Michael Evans: First decade of President Reveley drives momentum

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Michael EvansLongwood is concluding its 184th year. Virginia’s third-oldest public university has much to celebrate, here in America’s first two-college town. On behalf of the Board and the University, it’s also a fitting time to extend a special word of thanks in my capacity as Rector for Longwood.

This June marks President Taylor Reveley’s tenth year leading Longwood University. It’s an extraordinary achievement in that the average tenure for college and university presidents is just six years. It’s also remarkable that 10 years in, Taylor today is still the youngest of the Commonwealth’s presidents.

I’ve been fortunate to witness the arc of Taylor’s career. I met him about 25 years ago when I was working in local government and he was an eager young graduate student seeking summer employment where he could learn about the complex dynamics of public service. In the ensuing years we kept in touch as he moved through law school and his fledgling career postings. His achievements in these early stages weren’t surprising, as he possesses a keen desire to learn about organizations and shape them to function at the highest possible level. His appointment to Longwood’s Presidency struck me as a natural progression in his leadership journey.

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To quote one of his phrases, “The juggernaut is really just starting to roll.”

Some numbers give a sense of Longwood’s momentum under his steady hand and laser focus. Over this past decade under President Reveley, Longwood has become a perennial top 10 public university in its category in the US News rankings for the South. Applications have risen by 59 percent. We have Virginia’s highest percentage of courses taught by full time faculty among public institutions. Longwood’s young alumni have an employment rate of 94 percent.

Progress takes resources. Over the past decade, Longwood has secured more than $850 million in gifts, grants, and federal and state funding — more than matching dollar for dollar costs borne by students and families. The endowment has more than doubled. Average tuition increases have been among the very lowest in the Commonwealth.

Progress also comes from hitting the right exclamation points. The Vice Presidential Debate in 2016 and March Madness in 2022 both put the eyes of the nation on Longwood. Combined, they produced the equivalent of $164 million in marketing for the university, through news coverage, network TV, and social media reach. And that $164 million taken together with the $850 million in funding over the decade equates to —- think about this —- a billion dollars of value for Longwood here in Farmville.

Longwood’s elevated visibility translates into tangible benefits for Farmville and the surrounding region. It expands the University’s economic footprint through visitors and tourism. It makes the region attractive for business development and job growth, creating opportunities for fostering new projects and partnerships that build momentum for future successes.

But dollars and cents don’t get to the core. Actually, they flow from getting the core things right. Longwood’s faculty and staff worked patiently for five years developing Civitae before launching the new curriculum in 2018, which puts emphasis on teaching how democracy works. Civitae is garnering national attention as the kind of transformative change in higher education that will secure its fundamental value for generations to come. Enhanced by innovative initiatives like the Brock Experiences, students learn vital lessons in how to be constructive members of their communities in a rapidly changing and complex world.

The University’s partnership with the Moton Museum started in 2015, making it the only such partnership in America between a university and a civil rights museum. And “JPB,” set to open this fall semester, will give our local region a sports and entertainment venue that is unprecedented in towns of our size. It will be the latest and most notable example in the sequence of construction over these ten years of focus on the campus’ classic beauty and connection with Farmville. Likewise, the Joan of Arc statue, by the sculptor the Vatican often turns to, installed in 2018 is an example of keeping Longwood’s traditions vibrant.

And the COVID years — a strain for us all — saw Longwood at its best. President Reveley ensured our focus was on our students’ and the community’s well-being. With great care, we held an in-person graduation for the class of 2020 that fall, one of the rare places to do so. Longwood saw to it that our teaching maintained the in-person connection that’s vital to students’ progress.

Longwood’s extraordinary progress reflects President Reveley’s vision, strength of character, and deeply rooted values. As a testament to the value they place on his abilities, his peers recently elected him chair of Virginia’s Council of Presidents. Yet, he remains humble about his record of success. His steadfast commitment to Longwood and the broader community is a natural extension of his compassion for others and his desire to see those around him flourish. By all measures, he is truly a gifted leader.

As he marks these first ten years, we are proud of Longwood’s momentum, and grateful to President Reveley setting the pace. Our University is thriving in a difficult time in America. Longwood is an example of how a complex, important institution can thrive in the 21st century.

MICHAEL EVANS is Rector of Longwood University’s Board of Visitors, and was among those speaking at Commencement this past weekend. He can be reached at Malevans63@gmail.com.