I begin this column with a reflection on writing. At William & Mary, words matter as a medium for shared understanding. We earn that understanding via conversation, deliberation and revision. The wordsmiths who crafted our comprehensive Vision, Mission and Values (V/M/V) took these principles to heart.
Last summer, they began composing the statement in a wide-open way, engaging the whole community and undaunted by the difficulty of that task. As Strategic Planning Steering Committee Co-Chair Dr. Jeremy Martin quipped, when they started, there were only two words we agreed on at William & Mary: “William” ... “Mary.”
A Case for &
Fresh on the success of their work, I want to make the case for the word between the monarchs’ names: &. Once the 27th letter of the alphabet, the ampersand is a graphic representation of the word and. Such shortcuts were common in Roman and medieval manuscript production, created by combining letters. The ampersand combines e and t, from the Latin et, (and). The name “ampersand” is a contraction of the phrase “and, per se &,” meaning “and the letter standing in for and.”
Renaissance printers proliferated this sleek glyph. During the industrial revolution, the alphabet was standardized as a set of letters aligned mostly with sounds, and the suite of symbols used in printing expanded. So the ampersand migrated from the alphabet into our common symbol set, where you see it now at the top of your keyboard.
What kept the ampersand in vogue through many technological revolutions? Its beauty, for a start. Font designers delight in the way it merges two letters, inviting reinterpretation. It is flamboyant, “whimsical” in the words of one prominent type designer, “a dinosaur” in the words of another. Ancient, yet calling for experiment and innovation.
Why does the ampersand matter for William & Mary? For its visual uniqueness and its historical longevity. And for the symbolism of separate elements yoked in a single design. The “&” in our name expresses who we are as an institution: we embrace a “both / and” mindset. We blend distinctive liberal arts and sciences with professional studies; we aspire to excellence in the classroom and on the playing field. We commit to affordability and to extraordinary learning and deep human connections. We claim a long history of innovation.
The “&” in “William & Mary” symbolizes our range and our insistence that where others see contradiction, we find strength. Our updated V/M/V emphasizes this. “William & Mary transcends the boundaries between research and teaching, teaching and learning, learning and living.”
Thinking as a Whole University
At the outset of strategic planning, I posed the question: how might we elevate William & Mary’s distinctive excellence in the 21st century? Externally, we should highlight our uniqueness and value symbols that express it. Internally, we should embrace “transcend the boundaries” as an operational imperative.
A whole-institution way of thinking invites collaboration, aligned resources, shared services and joint ventures. Several such cross-university collaborations have emerged in the past year. Here are three that exemplify the potential of this approach.
- New Institute for Integrative Conservation. W&M launched the nation’s leading cross-disciplinary institute for conservation. The IIC brings together students, faculty and staff from W&M’s five schools to collaborate with experts from the private, nonprofit and public sectors. The institute emerged through a partnership between W&M and a visionary alumna, and positions the university as a global leader in transformational research that protects the environment.
- VIMS/Mason field consultancy. Several years ago, W&M’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science began to seek new revenue opportunities for its world-class research. Last year, with support from the vice provost for research, MBA students from the Mason School of Business helped accelerate that effort — investigating new business models in the environmental services market. VIMS is now exploring a host of opportunities, including service agreements with environmental consulting and insurance companies and commercialization of low-cost water-level sensors for flood-prone regions.
- New Entrepreneurship Hub at Tribe Square. Collaborators inside and outside W&M pooled resources to launch this space. Among them: the vice president for strategy, Mason School administrators and faculty, the vice provost for research, the W&M Real Estate Foundation, Williamsburg’s regional accelerator The Launchpad, three nearby localities and generous alumni. The result: a financially sustainable venue where students, faculty, staff, alumni and local entrepreneurs can share ideas, facilities and programs.
We welcome your thoughts about further cross-silo collaborations.
When you see the “&” in “William & Mary,” I hope you remember two things. First, the distinctiveness of an institution that blends apparent opposites in a single design. And second, the practical advantage we gain when we draw diverse kinds of excellence and expertise together, in common efforts.