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Washington and Lee University

Washington and Lee University

Putting Their Shoulders to the Wheel

A Conversation with Campaign Co-Chairs Phil Norwood '69 and Warren Stephens '79

from The Bridge: Fall 2009 issue

Campaign Co-Chairs Phil Norwood '69 and Warren Stephens '79If you are involved philanthropically with W&L, you've probably heard that the University has begun its largest fund-raising campaign ever. But chances are you haven't heard-yet-about the two alumni working behind the scenes to orchestrate this massive campaign.

When Phil Norwood '69 and Warren Stephens '79 agreed to co-chair Honor Our Past, Build Our Future: The Campaign for Washington and Lee, they brought plenty of experience to the table. Between them they have served on almost every W&L board, committee and fund-raising cabinet imaginable. Stephens currently serves on the Board of Trustees, and Norwood just concluded a 10-year stint, including five years as the rector of the board.

However impressive their credentials, it was their genuine conviction about the merit and potential of Washington and Lee that shone through in a recent conversation.

Today's economic climate has affected all areas of society, including higher education. Some colleges are making drastic changes to respond. How do you think Washington and Lee will negotiate this crisis?

Phil Norwood: We have the good fortune of not having to change or perish. We need to accentuate what we already know how to do exceedingly well and to build upon those strengths.

Our strategic plan is focused on adding financial aid so we can attract the best and the brightest students regardless of their families' capacity to support them. We want to bring in students from all over the country and the world so that we have a more diverse environment for students to learn in, that is more reflective of the world in which they will spend the rest of their lives.

We are developing faculty resources because without a great faculty, you cannot have a great university. We have a great faculty now, but we need to remain competitive, and as people retire we have to replace them with women and men who are every bit as good. And that takes additional resources.

The last thing that you've got to have is, of course, the envelope or the physical plant in order to conduct all these great learning exercises. We've got work to do here, too. But this does not mean a massive building program. We're not adding buildings and schools. Those are often acts out of desperation rather than out of creativity. We've refrained from indulging in that kind of activity, and, I think, it is to our benefit.

Warren Stephens: I think any major change in the way Washington and Lee educates young people would be fiercely resisted by the board and by every constituency we could possibly think of. We're not looking to make wholesale changes in how we operate, and we are fortunate in that regard.

PN: We already have a comprehensive program. A number of other schools are attempting to broaden their academic programs. We did that about 100 years ago. For instance, many institutions would like to replicate our Williams School in a liberal arts environment. Fortunately, at W&L that battle was fought and won long ago. The same is true with the Law School. None of the other liberal arts colleges has a top-rated law school, or a law school, at all. So we already have a great breadth of offerings, and what we have to do is make all of these programs as good as they can possibly be.

WS: Historically, Washington and Lee has been a leader, if not the leader, in pushing these broad offerings forward in a liberal arts setting. When you think about the ability of our students to major in English, art history or one of the Romance languages and still take courses in the Williams School or the Journalism Department, that's an enormous advantage. And the same thing is true for the Williams School graduate. I was a Williams School graduate, and one of my favorite courses was art history. You just get this well-rounded, balanced education.

Our role as trustees and as leaders of this campaign is to ensure that we continue to do that. Our product is superb. You would really be hard pressed to find a Washington and Lee graduate who has not been successful in his or her chosen field, whatever that is. Plus, they're really good people. That says a lot. It's one of the reasons, probably, that they are successful. It's this mix of things that Washington and Lee got right long ago.

PN: What rankings never will capture, of course, are happiness, satisfaction, contributions to the community, well-rounded human beings, people with intellectual curiosity, people who are giving, people who are productive, people who integrate well into society. We can't measure it, either. I just know that when I look at the body of graduates we produce, I can't imagine another institution doing a better job.

As you begin to look at the campaign, you are starting with the recent transformative gifts-$100 million from Rupert H. Johnson Jr. '62, primarily for student financial aid, and then two gifts from Gerry Lenfest '53, '55L for faculty resources that total $50 million. How does that affect your campaign planning?

PN: The first two key priorities of the campaign have been met in part, but not in whole, by the wonderful gifts that we received from Rupert Johnson and Gerry Lenfest. We have other funds that we have to raise against those, but they give us a very, very big head start as opposed to commencing a capital campaign from dead zero, which would admittedly be very challenging in an environment like this. We have a lot of wind at our back because of the beneficence of these two great alums.

WS: Their gifts are game changers. Their generosity to this University is so inspiring to me. This is one of the reasons I'm motivated to go out and talk to people and to ask them to invest and show them that we're going to put our shoulders to the wheel and help this University move forward. Through this campaign, we can build on W&L's strengths and make this great school even better.

Under the leadership of Campaign Co-chairs Norwood and Stephens, Washington and Lee has raised over $236.9 million as of June 30th for Honor Our Past, Build Our Future: The Campaign for Washington and Lee. Stephens and Norwood look forward to making a public announcement about the final fundraising goal in the fall of 2010.