“Pancakes and Forgit” said the sign in front of the Gazebo Restaurant on Tuesday, 14 September, as Governor Mark Warner’s motorcade drove down Bypass Road.
Inside, Phil Forgit, candidate for Delegate from the 96th District, was hosting a campaign breakfast. Outside, the William and Mary Young Democrats were practicing their chant for the Governor’s arrival.
Not long after news arrived that his helicopter had landed, the Governor, his aides and guards pulled up to the restaurant: and so began another day of the rapid world of Virginia state politics and government.
At the restaurant, the Governor lauded candidate Forgit and encouraged his supporters to work hard in the last three weeks before the general election. It did not take long though, before he began to speak on his top concern for the day.
“Education for a Lifetime,” the Governor’s new plan for education funding in Virginia, was why he had really come to Williamsburg. He began by discussing the shortfall in money for higher education in the state, between $350 and $400 million.
“Think about if that were the private sector, what kind of accusations would be made,” said Warner. He noted, though, that no money had been cut from kindergarten through twelfth grade education and that plans were currently being implemented to counter the effects of the deficit.
After the campaign breakfast, the Governor proceeded to the College’s McGlothlin-Street Hall to officially unveil plans he had alluded to before. After remarks from College President Timothy J. Sullivan, Virginia Secretary of Education, Belle S. Wheelan, and Vijay R. Dondeti, a Senior at the College and participant in biology research, the Governor took the stage.
“In Virginia, our core asset is you guys,” Warner said, stressing that investment in higher education will result in a stronger state economy. In order to target improvement efforts he outlined two goals of the “Education for a Lifetime” plan, concerning higher education.
Warner’s first goal is to increase the number of degrees (of all kinds) granted in Virginia from 47,000 to 57,000 by 2010. In addition, he would like funding for research and development at institutions of higher education to increase from $600 million to $1 billion, also by the end of the decade.
“I think there is a way for every university to participate,” said Warner, acknowledging local concerns about the College’s size. He suggested that graduation rates and graduate degree programs were other areas in which Virginia’s colleges and universities could focus, if unable to accept more students.
Following his address, Governor Warner was presented with a framed article from the William and Mary News about his rock-climbing adventure with Professor of Kinesiology Kim P. Whitley. Student Assembly President Brian R. Cannon presented him with a football signed by the entire William and Mary football team; to which the Governor responded, “Go Tribe!”
After Sullivan closed the conference, Warner was led on a tour of the applied science research laboratory in McGlothlin-Street Hall. Professor Brian C. Holloway presented the Governor with a laser pointer.
The gift was a symbol of research being conducted by the Department of Applied Science that will develop protective coatings for military aircraft cockpits to protect pilots from eye damage that can be caused by such devices.
“What you did today was extraordinary,” said President Sullivan as he walked the Governor out. He praised the Governor for having accurately “identified some important challenges to higher education in Virginia.”
“Any time you get a Governor talking about graduate education, you’ve got to smile,” said Provost P. Geoffrey Feiss. He added that he will always remember the Governor, hours after his election, addressing “K through Graduate” education in a speech instead of the common “K to 12” reference.
Feiss mentioned that, among the priorities of a state government, primary and secondary education are foremost, but higher education often comes far behind because the constituency is less vocal.
“Sometimes I don’t think people appreciate what the value of a William and Mary […] is to the community,” Governor Warner said before getting in his car. As a businessman, he said, he realizes the impact a strong system of higher education has on the economy and pledged his support for the issue.
“It’s not going to happen tomorrow, but we’ve got to at least take the first step.”