Fall 2019 Issue

The Long Game

By Katherine A. Rowe
William & Mary President

This summer, I joined the William & Mary community in cheering on U.S. Women’s National Team Coach Jill Ellis ’88, L.H.D. ’16 as her team hotfooted it to a second consecutive FIFA World Cup victory. Their closeness as a team, their grit and their joyful virtuosity were inspiring.

How did Ellis cultivate that fearless commitment to excellence? By developing a strategy that challenged an already talented team to keep climbing and to set their sights long.

That long view is my theme in this column. In my last column, I discussed ways of thinking about change that I broached last Charter Day.

I started with the Renaissance concept of “kindliest change” to trace the forward arc of William & Mary’s exceptional history as a series of changes and pivots that advance what we value. Here I want to take up a related concept — the long game — as a framework for our process of strategic planning this coming year.

By playing “the long game,” I mean investing strategically in things that accumulate value over time. Wall Street thought-leader Shane Parrish writes, “In everything you do, time amplifies the difference between long- and short-term games. The question you need to think about is when and where to play a long-term game. A good place to start is with things that compound: knowledge, relationships and finances.”

Higher education’s strength is that we can play the long game over decades and even centuries. As Parrish observes, we cannot play the long game in everything. Over the coming year, I will be asking the William & Mary community to focus on our greatest challenges and opportunities in the domains that grow in value over time.

First, knowledge. William & Mary’s core mission is simple: to bring exceptional students together with outstanding faculty to advance teaching, learning and research. In strategic planning, we will explore the potential of innovative, and even disruptive ways to enhance learning and research. For example, what if we reimagined the rhythms of the traditional academic year in order to create a robust and dynamic summer semester? This idea, which we are currently investigating, challenges centuries-old thinking about when learning happens. Its potential to catalyze new opportunities for creative pedagogy while utilizing campus facilities more fully is exciting.

Second, relationships. Last year’s university-wide Thinking Forward conversations underscored the importance of deep, life-long connections as a hallmark of William & Mary. Collaborations that span multiple generations and engage people of all backgrounds and perspectives enhance learning and research. Strategic planning will look at how we strengthen these relationships, support a vibrantly diverse and inclusive community and serve as a resource to alumni in a rapidly changing work environment.

This leads me to the third area in which William & Mary must commit to future generations: resources. We are nearing the $900 million mark in our For the Bold campaign, with more than $276 million raised for scholarships. Because of the generosity of so many alumni, we can invest in knowledge-creation and reaffirm our commitment to affording opportunity to all who come here. As we develop our strategy for the decades ahead, we have a responsibility to position William & Mary for long-term financial sustainability. That means aligning our financial model — that of a state institution committed to affordability — with our academic model, that of the nation’s leading Public Ivy.

As we move through the year ahead, my next two columns will expand on the three areas of opportunity I’ve touched on here. In my winter column, I will focus on knowledge and relationships and dig deeper into the whole-institution approach we are taking in strategic planning. Then, in the spring, as we sprint toward the For the Bold campaign’s conclusion, we’ll explore the concept of organizational sustainability.

Like any championship team, we must set our sights long. Our Charter takes that stance, imagining a university “for all times coming.” As we enter year 327 and explore what it will mean to define liberal arts and sciences for the 21st century, let us invest in what compounds most powerfully over time.