When W. Taylor Reveley IV becomes president of Longwood University on June 1, he will be the third W. Taylor Reveley to lead a Virginia university in the past 50 years.
His grandfather, the late W. Taylor Reveley II, was president of Hampden-Sydney College, just down the road from Longwood, from 1963 to 1977. And his father, W. Taylor Reveley III, has been president of the College of William and Mary since 2008.
While academia runs in the blood of many families, the Reveley succession is a rarity. It’s especially uncommon for a father and son, with nearly the same name, to hold presidencies at the same time in the same state.
“I have told Taylor that he has to start using his numeral,” W. Taylor Reveley III said with a chuckle from the president’s house in Williamsburg, referring to his son. “Otherwise this will become very confusing.”
The university presidency that Reveley (pronounced Reeve-lee), 38, will assume next month is far different than it was 50 years ago. Then, higher education revolved around books, lengthy lectures and grades written in red pen, and professors didn’t have to compete with Facebook updates and incoming text messages for their students’ attention. And the cost of college decades ago was typically paid out-of-pocket or covered by the government.
The demands of a university presidency have also greatly changed over three generations, with an increased focus on reeling in major donations and strategizing ways through the tumult hitting the industry.
“Higher education is under relentless scrutiny, some of it justified, some of it flatly not justified,” said William and Mary’s Reveley. “When Daddy was president, there was a lot more societal confidence in higher education and the liberal arts.”
At public institutions, there is also politics — getting along with the governor, appealing to state lawmakers for funding, working with a politically appointed governing board. At William and Mary, W. Taylor Reveley III, then dean of the law school, replaced a president who said the board pushed him out for ideological reasons. And last summer’s leadership crisis at the University of Virginia provided presidents across the state with a number of cautionary lessons.
Those who know the family say that the youngest Reveley’s path to the Longwood presidency was shorter than his father’s and grandfather’s but also that it seemed natural.
He studied classics at Princeton University, graduating in 1996, and earned a master’s degree from the Union Presbyterian Seminary and a law degree from U-Va.
Reveley then worked as a lawyer for many years at Hunton & Williams in Richmond, where his father was once a partner. He focused on mergers and acquisitions and represented the Harvest Foundation in southwest Virginia, which invests heavily in making higher education accessible. At the firm, Reveley also found a mentor, former Virginia governor Gerald L. Baliles (D), who groomed Reveley for a college presidency.
“He is a consummate strategist and brings a variety of perspectives on higher education,” Baliles said. “I think he would make a splendid chief executive of a higher-education institute.”
In 2006, Baliles became the director of the U-Va. Miller Center, a think tank focused on the U.S. presidency and policy. Baliles tapped Reveley as the center’s managing director, and, among other things, he worked on the National War Powers Commission, co-chaired by two former secretaries of state.
Headhunters were soon calling, but Reveley was determined to stay in Virginia. His wife, Marlo Reveley, is a vice president at Allianz Global Assistance, a travel insurance company based in Richmond. Last year, they became the parents of twins.
Then the Longwood presidency opened.
Reveley grew up hearing about Longwood, a former women’s college in Farmville, about 70 miles west of Richmond. His great-grandfather taught there. His great-grandmother attended, as did his grandmother and her sisters. His grandfather attended nearby Hampden-Sydney and later became its president.
Today, Longwood is coed, a public, liberal arts university with about 4,800 students. Its athletic teams compete at the Division I level in the Big South Conference. While it is one of the oldest schools in the state, it lacks name recognition, and its endowment sits at about $50 million. (The Miller Center alone has $65 million.)
Many of Longwood’s undergraduates were B students in high school and then found a passion for learning in college, administrators like to boast. Brian Reid, a senior math major who was on the search committee, said he was excited that someone like Reveley was so interested in Longwood.
“Longwood University may not be every student’s first choice,” Reid said at a news conference earlier this year, “but rest assured that Longwood University was your next president’s first choice.”
Reveley said he has a “moral obligation” to increase Longwood’s retention and graduation rates, as only 60 percent of students graduate within six years. He wants to increase fundraising to pay professors more and rely on tuition less. And he is excited to explore online learning and technology.
“Longwood is really poised to do what I hope are great things with those challenges,” Reveley said. “It has the liberal arts in its marrow — and that is what colleges and universities do best.”
During one interview, a search committee member asked Reveley if he could relate to all of Longwood’s students, even the struggling ones. Reveley said that’s what attracted him to the job.
“There was a hush. . . . I remember looking around the room and thinking, ‘He really understands us,’ ” said Marianne Radcliff, leader of Longwood’s governing board. “He is very traditional in all the good ways, but not in the limiting ways.”
Reveley said he understands the perspectives of many of the constituencies he will soon have to please. He has been the chairman of the trustees of Virginia Intermont College and a member of the Princeton Alumni Council’s executive committee. He has hobnobbed with Richmond lawmakers and global dignitaries.
And he wasn’t a student that long ago.