Students, staff and faculty took the opportunity to speak with members of a committee in charge of picking the College of William and Mary's next president.
The college hosted three meetings on April 19 for the committe to collect input, less than a month after college president Taylor Reveley announced his intention to retire in June 2018.
"We need everybody's input," said H. Thomas Watkins, vice rector of the college's Board of Visitors and chairman of the search committee. "Faculty are also obviously very important, we want to hear from our alums."
Physics professor William Cooke said he'd like to see a president that is familiar with the nuances of academia rather than someone with a legal background.
Both Reveley and his predecessor, Gene Nichol, both have law backgrounds.
William and Mary last performed a presidential search in 2004, when Nichol was chosen. He stayed at W&M until 2008.
Reveley, who was dean of the college's law school at the time, also applied for the president's job during that search. He took over as interim president in February 2008 when Nichol left, and shed the interim label in September 2008.
"The last time I remember a search, many people thought of it as a failed search," Cooke said. "The finalists — half of them were internal. Half of them were lawyers. We've had lawyers as president as long as I've been here."
Anthropology professor Michael Blakey wants the college to continue its diversity efforts. He came to the college in 2001, and said W&M's history preceded it.
"On my way here, I heard the reputation as 'a little Confederate college,'" Blakey said. "That resonates with the tradition of this university," he said.
Kimberly Renner, associate director of the college's historic campus, echoed the diversity concerns.
"I'd like to see the new president representing more diversity on campus, and also advocating for more," she said.
For Becca Merriman-Goldring, finding a president who is cognizant of addressing students' concerns is especially important.
"I'm concerned not only with next year but with what comes after that," Merriman-Goldring said. "Presidents at this college tend to be at this college for a long time, so I want a president who will not only be receptive to the students concerns immediately after arriving, but will still be someone who's willing to change and grow with the student body as the students change over the course of 10 years."
Nichol had the right idea as far as bringing diversity into the college's student body and faculty, Blakey said.
"Some of the qualities of a good president were in Gene Nichol," he said.
Nichol's brief tenure as president was not without controversy. Now a law professor at the University of North Carolina, Nichole drew ire when he removed a cross from William and Mary's Wren Chapel in October 2006.
In a statement to the Board of Visitors in November 2006, Nichol said his goal was to the make the chapel appear more welcoming to non-Christian students.
"The Wren cross issue was a dog whistle," Blakely said. "What it meant, ostensibly, was too much diversity."
Looking for the next president should involve finding someone passionate about diversity on campus, Blakey said.
"I know you can't hire Gene Nichol again," he said. "But seek to gain some of what we might have had."
"We need a president who looks at diversity not in opposition to academia, but as enhancing academic excellence," said Robert Vinson, a history and Africana studies professor.
Warrenetta Mann, director of the college's counseling center, said it's especially important that the new president realize the college's budgetary concerns and how they affect day-to-day operations.
"In addition to being a great fundraiser, I would want this person to be a great steward of resources," she said.
Blake Phillips, a freshman studying government at the college, said keeping the college affordable for people from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds is important.
"It can be a rough time, funding a great deal of research," he said. "But there has to be a way for the new president to find creative ways to find income."
By this coming fall, the search committee wants to recommend three finalists to college's Board of Visitors.
"Some of the best candidates for a position are not looking for a job," Watkins said. "You have to go find them. They are happy where they are, and there's a reason they are happy where they are."
Wright can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.