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.