The Cormier Presidency
This fall marks a milestone in the presidency of Dr. Patricia Picard Cormier, who has now been at the helm of Longwood University for 10 years.That, in itself, is a benchmark. As Frank Harold Trevor Rhodes, President Emeritus of Cornell University and author of The Creation of the Future: The Role of the American University, states, “the average tenure of presidents of public universities has declined to less than five years in public institutions.”
Little wonder, given the highly competitive arena of higher education today. A college president must be all things to all people: a diplomat, a mediator, a negotiator, a politician, a fund-raiser, a crisis manager, a communicator, a recruiter, a marketing whiz, a counselor, a boss, a friend, a colleague and the biggest cheerleader on campus.
Perhaps the one word that best describes the Cormier presidency is leadership. Leadership is one of those intangible qualities that is a bit difficult to define. In fact, if you were to go online and “Google” the word, leadership, you would generate over 900 million responses. The late great management consultant Peter F. Drucker may have said it best: “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Dr. Cormier has been doing the right things for Longwood.
Making Connections, Building Relationships
Dr. Cormier began building those relationships even before her inauguration as she assembled an executive staff and held retreats to refine the mission of Longwood to create a truly meaningful learning environment. That mission, as many of you know, has been a guiding principle for the university: “Longwood University is an institution of higher learning dedicated to the development of citizen leaders who are prepared to make positive contributions to the common good of society ...” The pursuit of that mission, however, requires both a vision and a strategic plan.
The Vision Thing
In 1987, George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st President
Longwood will be recognized as the top comprehensive public institution in the South through its focus on attracting and retaining a diverse faculty recognized for excellence in teaching, attracting outstanding students, providing challenging instruction of the highest quality and providing an academic and residential life environment that develops citizen leadership skills. To achieve this vision, all members of the Longwood community will be dedicated to the highest standards of academic distinction and quality of life, and will examine, reaffirm, and refine those aspects of the college experience that collectively make Longwood an exceptional learning community.
With the official mission and vision approved and endorsed by the Longwood Board of Visitors, a strategic plan was soon created to guide Longwood in the years to come. As part of the natural evolution of a living document, the strategic plan was reviewed in 2001, resulting in a revised and approved strategic plan: “From Vision to Action: The Five-Year Plan.” This document, which supports the original mission and vision, recognizes that “Longwood is a learning-centered community” with a focus on preparing citizen leaders for the common good. It can be read online at www.longwood.edu/president.
The new mission, vision and strategic plan became a map for the future, as Longwood University would be transformed over the next 10 years under the leadership of President Cormier.
The Start of an Era
When the Longwood Board of Visitors announced the selection of Dr. Cormier as the next president of Longwood College, then-Vice Rector Alice Stallard foretold the wake of a visionary leader, recommending Dr. Cormier to the Longwood Community as "an energetic producer of results."
On 11 April 1997, Dr. Cormier was inaugurated as the 24th president of Longwood College. A new era had begun.
Vice Rector Stallard’s prophesy would prove true as Dr. Cormier assumed command with an eye toward the future: “As we approach the beginning of a new millennium, I am pleased to say that we have completed an extensive planning process that has not only reaffirmed our identity as one of Virginia’s finest colleges, but also set ambitious goals for the challenging years ahead. Based upon the four cornerstones of quality, application of knowledge, technological integration, and accountability, we will offer a new collegiate experience to our students. Combining the best of the past with the many opportunities of the future, we are creating a learning-centered, service-driven, quality-minded educational environment that is second to none.”
Transforming the Campus
The transformation of Longwood would begin with a master plan, carefully integrated with the overall strategic plan that would carry the college into the next century and beyond. It is said that everyone owns a brick in a state university, and Longwood was certainly expanding ownership. Major construction projects, addressing both academic and co-curricular needs, included plans for a new science center, a state-of-the-art health and fitness center to be opened in 2007, and much-needed renovations of Hiner Hall and the Longwood Center for the Visual Arts. Of course, even the best of plans can go awry and our plans for renovating the Ruffners went up in flames on 24 April with the Great Fire of 2001. A great leader will rise to the occasion, however, and this may have been Dr. Cormier’s finest hour. Shortly after the fire Dr. Cormier promised everyone, “Ruffner Hall will be rebuilt and it will be rebuilt in the way in which it was designed. Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, Ruffner Hall and our beloved Rotunda will live again.” True to her nature, Dr. Cormier would see opportunity when faced with tragedy. True to her promise, Ruffner Hall was re-dedicated on 23 April 2005 with greatly expanded amenities and a new high-tech infrastructure.
Developing the Meaningful Learning Environment
A “Meaningful Learning Environment”is not just a slogan, but a student-centered way of life at Longwood. It is evolutionary and, at times, revolutionary. It is one of the ways in which Longwood is meeting its mission to prepare citizen leaders for the common good. From the laptop initiative of 1997 (Longwood was the first college in Virginia to require all freshmen to have a laptop computer) to innovative faculty development programs, from mandatory internships to international study, from new academic programs to new learning methodologies, Longwood is preparing students for life in the rapidly changing world in which we live. The Meaningful Learning Environment is academic excellence at its best.
To create such a learning environment, a president must push the envelope of education in every possible way — striving to find new and better ways to enhance the educational process.
As Dr. Cormier once said, “If we are lucky, we have a four-year window of opportunity to shape these young lives in a positive way that will benefit both them and our society. That is our charge and all of our efforts are concentrated toward that goal.”
To that end, Longwood is constantly shaping, revising, and improving the curriculum — adding new programs like Communications Studies and the Retail Management MBA, expanding outreach through online course offerings and new facilities in South Boston, Martinsville, Danville, Petersburg and Richmond, and smoothing the transition from community college to Longwood through signed articulation agreements with every community college in the Commonwealth.
Funding the Dream
It might take a village to raise a child, but it takes a lot of money to run a university – especially when pursuing the excellence on which Longwood has set its sights. Facilities, salaries, scholarships, infrastructure, and the need to remain competitive in the arena of higher education require more funding than ever before – at a time when state support is diminishing. Today, Longwood must rely on its own resources for over 60 percent of its annual expenditures.
Recognizing that Longwood’s destiny rested in large part on Longwood, Dr. Cormier announced plans in 2002 for the first-ever comprehensive campaign in the college’s history: a turning point: The Campaign for Longwood, with an ambitious goal of $32 million.
Under the dynamic leadership of co-chairs Hugh and Alice Cheatwood Stallard, ’59, the campaign surpassed its goal one year ahead of schedule with a total of $33,035,769.
This is the kind of success that puts a smile on a president’s face. As Dr. Cormier stated, “When we began discussing the campaign in 1998, there were skeptics who said that Longwood, its alumni and friends, did not have the capacity to be successful in a major fundraising effort. We certainly defied those skeptics, and even surprised ourselves a bit with the campaign’s success.”
The success of this first campaign has contributed greatly to the dramatic transformation of Longwood and added new meaning to the meaningful learning environment. Here are some of the ways in which those donations are being put to good use:
Over $12 million for endowed scholarships
Over $6 million in annual support
Over $1 million to establish first endowed chair
Over $1 million for the renovation of the Longwood Center for the Visual Arts
Over $3 million to create the Cormier Center for Citizen Scholars
Over $5 million for capital and special projects
Over $3 million for Brock Commons.
The campaign did, indeed, mark a turning point for Longwood. Nowhere is this more evident than in the lead gift by Joan Perry Brock, ’64, and her husband Macon who donated over $3 million to create Brock Commons where Pine Street once stood.
Aside from the re-dedication of Ruffner Hall and the Rotunda, no other campus project has generated as much interest and enthusiasm as Brock Commons. The opening of Brock Commons on 24 April 2004, was the capstone event in the completion of a turning point: The Campaign for Longwood. More than 1600 people attended the ribbon-cutting and dedication that will be recorded as one of the happiest days in the history of Longwood.
Stretching from one end of campus to the other, Brock Commons replaces the congestion of a busy street with a beautiful pedestrian promenade with gardens, fountains, outdoor sculpture, benches, and a friendly, casual air that promotes a sense of unity on campus. As Dr. Cormier said during the dedication, “Brock Commons will transform this campus.” Indeed, it has.