Tradition and innovation are important at W&M

Robert M. Gates was invested as Chancellor of the College of William and Mary for a second seven-year term. Before the Charter Day ceremony held in the Kaplan Arena last Friday, he sat down for an interview with the Gazette at the Plumeri House, the elegantly appointed guest house of the college.

A graduate of the college, Gates joined the CIA, where he served for 27 years, including as director of the agency under six presidents. In 2006, he become Secretary of Defense and remained in that role until 2011, becoming the only person to ever hold that position under two presidents of different political parties.

Considering his reputation for being above partisan politics, I asked Gates whether he would consider accepting a cabinet position in the Trump Administration. “I don’t expect ever to be asked,” he said

I also asked Gates what motivated him to accept a second term as chancellor.

He said he was asked more that a year ago whether he would consider accepting a nomination for a second term.

“I held off the decision until I knew who will be the new president,” Gates said. “The selection of Dr. Katherine Rowe … was the decisive factor in accepting the second term. I am confident that under her leadership, the future of William and Mary will be bright. President Rowe will bring changes and innovations to the college, and those will make William and Mary’s tradition stronger.”

Gates has become an icon of what public service to the country means. I asked him what role his education at William and Mary played in preparing him for that task.

“The university helped greatly in shaping me as a person and informed my career in public service.” he said. He also noted that during his student years, he was taught by outstanding professors who instilled in him the value of public service.

I asked him about his role models. “Way back, my scout masters,” he said. “Later, individuals like George H.W. Bush, the 41st president. They have been not just role models to me, but also my mentors.”

Gates’ relationship with his alma mater remained close and enduring. He has an institutional memory of the role tradition plays in education at William and Mary.

“There was always great respect toward faculty, and I have never heard or observed that a student was demeaned by a professor,” he recalled.

Gates noted that tradition should remain part of the educational experience at the college, but not be a hindrance to progress. “Often, when something was repeated twice, it became a tradition. William and Mary is not known for this to happen.”

I asked Gates whether he could recall some amusing episode from his student days; he didn’t need to think long.

“During my freshman year, I was assigned a room in the attic of a dormitory not too far from Camp Peary, a CIA training facility. But at that time, it was known publicly as a U.S. Naval training center,” he said. “Often at night there were loud explosions. Thus, long before I become director of CIA, the agency kept me awake many nights.”

Shatz is a Williamsburg resident. He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place,” the compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at Bruton Parish Shop and Amazon.com.

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