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President Rowe's April 2021 remarks to the Board of Visitors

W&M President Katherine A. Rowe gave the following remarks to the Board of Visitors during its April 23, 2021, meeting in Williamsburg. - Ed.

As we have learned over the past year, pandemics have phases. This current phase is as hard as any we’ve seen so far. Even with the distribution of vaccines, we are seeing case numbers and hospitalizations rise. Violence continues to shake communities around the country. Even as the due process of justice advanced this week, we have been rocked by more shootings – reminding us how far we still have to go to ensure justice, safety and flourishing for all, in a pluralistic democracy. Every week, we look to each other for the support we need to persevere.

And we will persevere

It is clear in so many ways that W&M’s perseverance has brought us hard-won achievements all year. We have accomplished what seemed barely attainable just a few months ago: We kept teaching. We kept learning and pursuing research. We ensured our students would keep momentum to their degrees. We kept our community safe – through mutual commitment.

Because of the excellence of our staff, faculty, and administrators leading pandemic response, we have achieved this while: managing through the largest budget shortfalls in a century, keeping them in check and making them far less damaging than we anticipated and preventing the across-the-board compensation actions we had feared last summer. Nevertheless, jobs have been affected, in many ways. We are proposing to the Board to hold tuition flat for one more year — four years running — to give our families the ability to recover financially as well. The Commonwealth has supported a $76 million computer science building. We have launched new programs, taught in new ways, forged bonds across our silos. And we’ve learned we can do more than most of us imagined. We are planning an in-person Commencement — six, actually. We are not at the end of the semester yet: We have 30 days to go. Yet I feel confident saying that we will get there.

We have faced hard decisions, and there will be more. So we must remain laser focused on our pandemic response to see William & Mary through.

Come summer, we will be entering a slowdown and have time to take stock. We will move through the phases of a cautious return to in-person work and learning, consistent with our commitments to public health and Commonwealth guidelines. Via the final phase of strategic planning, we will identify how to carry forward the momentum gained in this difficult year.

Right now, as the semester closes, this is a time to persevere with empathy. A time to repeat to each other, no matter how weary or distressed we are: We can give each other grace, cut each other slack, find space for respite. We can listen across differences and across generations. We can seek to verify rumors before acting on them, because we value our commitment to facts as a public good. Pandemics make any community especially vulnerable to othering, xenophobia, racism, misogyny and bias of many kinds. We can counter those impulses with courage, in a way that calls others in. These commitments uphold our values of belonging and integrity. Like our Healthy Together commitments, they keep our eye on the prize: seeing W&M through an ongoing pandemic safely and with grace.

This is also a time to persevere with pride at our ability to pull together through strenuous challenges and deep conflicts. This is how I will remember William & Mary during pandemic: Our students cared for each other and for our city with extraordinary commitment, and our city did the same for us in turn. Our excellence in pandemic response brought us together in ways that would have been unimaginable when we began the year.

With all the above in mind, the focus of this board meeting is important actions that close out the year. The board brings to conclusion key steps in naming and renaming that were prioritized by the report of the Working Group on Principles of Naming and Renaming, and it takes up the administration’s recommended tuition and budget for FY22.

Yesterday we focused on strategic planning, as we have asked the whole community to do this month. That conversation reflected on our key success factors in sustaining momentum over the next several years, from what we have learned under pandemic. We were also able to share with the board the massive achievements of our exceptionally talented, creative, dedicated William & Mary people. They have steered us to so many hard-won successes. 

This is what I most want my colleagues across the university, in every role, to hear: Thank you! You are the best colleagues imaginable.