locally, participation in programs abroad – many that were founded and managed by students -- in international service trips has greatly expanded.
In relation to a question on what alumni can do to help this effort, Nichol said the College is exploring ways to provide more support to the students’ commitment to civic engagement – and also ways to increase the involvement of alumni. In terms of alumni, in addition to financial support, it also would mean efforts to link alumni directly with ongoing service efforts and explore ways for direct participation.
“It’s impossible to be here for very long without being strongly affected by the work (by the students) that is going on beyond our walls,” said Nichol, who went to the Dominican Republic in January to visit one such program, the William and Mary Medical Mission Corps. The program provides much needed medical care to impoverished areas. “I’ve been at a lot of different universities and I have not seen the commitment to civic engagement that I have seen with our student body.”
Nichol sees the special nature of William and Mary students up close each week. In response to a question, the president spoke of the freshmen seminar he teaches on the U.S. Constitution. For the 15 students in the class, it’s the first course they take their first semester. Most students do not realize the president of the university is their instructor.
“It is no secret that the greatest of the many assets is teaching the wonderful men and women here,” said Nichol, adding that his time with the students in the classroom is the best two hours he spends each week. “I didn’t want to be the only faculty member who doesn’t get to teach these students.”