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A Decade of Leadership: Reflections on W&M's 27th president

February 26, 2018
By Michael Powell ’85, D.P.S. ’02

Photo by Keith Lanpher

Over the next five months, The Gale will feature a series of blog posts from distinguished alumni and friends reflecting on Taylor Reveley's leadership over the past decade. This week, Michael Powell '85, D.P.S. '02, offers his own reflection on Taylor's legacy as William & Mary's 27th president.

"Your College needs you." These were my opening words, sitting in Taylor Reveley's living room in February 2008. I was there as rector to make a difficult, even unreasonable, request. The sitting president had resigned abruptly and we immediately needed someone to step in and lead the university at a very difficult moment.

This was not an invitation Taylor greeted gleefully and I could easily understand why. He had been a prior candidate for the William & Mary presidency and had not been selected. I knew he was deeply disappointed, even though he never voiced it. In the aftermath of the decision, he had licked his wounds and comfortably settled back into his life as dean of the law school. Now, here I sat, urging him to serve as the interim president at a tumultuous time, with no promise he would ultimately become the permanent president. It would have been entirely understandable for him to politely decline. He agreed to think about it for 24 hours.

The next day Taylor called and accepted. Despite his personal trepidations, he understood that I was right - William & Mary needed him. This was a difficult and fractured time, and the school we all loved needed a leader who would quickly work to stabilize the situation and bring the community back together. Taylor also grasped that the university was at a critical juncture and could not afford to tread water. We were facing very serious financial pressures and genuine threats to our ability to deliver a world-class liberal arts education.

Taylor took his seat in the Brafferton and it became clear he was not going to serve as a mere caretaker. He set to work with vigor and intensity, immediately attacking the financial problems and making the painful cost-cutting decisions required. He quickly diagnosed our weaknesses, placing a renewed focus on annual giving. Taylor's rigorous commitment to stabilize our financial footing would lead to a new tuition model, The William & Mary Promise, which required delicate and skillful negotiations with the General Assembly. He also revitalized the development team and launched the most ambitious fundraising campaign in our history. It is rightly branded For the Bold because it took a bold leader with enough audacity to chase $1 billion.

Taylor proved to be more than a good financial steward, however. He became an unwavering advocate for the William & Mary idea. He is passionate about the liberal arts mission at a time when many in the national dialog question its enduring value. He champions the research conducted by our scholars and students, favoring the term university over college as a way of highlighting this dimension. He speaks with reverence about our storied history, coupled with excitement about the future. He goes about his work with a kindness and quirky sense of humor that is legendary and uplifting. To our students, he is a kind of beloved mascot - his face frequently found on T-shirts and posters. And when he speaks as the voice of William & Mary, he makes our alumni and greater community proud of the university and enthusiastic about its prospects.

In September 2008, I went to see Taylor again. This time I stepped into his room with buoyancy rather than burden. I was pleased to tell him that it was the Board of Visitors' wish, shared by the W&M community, that he become the 27th president of William & Mary. He did not need a day to think about it this time. He heartily accepted and for the next decade he steered our great ship to new adventures and calmer waters. Our captain has served us well.