Search firm narrows guidelines for W&M's next president

Contact Reporterwwright@vagazette.com

Honesty should be the best policy as the College of William and Mary searches for a new president to replace Taylor Reveley, who will retire after the 2017-18 academic year.

Representatives from Illinois-based consulting firm Witt/Kieffer told the college's presidential search committee Wednesday to make sure potential candidates understand the school's strengths and where it can improve.

Dennis Barden, a senior partner at Witt/Kieffer, said it's vital that any materials sent to prospective candidates should be honest.

"You want your candidates to know you have issues," he said. "There is no such thing as a good surprise."

Almost two dozen people are involved in the finding a replacement for Reveley including faculty, staff, members of the college's Board of Visitors, a current student and one recent graduate.

The college's history could be a concern if candidates think the school may not be a receptive to change as it should be, Barden said.

"We're worried," he told the committee. "That's why we're asking about it."

Yohance Whitaker, who graduated in 2016, said students consider the college's history while on the campus, and when they apply and it doesn't intrigue some students the way many assume it does.

"The history of William and Mary can burdensome or heavy for students that would not have been admitted 324 years ago," he said. "That can be off-putting."

William and Mary's relatively size was another issue that arose as candidates discuss the search. Given their budgetary concerns, Barden said those interested in the job will consider the size of the college's student body, which is just under 9,000 students.

"You have a financial issue," Darden said. "People will ask, 'how do they feel about growth?"

H. Thomas Watkins, chairman of the search committee and vice rector of the college's Board of Visitors, said the college's strained budget is a concern for the board.

It's difficult for Wiliam and Mary to provide the services it does to students and maintain its reputation as a research university at its current size, he said.

"The operating model of this place does not seem to sync up with the financial model of this place," he said. "We have not figured out how to sync the two."

Witt/Kieffer staff will conduct their own interviews tied to what the college needs in a president.

Watkins reported that committee members have held more than 80 meetings with alumni, students and other figures around the country, collecting input on what the college should be looking for.

"I was told if we were doing 50 or 60 (meetings), we'd be doing well," Watkins said. The committee's next meeting will be on Aug. 30.

Wright can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.

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