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Higher Education Program Hosts Forum with Chancellor Gates

A conversation about higher education policy and leadership

The School of Education’s Higher Education program hosted William & Mary Chancellor Robert M. Gates for a forum at the professional development center of the SOE on Friday, October 25, 2013.  Dr. Gates '65, L.H.D. '98 is the 24th chancellor of William & Mary.  In his career, Chancellor Gates has served as the director of the CIA, Secretary of Defense, and president of Texas A&M University. Chancellor Gates spoke about higher education policy and the importance of diversity for colleges and universities, and shared his experiences in his various leadership roles.

During his remarks, Chancellor Gates observed the traditional view of higher education as a public good benefiting society has shifted to being increasingly seen as a private good primarily benefiting individuals.  He noted the conflicting role states play by decreasing higher education funding while simultaneously holding colleges and universities responsible for rising tuition prices.  Speaking from personal experiences of efforts to diversify Texas A&M, he emphasized the importance of identifying institution-specific strategies, sincerely committing to the plan, and mobilizing campus-wide support for it.

Higher Education doctoral student Sean Heuvel posing a question to Chancellor Gates at the School of EducationStudents had an opportunity to ask Chancellor Gates questions about his leadership experiences, particularly as President of Texas A&M. In academic contexts, Chancellor Gates stressed the importance of inclusive decision making processes, noting most faculty and staff were at the university before and will remain after the leader’s time on campus.  Therefore, substantial involvement throughout campus helps ensure long lasting change, he reflected.  Another leadership lesson he shared was a commitment to transparency. 

In response to a student’s question about his leadership style and ideals, Chancellor Gates listed listening, decisiveness, standing up for people, representing the institution, establishing a system of accountability, articulating a vision, and demonstrating courage to make tough decisions and then stand firmly by them as important aspects of leadership.  

Responding to another student’s question about information technology (IT) in higher education, Chancellor Gates expressed his opinion that human interaction is a major component of college education and technology is a tool, not the answer by itself.

Throughout the session, Chancellor Gates addressed issues facing the SOE’s students on both a personal level as they seek out and develop their own leadership capacity and on a professional level as educators leading institutions during a time of intense change and public demands for accountability.  According to Pamela Eddy, Professor of Higher Education, “The Chancellor’s presentation planted a number of seeds for reflection for SOE students, as well as staff and faculty.  The building was a buzz in conversation and dialogue all day after the session as students discussed the points made, thought of their own next steps professionally, and reflected on how the Chancellor exemplified integrity in leading.”

The day before the SOE forum, the university announced  that Chancellor Gates will donate his personal papers to William & Mary and that he and his wife committed an estate gift to the university estimated at 1.5 million dollars.