Reveley: LU's Spirit Is 'Palpable'

Published 5:13 pm Thursday, March 28, 2013

FARMVILLE – After a string of speeches on Tuesday praising his selection, Longwood University's president-elect, W. Taylor Reveley IV, chose to lead those gathered from around the campus in a group cheer for LU, itself, instead of adding one more speech with himself as the center of attention.

The 38-year old Reveley was unveiled at a packed Blackwell Ballroom that was filled with students, administrators and local officials, all getting a first impression of the man who will take the reins from interim president Marge Connelly on June 1.

After saying he was “humbled and honored” to be chosen, the son of the president of the College of William and Mary and grandson of a president of Hampden-Sydney College declared, “Today is mostly about introductions and thanks. There will be junctures in the future for long speechifying and broad ideas. This really is the time to say 'thank you.'”

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And he did, saying thank you to many people, before turning the spotlight on those gathered with him and the institution of higher learning that had brought them all together.

Reveley, with his wife Marlo and their eight-month old twins May and Quint watching, led the crowd in a loud chant of “1839! Longwood U!” Men yelling “18,” the women shouting “39” and everyone together launching “Longwood U!” off the ceiling.

Those who know Reveley best believe the sky, itself, is the limit for Longwood under his leadership.

Such campus promise runs in the family. Runs a long way.

Reveley's father, W. Taylor Reveley III, is president of the College of William and Mary and his late grandfather, W. Taylor Reveley II, was president of H-SC.

Was becoming the third college president in three generations, and six miles from his grandfather's place of stewardship at Hampden-Sydney, something he ever saw coming?

“No, this is not something I would have thought was possible,” he told The Herald in a short interview before attending the reception celebrating his selection. “This is really amazing. It's wonderful.”

Asked what advice his grandfather would have offered him about being a college president, Reveley didn't hesitate

“To listen a lot. He was always a great listener. And to celebrate the traditions, too. He knew how to celebrate the traditions at Hampden-Sydney,” he answered.

Reveley, who will leave the celebrated Miller Center at UVA to come lead Longwood, said two things, especially, attracted him to the Farmville campus.

“The spirit of the place, honestly, is very palpable and enormously attractive,” he said. “And people really like each other a lot here. The camaraderie and the esprit de corps struck me. I knew it as a child and to see it again with old eyes was really special.

And, added the Princeton University graduate, “the commitment to the liberal arts is also important to me.”

Asked to assess which of his own attributes will play the most important role at Longwood, Reveley said he believes he will bring “different perspectives” on higher education.

Higher education, he noted, is under “real strain and under some flux. The money's tighter. State funding's tighter. Student debt is higher.”

Reveley, who earned a master's degree from Union Presbyterian University, believes his multi-perspective background will help LU effectively meet the challenges ahead.

“I've seen higher education in a number of different roles. I've seen it as an administrator at UVA, at the Miller Center. I've seen it as a board chair at Virginia Intermont. I've seen it through the eyes of the Commonwealth as I worked with them to get the New College Institute started at Martinsville. I've seen it through the eyes of an alum too. I've done a lot with UVA and with Princeton as an alum and I think it's that broad perspective that will be especially helpful,” said the UVA law school grad.

The biggest challenge facing Longwood is the same huge hurdle in front of all institutions of higher learning in the Commonwealth.

“The biggest challenge is money, thought of in the long-term and in the broad sense. Longwood is in great shape financially, but state funding is getting lower and lower and that seems like it's a long cyclical decline, not something that's going to change, at least as a macro matter, any time soon,” he said.

“Health care costs, pensions costs are just putting so much pressure on state budgets. It may be that we can get lucky here and have some more successes with the General Assembly,” he continued, “but that's going to be against the backdrop of a long-term decline, I think, in state funding. So that's probably the challenge.”

But challenges weren't at the forefront of anybody's mind on Wednesday in Longwood's Blackwell Ballroom.

The man who will lead them through those challenges was front and center.

Until he put Longwood University first and foremost.

Or, perhaps more aptly, because he chose to put Longwood University ahead of himself.