The announcement that Taylor Reveley, the 27th president of the College of William and Mary will retire in June 2018, after having headed the university for a decade, brought forth an avalanche of reflections on his contribution to higher education.
Before becoming president of the college, Reveley served as dean of the law school for a decade. As an educator he is leaving a high mark at the college.
Prior to becoming an academician, Reveley was a seasoned, practicing lawyer and the author of “War Powers of the President and Congress: Who Holds the Arrow and the Olive Branch?” The volume is considered one of the most authoritative books on the subject. Nowadays, it is a must read.
But, in a way, Reveley was destined to become an educator. His father was president of Hampden-Sydney College, and his son, also named Taylor, is the president at Longwood University.
Considering this environment, I assumed that “education” was a constant subject at the Reveley dinner table. I asked him, how would, he describe an “educated person”?”
“In my view,” he said, “an educated person is someone who has learned how to learn and, in the process, developed a lifelong appetite for continuing to learn. It’s also someone who challenges assumptions and insists on having evidence to support conclusions. And, someone with a breath of perspective and a willingness to engage in a wide range of ideas and people.”
Faculty and students around the WM campus see Reveley as the epitome of an “educated person.” I asked him, how his education differed from the one offered now at the college.
“My education an eon ago, like the one that William and Mary now provides was rooted in the liberal arts, with strong emphasis on learning how to think and write effectively. Since I was in school, however, the amount of knowledge about almost everything has grown exponentially, the emphasis on interdisciplinary work and international competence have greatly increased, and immersion in diversity has taken a huge step forward. Then there are the revolutionary advances in technology, which have transformed how information is acquired, research is done, notes are taken, papers are written, documents are delivered, human beings talk to (one) another, and the speed with which everything happens,” he said.
Reveley was instrumental in creating a new curriculum at William and Mary — it had not changed for 20 years. But he noted, “We are talking about the ‘general education’ part of the undergraduate curriculum, which amounts to 25% of the whole.”
He explained that the general education curriculum needed a fresh look to make it more responsive to the world in which we are now living. It addressed the need for more emphasis on interdisciplinary work, more attention to things global, and more effort to engage the diversity of life today
I also asked Reveley, how he sees William and Mary’s place in the constellation of American higher education?
“William and Mary is an iconic American institution, with a rich history of enduring significance. This alone ensures the Alma Mater of the Nation a place in the constellation,” he said. “But we enjoy a preeminent place because WM remains one of the leading universities in today’s world still rooted in the liberal arts, with abiding commitment to great undergraduate teaching even as we move increasingly into research and strong graduate and professional programs.”
Then he added: “As one of our professors says, “We have the brains of a big research university, but the heart of a small liberal arts college.
“That’s true. It’s rare. And it matters enormously.”
Shatz is a Williamsburg resident. He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place,” a compilation of his selected columns. The book is available the Bruton Parish Shop and Amazon.com.