Drinking Nectar from a Fire Hose

I’m new to blogging. But I’m also new to W&M, so perhaps joining these two novelties is appropriate. I joined the College as its fifth provost on July 1st, eager to be part of this extraordinary institution, one that blends the core values of a liberal arts education with the strengths of selected graduate and professional programs, prizes academic excellence and opportunity and is poised to take advantage of this moment ripe with opportunities.

What I’ve learned in my first two months on the job has only deepened my appreciation of how remarkable W&M is. Since July, I have been busy meeting with faculty, staff, students, alumni, deans, vice presidents, members of the Board of Visitors, and many other groups and individuals, while reading numerous reports, policies and the like. In short, I’ve been learning as much as I can about this wonderful College-its history, great strengths and challenges. There’s an old phrase comparing such intense information absorption to drinking from a fire hose. I understand that phrase better now but I must add, with reference to my classics background, that there’s much nectar in what I’ve been drinking. I also have been grateful for the inviting welcome my family and I have received from so many in the community. This warm welcome, along with the many dedicated faculty, students and staff I’ve met, tells me a lot about the College that isn’t found in reports, memos, budgets or proposals.

The year is off to a great start. 1 ,400 frosh, nearly 200 transfer students, several hundred new graduate and professional students, and 50+ faculty throughout our five schools have arrived this fall, bringing their talents, creativity and energy to the W&M community. At Opening Convocation, for which the rain-but not the humidity-stopped just before its start, alum Jim Comey (’82) gave an inspiring talk on being a member of the Tribe and the importance of service. And our football team opened its season with a sweet victory over UVA, which I interpret as a harbinger of good things throughout the year.

Last year, the W&M  community developed and the Board of Visitors approved a framework for our strategic planning. It comprises six “grand challenges” with the first one on the “liberal arts university” being the most fundamental. The strategic plan teems with ideas and ambitions, and this year the Planning Steering Committee and the Sub-committees will be working on implementation plans and priorities for the inevitable trade-off among competing good ideas. This is indeed an exciting time to be part of W&M. As one feature of this year’s activities, I am leading a campus-wide conversation on what it means to be a liberal arts university. I will be communicating with the campus community more fully about this conversation shortly; for now, I want only to alert you to its importance and invite your participation.

As I write this, the Commonwealth continues to deal with budget woes and the Governor has just announced further reductions for higher education, and many other agencies. While the economy has become less turbulent in recent months, we are clearly not out of the woods yet. We will deal with the budget cuts, and I can assure you that we will proceed with our ambitions, our commitments to academic excellence, diversity and community and our efforts to having the finest liberal arts university in the country. One great advantage of a strategic plan is that it focuses attention on your core values.

Many of my former colleagues, when they heard that I had accepted this position at W&M, said to me, “That’s the perfect fit for you.” After two months, I couldn’t agree more.

Categories: Diversity, Faculty & Staff Blogs, Other

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