Democracy is one of four cornerstone initiatives of William & Mary’s Vision 2026 strategic plan. It’s also at the forefront of a global conversation happening right now as the world feels the ripple effects of the war in Ukraine.
During Monday’s Community Conversation, President Katherine A. Rowe outlined the goals and objectives for Vision 2026 and its four cornerstones of data, water, careers and democracy. When introducing the democracy initiative, Rowe highlighted the relevance of the effort at a time when the war in Ukraine threatens an elected government and sovereign state. The William & Mary community has responded, as expected she said: with compassion, support and concern for the Ukrainian people. Faculty, staff and students have mounted a comprehensive effort to educate the community about the short- and long-term impacts of the Russian Federation’s unprovoked military invasion of the democratic country.
“There is a sense of real solidarity that’s incredibly moving,” Rowe said. “This is a community that is deeply saddened by the invasion and the damage that we’re seeing to civilian communities and to democratic principles, and the dislocation and suffering that’s so vivid every single day.
“This war reminds us that there are ideals worth fighting for, and we’re seeing human beings put themselves at risk to do that, and it’s inspiring as well as incredibly sobering.”
The Community Conversation was conducted in-person in the Sadler Center’s Chesapeake Ballroom, and a recording will be available soon to those who were unable to attend. Rowe invited Provost Peggy Agouris, Vice Provost for Academic and International Affairs Steve Hanson and Chief Career Officer Kathleen Powell to speak on the four cornerstone initiatives. Dean Derek Aday, of VIMS, who leads the water initiative, could not be present. So Rowe represented his perspectives on the relevancy of this initiative for the Tidewater region.
Rowe also answered questions submitted by the university community. In response to a question about how the humanities will be reflected in the strategic plan, Rowe answered, “everywhere, in new and familiar ways” and referenced the evolution of the liberal arts and sciences. For example, Rowe said her own field of Shakespeare Studies is actively exploring the use of new tools of linguistic analysis to answer long standing questions.
On a question about student housing, Rowe said the university plans to roll out in April a master plan for the community that is going to outline how it will update housing and dining on campus over the next 5-10 years.
In focusing on data, water, democracy and careers initiatives, the university is drawing on distinct strengths of the W&M community while also connecting each within the plan’s broader objectives to “expand W&M’s reach,” “educate for impact,” and “evolve to excel.” And it is doing so with urgency, excitement and focus, Rowe said.
“What we have here is a true starting line,” she said. “Not a finish line, but a true starting line that builds on many areas of strength to position William & Mary to lead.”
These are pan-university efforts in areas where William & Mary already has clear expertise and a competitive advantage in addressing grand challenges, panelists added.
Agouris joined Rowe for a conversation about data and spoke about goals of building on the university’s strong presence in the area.
“We’re not chasing after the field. The field and all of these developments are there,” Agouris said. “We’re not going after something that takes us a certain way. We are there, and we need to move forward.
“It is a powerful combination to bring the qualitative and quantitative together and support one with the other, and William & Mary is the perfect environment to do that.”
Agouris and Rowe spoke about engineering, not in terms of physical infrastructure but in designs for the future of its initiatives.
“We’re going to do the William & Mary version of engineering, which is actually take what we do best and figure out ways to implement it and give back to the community and the world the tools and applications that can make our lives better,” Agouris said.
A common theme of W&M’s Vision 2026 strategic plan is its multidisciplinary approach. In making careers a cornerstone initiative, Powell said the university is committed to working with alumni, employers, faculty and other partners to ensure W&M graduates have success throughout the duration of their careers.
One of the most important resources the university has is a network of more than 100,000 alumni, Powell said.
“We’re going to call them back to support our current students, and when those students graduate, they’re going to help that next generation,” Powell said. “It will be part of our culture, and it will be part of the William & Mary experience.”
Connecting students to applied learning opportunities, such as internships, research and study abroad programs will continue to be a hallmark of W&M, Rowe said.
She referenced five “pride points” to illustrate William & Mary’s strengths in a multitude of areas.
- W&M is ranked No. 1 in the U.S. for internships and No. 4 for study abroad.
- The university’s For the Bold campaign built one of the strongest alumni networks in the country, a resource to tap for mentoring, career development and experiential learning during college and after graduation.
- Two-thirds of W&M undergraduate majors have a credit-bearing internship on the books.
- W&M is No. 7 among public universities with the highest 40-year return on investments for low-income students.
- The university’s graduating classes are hired, on average, by 300 to 400 different organizations annually.
“What you can imagine then is graduates are going out into the world already networked with the people who want to solve the same problems they want to solve and have the same passions they have,” Rowe said.
William & Mary is just scratching the surface in planning for 2026. Rowe said there are plans over the course of the next year to engage the community more during “deep dives” into each of the four cornerstone initiatives.
Starting centrally and using the resources available to the university will help it expand these initiatives globally, Rowe said.
For example, the university’s Virginia Institute for Marine Science in Gloucester Point is a great place to start the conversation about water, with issues such as climate change, drought, flood and coastal instability contributing to threats to the coastal ecosystem, Rowe said.
“What we are proposing is that William & Mary be a leader in the development of the solutions that are needed to address these complex challenges over the next 50 years,” Rowe said. “Our graduates will be the next generation of scientists and industry professionals to steward the world’s water resources.”
Hanson spoke about the university’s Democracy Initiative, noting that William & Mary is taking a multidisciplinary approach to these issues.
“We have really an opportunity here to do something different with our democracy initiative than other places, and the reason for that is our goal is to convene great events that bring the community together and elevate our profile to engage the community itself, the campus community but also the community of Williamsburg and beyond, in this conversation,” Hanson said.
Hanson, a renowned expert in Russian and Soviet history and politics, has provided insight on the Ukraine war to news organizations as well as the university community through events such as the Global Research Institute’s panel discussion: “Russia, Ukraine and the Future of Global Order.”
“Our hearts go out to all the victims of this unprovoked attack on democratic Ukraine by the Russian Federation President (Vladimir) Putin,” Hanson said. “We are dealing with a moment that really is vital for the future of global democracy.
“I do think this global moment is one where people may suddenly wake up to the reality that we can’t afford to just score cheap political points by attacking people within,” Hanson added. “We actually have to bind together to defend the values that matter.”