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Campus forum focuses on finances, W&M's future

  • Campus forum
    Campus forum  President Taylor Reveley (left) and Rector Henry C. Wolf talked with students, faculty and staff during a campus forum Sept. 21.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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The answer to William & Mary’s financial future could be easy. The College just needs to find a widow or widower with no children or family, $5 billion in the bank and a personal interest in history, higher education and really old American universities.

“If you can deliver her or him to the Wren Yard, I will take care of the rest,” President Taylor Reveley joked with an audience of faculty, staff and students Tuesday during a campus forum. “Short of that, we have to do it the hard way and that’s through philanthropy, research grants, tuition, and becoming even more productive than we already are.”

The College’s financial future was one of several issues discussed in a wide-ranging forum that touched on everything from sustainability and compensation for employees to the strategic plan, parking issues and undergraduate teaching. The forum was hosted by Reveley and Rector Henry C. Wolf, who also spent two days on campus meeting with various leadership groups of faculty, students and staff.
“I am really a conduit to the Board of Visitors,” Wolf said in opening the discussion. “We’ll be meeting in a week. As we go about our business we will benefit from the thoughts and insights you are willing to share with us.”

Much of the discussion centered on money – or the College’s lack of it.

Several questions from students focused on compensation for housekeepers. The students said that current vacancies within the housekeeping unit have added strain to folks on campus who already earn the lowest on the pay scale.

Reveley said the College is actively looking to fill any vacant positions. And while the College does pay housekeepers, on average, higher than the state’s average for custodial staff Reveley said he understands the concerns. The reality of the economic recession has impacted everyone at William & Mary, especially those employees at the lower end of the pay scale who have not seen raises in three years. State employees, who include the faculty and staff at William & Mary, have not received pay increases in five of the past 10 years, including none since November 2007.

 “It’s something that is always on our mind,” Reveley said. “There’s no question it would be wonderful if we could pay our housekeepers and other staff members who earn the least here in the William & Mary family more money.”

The funding issue is a trend that is not unique to William & Mary. State institutions across the country have seen their public funding decline significantly in recent years. At W&M, that has translated into a 32-percent cut in state funding since April 2008.

A top priority of the ongoing strategic planning process, Reveley said, is making sure William & Mary is on a sustainable financial foundation. The College will have to rely more and more in the future on private funding instead of taxpayer dollars, he said.

“The trend of declining state support is not going to change,” Reveley said. “So we first need to put the university on a sustainable financial foundation. And once that occurs, the first thing we need to do is help our wonderful people.”

One member of the audience asked what  the College could do to continue environmental sustainability efforts. Reveley said keys to continued success are the students “green fee,” keeping the College’s Committee on Sustainability operating as effectively as it has in the last two years, and having a W&M Sustainability Fellow to help the committee in its work. In 2008, Reveley appointed the campus-wide sustainability committee with a charge of making William & Mary a model of how a university with few resources can make a real difference in areas of environmental sustainability. Over the past two years, the committee has grown into one of the largest and most active on campus and the College has launched a number of new initiatives, including last year’s Do One Thing (DOT) campaign and a recently enhanced recycling program. The DOT program asks people to change one thing in their lives affecting sustainability. Last semester, the College announced plans for its first university-wide DOT, an eco-village for research, learning and community outreach.

“I frankly am amazed and extraordinarily gratified with what has happened so far,” he said. “The green fee, sustainability committee, and its fellow are an important combination.”

Parking was also on the minds of students in attendance. Reveley and Wolf agreed that parking can be a difficult challenge on campus and the College is always looking for fresh ideas to solve the problem that comes with a lack of available space.

“I think part of the problem relates to students having certain spaces that are allocated to them and making use of those spaces,” Wolf said.

Another question centered on the College’s commitment to undergraduate teaching. Reveley said William & Mary is an institution where tenured and tenure-track professors teach undergraduates and he doesn’t anticipate that changing, even as William & Mary continues to blossom into a serious research university.

“Powerful undergraduate teaching is a defining characteristic of William & Mary – it’s a crucial part of our identity,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll lose it.”