Jeffery Trammell, W&M Class of 1973, Board of Visitors Member and Rector
Jeff Trammell arrived at William & Mary in 1969. During his time as a student, he played on the Men's Basketball Team and was involved in Young Democrats, Lambda Chi Alpha, and the Botetourt Bibliographical Society.
Trammell served on the William & Mary Board of Visitors from 2005-2013, serving as Rector of the Board from 2011-2013. He has been noted as the first openly gay board chair of a major public university in the United States.
William & Mary
Interviewee: Jeff Trammell
Interviewer: Carmen Bolt
Interview Date: November 12, 2018
Carmen: My name is Carmen Bolt. I’m the oral historian at William & Mary. It’s currently around 10:30 a.m. on November 12, 2018. I’m sitting with Jeff Trammell, alumnus of the class of 1973, former Board of Visitors member and rector, in his home in Washington, D.C. This will be the first in a series of interviews regarding your time at William & Mary and your professional career, and this interview is going to focus on your experiences with students. All that being said, can we start out with the date and place of your birth and then what years you attended William & Mary?
Jeff: Sure. I was born January 13, 1950 in Tallahassee, Florida.
Carmen: Great. And the years you attended William & Mary?
Jeff: I attended William & Mary from 1969 to 1973.
Carmen: Okay, great. So before we jump into your time at William & Mary, can you tell me a little bit about where and how you were raised and some about your family?
Jeff: Sure. I grew up in a small town, Blountstown, Florida, which is an hour west of Tallahassee, actually in the Central Time Zone, right on the change there, the Apalachicola River.
00:01:03 Very small high school. And a rural community. My family had been in Florida forever. They came down when it was still a territory from Virginia. And that area actually of North Florida was settled by a lot of families from Virginia that came in the early 1800s. But it was very Southern. It’s changing now with all the new residents. But culturally very much part of the South.
Carmen: Great. And what about your family? What was kind of your family makeup, and where did you fall in the line of children and such?
Jeff: Sure. I’m the youngest of three sons. Our dad was…we were very much middle class. My dad had a store and my mom was a stay-at-home mom. The family had been involved in politics in Florida, so my grandfather had been a member of the legislature, and a lot of members of my family had been in the Florida legislature, so I grew up very much involved in political campaigns from an early age.
Carmen: Great. And so was college then something that was discussed often in your family? When did you start thinking about that?
Jeff: Sure. Well, there were two things you discussed in my family: politics and basketball. And I was immersed in both from an early age. And I had the good fortune to be pretty good as a basketball player, and that continued to develop so that fortuitously my team won the Florida state championship my senior year, and I was fortunate enough to be recruited by a lot of universities around the country. And actually, at that time, my first year I went to Florida State in Tallahassee.
00:02:59 And I knew that for me academically and individually it was a place that I probably should not have gone because I didn’t feel like I wanted to be at a huge state university, and I immediately went back and looked at other schools who had recruited me. I had an awareness of William & Mary because my dad’s first cousin had gone there many years ago and she always spoke very highly of it. So I visited William & Mary and I said this is exactly where I want to be.
So I arrived at William & Mary in the fall of 1969. It was a tumultuous time on campus, actually, because it was a time of Kent State and student unrest around the country about the war in Vietnam. I remember being in the campus center and looking over at the TV and seeing what was happening at Kent State, and the four students who were killed by the Ohio National Guard.
00:03:59 And at William & Mary the students pretty much, like students around the country, were shocked. Now we were more measured at William & Mary, and there weren’t riots, there wasn’t any violence, but there were four giant crosses erected in the sunken garden in memory of those four students at Kent State. And I believe that classes were canceled for a day or two as there was a real commemoration on campus.
But it was a tumultuous time. There were often even marches down Duke of Gloucester Street, if you can believe it, against the war in Vietnam. And I remember students going up to D.C. for the march on the Pentagon, so it was a time of that. But of course I was an athlete, so that adds another structure to your experience at William & Mary. So a lot of my time was at William & Mary Hall. Between that and academics, that pretty much dominates one’s life at the college.
Carmen: Definitely. Yeah, I would love to…there’s several directions I’d like to take what you were just talking about. I’d like to flesh out some of that. So if we could, right when you stepped on campus and it was this tumultuous time, but you knew when you were on William & Mary’s campus that was the place, what was it about William & Mary, what did it look like, smell like, feel like, if you can remember?
Jeff: Sure, absolutely. Well, it was a new experience for me being... I mean, it was still somewhat Southern, but it was different than North Florida. But I loved the sense of community. I loved the sense of history. I would just walk down Duke of Gloucester Street and just marvel at the fact that I was walking on this 18th century village, really. And I loved it. I mean, the main thing I think that was true then, and it’s certainly still true at William & Mary, is the sense of community, the fact that people know your name.
00:05:58 They know who you are, they talk to you, they engage you. And this concept that we now look back on and call engaged learning I certainly experienced. What it means is that you don’t just take multiple choice tests and sit in large lecture halls. It means that you are engaged. They reach out and pull answers out of you in discussion and engagement. And I found myself engaged not just academically, but intellectually in a way I never had been before at William & Mary. And sometimes that was in the classroom, sometimes it was sitting in B32 Toliver, where I lived my first year, till 3:00 in the morning debating philosophical questions or politics. But that was William & Mary. It had a sort of intellectual engagement fervor to it, in a fun way.
00:06:58 At that time I would have to say the climate was a little different. It wasn’t as good as it is today. In those days when freshmen would arrive on campus, at orientation they would say look on your right, look on your left, only one of the three of you will graduate from this place. So you started with a little distance, a little animosity or tension between the students and the college that fortunately is gone now. Today students are much closer to the faculty and the administration than they were in those days. But the students were very close among themselves. I still today, 50 years later almost, have dozens of friends that I went to college with. And I don’t mean just irregular friends, I mean people that you see regularly and you communicate with online constantly.
00:07:59 So friends of mine who went to other universities don’t understand that because they don’t have the same experience. But that’s William & Mary. We all grew up together. We went through that intense four years together that molds you and makes you who you are.
Carmen: Yeah, that’s excellent. It sounds like it’s something very unique to William & Mary.
Jeff: It is.
Carmen: To the William & Mary experience. So in this sort of engaged learning system that William & Mary has going on, how did you know what you wanted to study? Did you enter in knowing? And why? And what was the experience of studying what you studied?
Jeff: Sure, sure. Well, my natural interest was politics, and history, and the social sciences, and I got through the non-social science part of it in order to graduate from William & Mary, but my true love was social science.
00:08:55 And while I was an undergrad, not only did you have the Vietnam War, you had the Nixon-McGovern election, you had Watergate developing. And again, we were just…we would wait for the Washington Post to come every morning and read all the stories about what was going on in Washington, just around the fraternity house I was living in in my last two years at William & Mary. Which was really the same as the dorm experience, which was a huge amount of discussion of what’s going on in the world. And to be around likeminded people who had that same level of interest really was something I treasure to this day.
But of course I was playing basketball, so that took a lot of—and it was a great love. I really liked my teammates. We had a lot of fun, and I’ve stayed in touch with them, many of them, until today. So we’d be at William & Mary Hall every afternoon.
00:09:57 And you would emerge at 6:30 or 7:00 exhausted, come up the steps and go across the street to what we then called the Commons. I think they call it the Caf now, I don’t know. But it’s the same building there. And so that was different. I mean, one interesting little sidebar here is at that time the drinking age was 18.
Jeff: And there actually was a pub on campus over behind Trinkle Hall behind the campus center called Hoi Polloi. Now I’d like to say I didn’t go that often. [Laughs.] But it was a place that students went and drank on campus, so it was a whole different sort of social scene, in a way, than today. And one can debate the merits of that. So that was a different experience in those days.
Carmen: Definitely. Completely. Some students couldn’t imagine having that experience these days.
Jeff: Right. Well, students didn’t have to drive, which was a benefit.
Carmen: That’s true.
Jeff: But our basketball team had a lot of fascinating experiences. I played my first game ever in William & Mary Hall in December of 1970. We played North Carolina, the Tar Heels. And it was really an incredible evening because the hall wasn’t finished, really, but we were intent on playing in it regardless. At that end where the big sliding doors are there was just a tarp across there, and the temperature in the gym was only maybe 55 or 60, so Carolina drove their bus in and parked it down there inside the building at the end down there and went on their bus at halftime to stay warm, whereas we were shivering in our locker room. And we had a temporary floor. We lost, but we gave it a good fight.
Carmen: It sounds like the climate was not necessarily in anybody’s favor, either.
Jeff: It wasn’t, but the hall was packed. Everyone wanted to be in the new William & Mary Hall and see William & Mary play North Carolina, so it was quite an evening. And I’ll never forget having played in the first game in the hall. And then a few weeks later we played in the Steel Bowl tournament at Christmas, and we played UCLA when they were ranked No. 1 in the nation.
And for me it was just such an incredible experience to be playing and starting as a sophomore, a kid who was sort of oh my god, how did I wind up here playing the No. 1 ranked team in the country, and shaking John Wooden, the legendary coach from UCLA’s hand? And the game was televised broadly, and friends of mine that I’d gone to high school with saw it in California and other places, and they’re like oh my gosh, you know, you guys are in the big leagues. Well, William & Mary was occasionally in the big leagues basketball-wise.
00:12:55 We had to play the teams. And we were pretty good. We about broke even. But the experience was incredible for the players, as you can imagine.
Carmen: Oh, yeah, that sounds incredible. Do you have any favorite memories? I mean, you’ve listed a couple right there, but any just favorite games or favorite memories from your experience as a student athlete at William & Mary you’d like to share?
Jeff: Let me think. I would say that first game against Carolina was the high point, right, because it marked something for William & Mary. It meant that we now had a…instead of playing in what was then Blow Gym—it’s now Blow Hall—where the balcony could block your shots because it hung down over the court, we now had a really new state-of-the-art facility, we’re playing nationally ranked teams, and the fans responded.
00:13:59 The hall was full almost every game, or mostly full. And so it was really, to be part of that, and William & Mary feeling like it was…that we really had arrived with basketball was a great experience.
Carmen: Sure. It sounds like it legitimized, kind of, the team, the sport, at William & Mary.
Jeff: It did, it did. Yeah. And the commitment by William & Mary to having a good basketball team and spending time at it.
Carmen: Awesome. That’s great. Well, so did you have any, at your time at William & Mary, any coaches or alternately professors, mentors that you looked up to in particular?
Jeff: Sure. There were several coaches I liked a great deal, but also professors who may not even have known that they had an impact on you. I remember taking humanities literature from Bob Skolnik, when I ran into him years later when I was rector, and we laughed about how all of us wind up in places we had no idea we would wind up.
00:14:59 But to this day I think about the books that I read for the first time in Bob Skolnik’s class, which I believe was in one of the old lodges.
Jeff: And the lodges were a great experience because you would sit there, maybe ten or 12 of you in a class, or 15, in this wonderful little lodge, where you could see the world outside through the windows, but you’re sort of cloistered in there, and having great discussions in a way that, again, is engaged learning. You are a piece of the process. You’re not in a lecture hall with 300 people.
Carmen: Yeah. I don’t think I even knew that the lodges held classes.
Jeff: They did.
Carmen: I knew they held the fraternities at some point, and they—
Jeff: They had fraternities, and then when they built Fraternity Row they turned into classes. And then they built the coffee house and a few other uses for them, but they were mostly used for classes when I was there.
00:15:59 And there were still—I don’t know if there are still classes in the Wren Building, but I remember having a class there, and tourists would wander into your classroom occasionally while they were on the tour. But what a unique place to learn and to go to school. So I always felt the uniqueness of William & Mary, and from the day I set foot on campus I felt that loyalty.
Carmen: Sure. And to study history there. I mean—
Jeff: And to study history there. It doesn’t get much better. I mean, I remember taking history of the old South and just being mesmerized. And then one highlight was Dean Fowler. The dean of faculty, I believe his title was, was Henry Fowler, who gave a lecture on the Tudors and Stuarts each year, and townspeople would even want to come to the lecture and hear it because it was so well known.
00:16:57 And I loved his class. Years later I was in the U.K. and I remember that he had told me about Bonnie Prince Charles and the battle that occurred at Prestonpans, Scotland and that his family was from that area of Scotland originally. So this is probably five or six, ten years later I was on a train, I remember, going to Edinburgh, and they said next stop Prestonpans, so I got off and wrote him a postcard from there and told him I remembered it from his class and then got back on the train and went to Edinburgh.
Carmen: Oh, that’s great. I bet that was affirming for him, too, to get that postcard and know his lecture had an impact.
Jeff: Well, again, what you experienced stayed with you at William & Mary.
Carmen: Sure. That’s awesome. Well, speaking of other just figures who were on campus during your time there, Davis Paschall was president at the time.
Jeff: Right, right.
Carmen: And something I’ve picked up—I’m sure it varies in different eras—but is this kind of proximity between presidents on campus to students. And so I’m wondering if you have any memories of Davis Paschall. His presidency was kind of a contentious one. But any memories you might have of him?
Jeff: No. There was a much greater distance between the students and the administration in those days. And even with the faculty also. So William & Mary is a much better place today in that regard than it was in that period of the late ‘60s and the ‘70s. Yes, the administration was controversial. They were trying to enforce visitation policies where the women would be allowed to visit in men’s dorms and things like this that were, in retrospect, seem almost impossible to imagine they were sources of such great controversy. But no, I really have no, other than just as a distant figure, I have no memory of him.
00:18:55 I do remember when Tom Graves was selected to follow him, which was probably my sophomore or junior year, he was very welcomed on campus. People felt like it was a breath of fresh air. He came from Harvard. He seemed to represent the future rather than the past, is what people had seen in Davis Y. Paschall, although in fairness, I didn’t really know him, so I didn’t have anything to judge him on other than the fact that his administration was distant from the students.
Carmen: Okay, great. Well, that’s helpful to hear, for sure, so thank you.
Jeff: Yeah, sure.
Carmen: So you’ve mentioned some of the ways that the years you attended William & Mary were tumultuous just in the world at large.
Carmen: But even on campus during those times two years before you arrived, that’s when we saw the first three African Americans in residence come onto campus.
Jeff: Right, right.
Carmen: This was also a period of time, ’69 was when some of these really strict regulations on women’s dress and social norms, those were broken down finally. But I’m sure the transition continued while you were there.
00:20:01 I’m trying to think what else was going on. The Department of Health, Education and Welfare was kind of on the campus’s tail to start implementing a transition from really segregated education to integrated education. So how did you, in what ways did you see any of those things play out on campus?
Jeff: Sure. As I look back on it, it was such a gift to live through change and to experience the evolution of our society, one might say revolution, in some regards, into a multicultural society. That struggle continues. But I had gone to a segregated high school until I was a sophomore in high school. And I was there when the first African American student arrived. Watched him get beat up a couple of times by angry whites.
00:21:00 I had seen the worst side of desegregation—or segregation and the movement to desegregate early on and felt pretty deeply myself that this was tragic, part of the old South that we needed to move beyond as fast as we could. Being an athlete played into that because I was often in situations where, in my first year when I went to Florida State, I lived as a minority. Most of the players on the team were African American and our dorm floor was majority African American, and it was a great experience for me to have to learn to live as a minority. And when I got to William & Mary, yes, we were just…I was a year or two there after the first African American residential students.
00:21:58 But we still were struggling to catch up. And as with most Virginia schools, there was a history of antipathy toward the African American residents of the state that was just starting to be grappled with. It would take years for the universities to start looking more like the population of Virginia.
And it was a time, too, for me personally I was dealing with being gay. I knew I was gay my whole life. Didn’t know quite what it was. And not something you talk about in a small Southern town, or to your family, or anywhere else. Or really at William & Mary until I was maybe a senior, when I started talking to some fraternity brothers, who were incredibly accepting and said that’s terrific, no difference, let’s move on.
00:23:00 But one could not help but feel that it was a time of change in many, many regards, while you were there. And I look back on that and I kind of marvel at the way that the world changed just in three or four years, from 1968, when you had the great disruptions around the world, and 1969, with Kent State and antiwar protests, and by the summer after I graduated in ’73, when Nixon resigned, and I was in Williamsburg to watch that. I was working at the Hospitality House as a bartender. There was a pub in the basement of the Hospitality House, which is now, of course, One Tribe Place, and a part of the college. And I was pleased later, as rector, to be able to help purchase that.
00:23:56 But I felt like, you know, my defining experience in growing up was really at William & Mary, even more than high school in the small town I grew up in because for the first time I was engaged in the broader world. And I greatly valued that. And in retrospect, it helped me understand what a liberal arts education should do. And perhaps my great loyalty to the college comes from that.
Carmen: That’s great. And I think it’s probably going to be helpful for others to hear. I mean, right now is a very tumultuous time for William & Mary, the past several years, so to hear about what can come out of that, of what can come out of being at the college in a difficult time or a time of transition, what that can look like in retrospect, that’s helpful to hear.
Carmen: I was hoping we could talk maybe just a little bit more about the ways you felt your identity was or was not supported during your time at William & Mary, because I think that’s helpful to talk about.
Carmen: You mentioned getting some support your senior year, opening up to some fraternity brothers.
Jeff: Yeah, yeah.
Carmen: That’s excellent. But I’m wondering if there were any other moments during your time at William & Mary where you felt like you could open up about your identity, if you knew of any safe spaces to do that or what that experience was like.
Jeff: Yeah, it was…in those days one did not even really consider discussing it much, or even think in terms of here’s a place or a group of people around whom I would feel comfortable, so you didn’t approach your own sexual orientation or identity from that point of view. It was sort of this is part of me, now is not the time to fully deal with it. Now I’ve talked to others who were there at the same time—Carolyn Martin, who is the president of Amherst right now and is an out lesbian, was in my class, and she and I have sort of compared notes about what it was like on campus in those days.
00:26:01 I would say yeah, there were some…you occasionally would hear some words of animosity against gay people here or there. But William & Mary was not one of those places where you had a lot of that. William & Mary was always much more a sort of respectful place where people, even if they disagreed, were respectful of each other. So I really didn’t have any negative experiences. I just felt the need, myself, to start thinking about how am I going to deal with it by the time I was a senior and a little more…had some closer friends that I could discuss it with. And so it worked out fine for me. But in retrospect I’m sure there were many other gay students on campus, or LGBTQ students on campus, and…but they did not really…it didn’t manifest.
00:27:07 So it was just a different time. But I like to say, you know, the positive side of that was there wasn’t palpable animosity at William & Mary. I think the comfort level for people that are LGBTQ was fairly high because they didn’t feel threatened in a substantial way, at least not institutionally. They may have run into an individual situation here or there. But I think that…you know, later I learned that the administration had been fairly hostile back in the ‘60s, and there were…I would hear stories later about students that were sent home or files of students were marked “suspected homosexual” by the dean of students and things like that. But I didn’t know any of that at the time.
Carmen: Okay. So just kind of one more question along those lines. When you did decide to open up to your friends your senior year, what made you decide that that was time? What led you to feel that? And was that what you would identify as your kind of coming out experience?
Jeff: Yeah, that’s a good que… It was a time when both more broadly and society people were feeling change and young people, you know, it was the flower generation, Summer of Love you would read about, and San Francisco. Even locally, the way people dressed and acted you could see this was the change generation. So everyone felt part of that, though in different ways, but it was all around you.
00:28:57 So on an individual basis you felt some of that as well. And I certainly did. I didn’t, you know, I knew that as a basketball player, as all the other things I guess I did at William & Mary, I felt like that no, I’m not going to go around talking about my sexual orientation to many people. It just didn’t fit at that time. But I did, by the time I was a senior, start to think about it more, what does this mean for me, how do I deal with it. And the conversations I had with a couple of fraternity brothers help me sense that it’s okay to not hide this, that it’s okay—now you’re always going to be selective, at that time, at least, on who you talk to about it and how you manifest where you are when you discuss it with people.
00:29:57 But certainly the William & Mary experience helped prepare me for that. It helped me see the broader world and it helped me understand you can trust yourself.
Carmen: Great. Well, thank you for answering all those questions.
Carmen: I have a couple just more broad questions about your time at William & Mary.
Carmen: So you were involved in a lot of things we’ve already listed. You had your studies, you were on the basketball team, but you were also part of a fraternity that you ended up being president of.
Carmen: You were a member of the Botetourt Bibliographical Society, a member of Young Democrats.
Carmen: So you were busy. What motivated you to be so engaged and in those particular areas?
Jeff: I think it really was my upbringing. I was raised in a family where you were expected to be engaged in everything. My grandmother, from my earliest recollection, was always talking about politics, talking about Eleanor Roosevelt, and helping people.
00:30:57 So I grew up with the expectation that you would be engaged and involved in a lot of activities. So I guess I naturally moved toward that when I was at William & Mary. But all very positive experiences. Being in a fraternity was a great experience. I have such close friends to this day.
And a lot of the intellectual growth, maybe counter-intuitively for a lot of people, occurs in those living situations where it’s just not drunken fraternity parties, it’s people actually sitting around talking about issues, and about life experiences, and about classes, and books. So I had a lot of that at William & Mary. And those fraternity brothers are still very close to me, and hear from them weekly, if not daily, on issues of the day and things they’re interested in.
00:32:02 So yeah, I was really honored when they elected me their president, as if I needed something else to do. But I was honored. And they’re just a terrific group of individuals.
Carmen: So this is a very broad question, but favorite memories from your time at William & Mary at large. You mentioned one from a basketball perspective, but are there any others that just stand out as truly just impactful moments from your time?
Jeff: Yeah, I mean, you look back on the breadth of your experience of the college and a lot of it is being on that incredible campus, you know, whether it’s throwing a Frisbee in the sunken garden or just lying out there pretending to be reading your textbook with a yellow marker in your hand and falling asleep in the spring, all of that’s a William & Mary experience.
00:33:00 It’s going down to Colonial Williamsburg and jumping over the fence into the garden at the governor’s palace and pretending you’re studying there. All of that’s part of it.
But I would say really the thing that’s a highlight for me are the people, my fraternity brothers, friends to this day that I’m very close to. Stewart Gamage, who was a class ahead of me, but I’m very close to and I still work with her constantly, and many others. Susan Magill, who became rector later, we were very close as undergrads. And so I met some pretty incredible people and made great friends, and that’s what comes to mind first and foremost. And it may have been nothing more than just sitting talking to them, or, in those days, having a beer with them, because it was perfectly legal above 18.
00:34:01 But it’s about the people at William & Mary. And to this day I’m really just greatly fortuitous to have those friendships.
Carmen: Yeah, that’s excellent. Yeah, that’s a great testimony to come away from, just these long-lasting, decades later friendships. That’s awesome. So switching, kind of turning to the other side—
Jeff: Yeah, sure.
Carmen: —of things, were there any difficult memories in particular that you have of your time at William & Mary, whether it was something going on socioeconomically in the broader world, on campus, or even academically, any difficult memories?
Jeff: Yeah. I think it took me a while to adjust to the rigor of the academics. I had to learn discipline, which I didn’t have sufficiently. It was a growth time for me at William & Mary.
00:34:57 And I, like a lot of students, struggled a bit in the beginning. I don’t think it was that the material was too difficult or the faculty was not what they should have been, because they were. Although they didn’t really engage with students that much, so if you were struggling a bit, they didn’t really reach out to you perhaps the way they would today. But I remember struggling to learn to be at this place at this time, class every day, keeping up with everything, and that, to me, was part of the learning experience at William & Mary. And yeah, that was a lot of sort of pressure and tension, not unique to me at William & Mary. But that’s something I had to learn. And while it was perhaps a bit unpleasant at the time it had great benefit long-term.
Carmen: Great, great. So let’s transition to life after William & Mary.
Carmen: And most of this will be covered in subsequent interviews. But you left William & Mary. I read that you played basketball abroad in Europe for a couple years, so you received your law degree from FSU, became a successful attorney and lobbyist, worked for multiple presidential or vice presidential campaigns, so many other things. Served as the national chair of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.
Carmen: We can go on and on and on. You sat on the Board of Visitors at William & Mary, which we’ll cover in subsequent interviews, served as rector and have won numerous accolades and awards. So I am just wondering if you can reflect from this time, maybe as you were preparing to leave William & Mary, how you saw your William & Mary experience propelling you into your future, what you saw as your trajectory or what your next steps were going to be.
Jeff: Yeah. You know, as you look back on it you wonder how you got from William & Mary to your later career.
Jeff: And most students go through that. Most students are still struggling their senior year to try to figure out the path forward. There are those select few who already have the jobs, they’re locked in, they know where they’re going to live, what their salary is going to be. I wasn’t one of those students. I was trying to figure out several things. I loved basketball, I loved politics. I knew I was gay. What do you do with all this?
What I did was spent the summer bartending at the Hospitality House. And then tried to figure out what to do. And I came up to Washington quite a bit. And actually, that summer, one friend of mine, Paul [Gezzy] and I, because the Watergate hearings were going on, we got in his VW Beetle and drove up from Williamsburg to Washington and were actually standing in the Watergate hearing room when Alexander Butterfield revealed the existence of a secret taping system that had taped President Nixon.
00:37:56 And we were…some of the old picture I’ve seen in “Newsweek” and other magazines you can see Paul, who’s almost the same height I am, and I standing against the wall in the hearing room.
Carmen: Oh, my goodness.
Jeff: So it was a summer of Watergate. It was a summer of, I remember doing a lot of reading that summer. I started working the door at the pub as well and it gave me a lot of time to read. And that was great. But it was exploration, personal exploration, trying to figure out who you are and what you wanted to do.
So I tried to get a job on Capitol Hill. Knocked on a lot of doors, tried a lot. Then I had an offer to go play in Europe, so I did that, to Luxembourg. And at the same time I had applied to law school. And when I got accepted to law school, had I been wise I would have said to them give me a little more time to hang out in Europe and enjoy it. But I unwisely said oh, I’m going to come right back and be responsible and go to law school, which I did.
00:39:00 So I went to Tallahassee and started law school. But stayed in touch with a lot of my William & Mary friends during that time, and would come up a lot to D.C. and Williamsburg to see them. But really the transition from William & Mary to a career afterwards, in my case, even though I didn’t have a perfect understanding of what was ahead, I think I had the ingredients there.
I knew my passion for politics, for being involved in government, for figuring out where I fit into that. Should I run for office like a lot of members of my family had? I really didn’t know. That was something, in that time, I was starting to grapple with. But a number of members of my family had been lawyers, so the logical thing to do was to go to law school.
00:39:59 And a lot of my friends from William & Mary were going to law school. And so that’s how I wound up in law school in the fall of 1975.
Carmen: And from there just—[laughs]—everything else, right?
Jeff: But again it’s the liberal arts education, which I tell people when I speak sometimes, to student groups in particular, I try to help them understand that when you’re in the middle of an intense liberal arts education you don’t fully grasp what it’s doing for you. You will look back on it years later and say my gosh, how lucky I was, and particularly at William & Mary, where it’s done in a way where you as an individual develop. They see you as a person, they know your name, they engage with you. They insist that you not stand on the sidelines. And that’s most unusual in higher ed.
00:40:55 And it is what William & Mary is all about. And you are such a beneficiary of that when you look back on that four year experience and what it did for you. So in retrospect I could not have had better preparation for the things I wanted to do than being a history or government or economics, it didn’t matter what you did, it was the fact that you were forced to develop the discipline, the intellectual engagement, and sense of purpose William & Mary teaches you also.
You’d sit around and talk with other students and it wasn’t oh, I’m going to go do nothing, or I’m going to buy a boat and just go hang out on the beach or something. It was here’s what I want to do. And that is reinforcing as well because it helps students focus on the future. And maybe they still are going to thrash around a bit to get where they want to go, but they have at least a sense of direction and desire to achieve.
Carmen: Yeah, absolutely. Yes. And I’ve heard that, again, a number of times from just different individuals who did graduate from William & Mary, just the value of a liberal arts education and how that prepares you for whatever is next, whatever that might be.
Jeff: Whatever comes next you can deal with it.
Carmen: Yeah, absolutely. So I’m going to ask this question, and I don’t know that it’s possible to separate out your time as a student from your time going back and being on the board, but we can try.
Jeff: Sure, yeah.
Carmen: I would just like to hear about some changes you’ve seen at William & Mary over time and what you think about them.
Jeff: Sure. Right. William & Mary changed…well, maybe change has always been part of William & Mary. As I’ve looked back at the history of the college, there always seems to be…it never seems to be static. William & Mary was always being disrupted either quickly or slowly, one way or the other. The change happens.
00:42:55 It was certainly a school that suffered from lack of broad alumni or state support. UVA got most of that in the old days. I would say that, I mean, one of the—I’ve been told by friends of mine who are from Richmond or Norfolk or their families have been in Virginia a long time that William & Mary was a school that took students who were Jewish or Catholic at a time when UVA did not. They had a more elite diversity, and maybe not racially, but it was a place that was seen as a little more welcoming, in a way. And you look back at classes in the ‘40s and ‘50s, that’s evident. In the ‘60s. It still was, though, sort of this small Virginia school, segregated, rigid rules on dress, on dating, things like that.
00:44:01 And perhaps the accelerated change did start in the years I was there as an undergrad. I certainly felt that. You felt the change while you were on the campus. It was pretty sudden. The things that we talked about when I was a freshman at William & Mary, like would women be allowed to even enter a male dorm between 6:00 and 8:00 on a Friday evening, became no rules by ’73, so in four years all that changed dramatically. And so living the change was part of being a student in those days. Now I would say that the…what I consider one of the great assets of William & Mary today was not there at the time, which was this sense of community.
00:44:57 That developed over the last decade since then. When I went back on the board and saw the relationship between faculty and students, the engagement of students, all the public service work they do, and the administration being close to and listening to students, and working with them, I quickly recognized it was a different place.
Carmen: Sure. Yeah. Absolutely. Because you mentioned there was definitely community between you and fellow students and your individuals you knew there, but not so much between the faculty, administration and students.
Jeff: No, right.
Carmen: So yeah, that is a major change.
Carmen: So are there any changes in particular you can think of that you would like to see in the future of William & Mary?
Jeff: I think despite the fact that we’re the top school in the country on annual giving for public universities, I’d like to see us do even more. I’d like to see us go to 40%, which the board set as a goal. I think it’s doable, and I think that had we paid attention to our alumni in the old days, like we do now, we would be there.
00:46:06 But we’ve been in a catch up process for a long time—or not long time, maybe a decade—in terms of creating an endowment that we want, having alumni participation that we want. So I think the financial side of it is what’s really important. We’ve made remarkable strides in almost every other area. Certainly our administration, I think, has been very sound, and is well suited for the change that’s coming in higher ed generally. But I think that William & Mary is incredibly stronger academically, financially overall than it was when I was there.
00:46:54 It has a position in higher education today that is unique as a school with academics, small classes, engaged learning, of a private institution but yet being public, with a public mission. And as much as I’ve dealt with other universities around the country, the other public Ivies are not like William & Mary. They’re big state universities. We’re not. We don’t aspire to be. We know what we do well. We want to keep doing it even better. And I think if you look at that thread throughout William & Mary’s history, it really helps you understand our progression from being a sort of small, Southern, segregated, more inward-looking university to being a nationally recognized university that is a leader in many ways.
00:47:55 We were not a leader in those days. We would not have hired a president who was looking to make us a leader in technology in those days. We would not have been the top public university on annual giving in those days. We produced a lot of noted alumni, but I’m not sure that overall we produced as many uniformly talented, able young men and women with that mission to go change the world that we do today.
So you look at that historical progression and I think you can really see, step by step, how we got to where we are today. And this is a time when other universities around the country have been losing alumni support and struggling. We get more applicants every year. We can be more selective every year, despite turning away students we wish we didn’t have to turn away. But we can’t get much larger, and we know that.
00:49:00 So it’s a great story if you look back on the history of William & Mary over the last half century.
Carmen: Yeah, and I was just thinking this as you were speaking, it would be really interesting to look at financial giving over the past ten years because the past ten years financially, economically, not a great period of time, at least the first half of it.
Carmen: And yet we’re seeing…
Jeff: At other universities, their alumni giving is dropping while ours is still slowly going up, so it’s a great story.
Carmen: Yeah, absolutely. So I just have a couple more questions before opening it up to you.
Carmen: The questions I have pertain to the last year and this year, the celebrations we have going on on campus. Last year we celebrated 50 years of African Americans in residence, as we mentioned, a couple years before you arrived on campus. And then we this year are celebrating a hundred years of coeducation. It’s pretty wild. So we’re reflecting on and commemorating the value and contributions of women, of African Americans on campus. Could you speak a little bit to the value of diversity and inclusion and the value of women at institutions like William & Mary, but maybe at large as well?
Jeff: Sure. William & Mary is a great example of the change and growth of American society and the ability of all individuals to have full citizenship, full participation, which was not the case in the past. We started with women and I like to think that our motives were high-minded in admitting women. I think it was probably financial need that brought us to admit women. And on a side note I had a sort of personal interest in that in that my relative, Edith Stone, class of 1926 at William & Mary, when I was growing up she would talk about William & Mary. In fact I still have her student handbook.
00:50:56 And we have a note that was sent to her parents that said, “Dear Mr. & Mrs. Stone, your daughter Edith is not attending chapel regularly.”
Carmen: Calling her out.
Jeff: I think it was mandatory chapel in those days at William & Mary. But she went there all the way from the town she grew up in, Quincy, Florida, to there because it admitted women. And so that was very fortunate that William & Mary admitted women that early and they were proud of that.
The African American civil rights movement that obviously swept the whole country, we were a little late to the game. We were in Virginia. Virginia was very different than it is today. And we were very much part of that. When I arrived on campus you did have that feeling of being in the old South.
00:51:56 I think President Paschall probably personified that, right? But, I mean, it changed so fast. Things started changing immediately. And it was just the large climate in the country. So the students were fairly progressive in those days and obviously much more so than the president or the administration or Virginia generally was, the state was. So yeah, we saw that happening. Obviously there were African American students there. One had a sense that…I think we naïvely thought that just by breaking down barriers all problems would be solved. We were quite naïve in sort of believing that everything is going to be perfect soon.
00:52:54 And you look back all these years later and realize the struggle to include people of all, you know, no matter who, their race or their gender or who they love or anything else, any other factor is an ongoing process. And we, like many 20-year-olds, thought, oh, it’ll all be fine tomorrow, everything’s good. And the first Earth Day happened while I was an undergrad. I’ll never forget that. Over by Adair, which is probably still there, I think. It was the women’s gym back then. And I remember walking by as the first Earth Day ceremony was going on there. So you had a sense that the future is here. And even though five years ago William & Mary may have had a dress code, and was segregated, my god, in five years it was a different place.
00:53:58 So the seeds of the change may have been there earlier, but they certainly were more evident during that era, and we’re much better for it now.
Carmen: What about diversity and just inclusivity of all different narratives do you think benefits a place like William & Mary?
Jeff: Well, the benefit of diversity is that first you gain the talents of everyone and not just the select few who are there for arbitrary reasons like race or gender, religion, whatever. Secondly, you look more like the population generally. So by understanding other cultures and other people, other points of view, you’re much better prepared to go out and succeed in the world. I mean, that’s what a liberal arts education is supposed to do.
00:54:54 I don’t know how you achieve an excellent liberal arts education without the students being exposed to reality. And reality is diversity. I’ve always believed that. And when I speak on diversity I talk about that, that diversity is not some abstract concept, it is reality. It is people who are actually there. There are actually people of different races and religions. There have been LGBT people there forever, and will be, even if you don’t know it, right? So in a transparent, respectful, reality based entity, a college, everyone is going to be who they are and be respected for it. And that takes a lot of work to get there, and I think it’s an ongoing process. But I think that William & Mary’s history is almost the history of the country.
00:55:57 You could look at it as not just the national historical events, and the founding fathers, and all that, but in terms of the evolution of our student body, the William & Mary story is, again, the national story.
Carmen: Yeah. I like to think of colleges as a microcosm of broader society, and you certainly want that to look like and the experience to be like what you’re going to experience in the broader society.
Carmen: Well, thank you for answering that. So I am at the end of my question list for this particular interview. I want to open it up to you now to bring up any memories, any thoughts, anything you thought I’d ask you but I haven’t, just opening it up to you at this point at the end of this interview to see if there’s anything you’d like to add.
Jeff: I would just say that one of my takeaways from being an undergrad at William & Mary was that you’re part of something special.
00:57:00 The legacy of the institution, the fact that you are on a campus or sitting in a classroom, if you happen to be in the Wren Building, where people learned in a way that allowed them to go out and do great things very indirectly and perhaps tangentially makes students want to do the same thing. There is a certain inspiration that comes from walking through the Wren Building and being on those steps or walking around the campus that imparts that. And I always felt it was such a great privilege. Not every student has it. Some students I talk to say, well, I really wasn’t inspired by William & Mary. But most are. And it’s by the legacy, in some ways, imperfect as it has been.
00:57:56 And again, the students you’re around, and today the faculty, much more than in the past. So that, to me, is one of the differentiators about William & Mary. It’s a thing that sets the institution apart. It allows its alumni to have that sense of I’m supposed to do something with this. I’m not just going to sit on the sidelines. So to me that is a great gift from William & Mary.
Carmen: That’s great.
Jeff: That’s all I’ve got. I’m talked out.
Carmen: All right. Well, that’s completely understandable. Thank you so much for participating.
Jeff: Oh, it’s my pleasure, Carmen.
Carmen: It was wonderful to get to hear your story.
Jeff: Sometime later we’ll get into all the machinations of the Gene Nichol non-renewal.
Carmen: Oh, yeah.
Jeff: I’ve kept hundred—I’ve got a file. I’m an electronic packrat. Some people keep paper. I keep documents and emails and all that, sometimes so I’m going to crash, just overload. But I’ve discovered I’ve got like 600 emails from the Gene Nichol not firing, I guess you could call it.
Jeff: When we lived through all that.
Carmen: Yeah, the whole controversy there. Well, we’ll stay tuned for Part 2, because that—
Jeff: Part 2.
Carmen: —will happen then. Thanks so much.
Jeff: Oh, the pleasure’s mine.
00:59:09 [End of recording.]
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