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School of education tops Road to Richmond agenda

Nichol and LeveyEnsuring state monies for construction of a new building for the College’s school of education and for increases in faculty salaries were the primary issues advocated by College officials and more than 70 students who participated in the 2007 Road to Richmond lobbying effort on Jan. 23.

The event opened with a legislative breakfast at the Virginia State Library at which Gene Nichol, president of the College, and Virginia McLaughlin, dean of the education school, elaborated on the primacy of the two issues both for the College and for the commonwealth. Following that gathering, students from the College fanned out in the halls of the General Assembly office building to reinforce those messages face to face with legislators.

“Faculty salaries are crucial to an institution of the quality of William and Mary,” Nichol told more than 100 people who attended the breakfast. “We compete with the strongest institutions in America, who are constantly out to hire our best faculty.” He suggested that the 3 percent increase for faculty and staff salaries contained in Gov. Tim Kaine’s proposed budget was welcome but would leave the College vulnerable as the faculty pay rate would remain at approximately 38 percent of what was being paid by potentially predatory peer institutions.

Nichol went on to identify the College’s legislative priority for the year as securing funding for the school of education project. In the governor’s proposed budget amendments, $5.4 million was allocated to enable the College to move forward with planning and design of a new 100,000-plus square foot, $48 million building on the 22-acre Monticello Avenue site that currently is occupied by the abandoned Williamsburg Sentara Hospital.

“We have one of the best schools of education in the United States,” Nichol said. “That is a point of broad consensus. … We join that high accomplishment with one of the worst buildings in the United States.” The president explained that during a recent accreditation process, reviewers agreed that the education school was among the strongest in the nation but found the building so inadequate that they placed the school on conditional accreditation.

Students on busFollowing his comments, Nichol introduced McLaughlin, who said that the education school at the College prepares 120 new teachers per year for the commonwealth in addition to touching as many as 20,000 non-William and Mary students through its training programs in any given year.

“That we have been able to accomplish that amazing record in our surroundings is a tribute to the dedication of our faculty, staff and students,” she said.

McLaughlin expressed appreciation for the support of the General Assembly appropriation last year that enabled the College to purchase the Sentara property. “The funding this year is absolutely essential to keep the project on target, to control the rapidly escalating construction costs and to ensure that we don’t have a boarded up, fenced-off building that is an eyesore in the Williamsburg community, particularly in 2007 when we expect thousands of national and international visitors,” she said.

Following the breakfast, the students met with Sen. Thomas K. Norment, Jr. (R-3rd district), who told them their efforts on behalf of higher education in general and of William and Mary in particular were significant.

“You are consumers of one of the most important products that state government delivers,” Norment said. He suggested that their presence in Richmond could “put a face” on that product for legislators who vote on the funding. He commended the students for fulfilling their “stewardship responsibility” to ensure that the opportunity afforded them to study at a prestigious university is available to succeeding generations.

Afterward, the students, led by Seth Levey (’08), an intern in the College’s office of public affairs, formed small groups in order to meet with senators and delegates. Levey said he was encouraged by one legislator, who said it is important to keep supporting William and Mary because it is the state’s flagship school.

“The University of Virginia may have a better football team, but William and Mary always will be the Alma Mater of the Nation,” Levey said, recalling the dialogue. “We educated everyone from Thomas Jefferson to Jon Stewart, and everyone in between.”

Levey said the student presence enabled legislators to see “the ones who actually are consuming the product [of higher education]” and to “anticipate what we will bring back to the commonwealth, whether it’s as teachers or in other fields.” He was particularly pleased with conversations with Del. Robert Tata (R.-85th), who suggested that William and Mary’s school of education would become more important to the region as Christopher Newport University ceased offering similar programs, and with Del. Lacy Putney (I.-19th), who said the fact that funding for the education building was in the governor’s budget bode well for the College. “It’s easier to keep it in than to add it,” Lacey said, according to Levey.

As did other students, Levey called it a privilege to advocate on behalf of the College. Said sophomore James Damon, “I love William and Mary, so it’s pretty simple. I wanted to make sure that it gets the funding that it deserves.” Senior Matthew Oreska agreed. “It always is good to get that face-to-face contact, to see how government functions. I feel very good about putting something back into William and Mary.”

Jennie Connolly, a master of business administration student studying at the College’s Peninsula Center, said she joined the trip in order to “thank the delegates.” Describing her predicament several years ago as “a single mother with no employable skills,” she said state financial packages enabled her to earn an undergraduate degree and ultimately to attend the College’s graduate program in business administration. “I wanted to say I really support the funding and financial-aid aspect of what the delegates do for us, because that’s why I’m where I am today,” she said.

Senior James Evans saw his participation in the Road to Richmond trip as “a great opportunity to remind the legislators who we are and who they are paying for.” Referring to plastic apple containers passed out by the students, he said, “They might toss these plastic apples after awhile, but it’s not about the gifts or the tokens. It’s about the face that we show and how that makes the plea for funding less remote and more here and now.”