had a dog, and you brought the dog to campus. There was
just a real dog culture,” says Peppers. “So early on, I had a
one-year fight about dogs.”
More often than not, however, Peppers’ willingness to buck
tradition worked to the advantage of the faculty. In the 1990s,
he hired a young visiting professor in the Politics Department.
The man wore shorts and sandals around campus — even
though nearly all the Williams School’s faculty still taught in a
coat and tie. President Wilson asked Peppers whether he could
make the visitor dress like a professional. Peppers just smiled
and told his boss, “No, I can’t.”
Many of Peppers’ colleagues attribute at least some of
his success as dean to his career in economic forecasting.
For example, Peppers joined forces with Bill Hartog, dean of
admissions, to advocate for raising tuition. They argued that the
University was underpricing its product and that an increase in
tuition would improve W&L’s image and help bolster a rainy day
fund. The Board of Trustees eventually adopted the measure,
and when the 2008 recession hit, Washington and Lee weathered
the downturn and emerged from several lean years in far better
fiscal shape than many of its peer institutions.
“I like to say that, during my early years here, I spent a lot
of time doing in-house work as an economist,” says Peppers.
He also made the case for a more systematic approach
to strategic planning. In 2002, the Williams School became
the first unit on campus to create a strategic plan. When
President Tom Burish was hired later that same year, he was
so impressed that he asked Peppers to lend his talents to
create a University-wide document.
Other Peppers accomplishments include the J. Lawrence
Connolly Center for Entrepreneurship, eight endowed
professorships and a written communications initiative,
which quickly expanded to include an emphasis on oral
communications as well.
Today, the Williams School has an increased focus on
experiential learning. This means more international Spring Term
courses, more career exploration trips to cities such as New York
and Washington, D.C., and more co-curricular organizations
such as the Williams Investment Society and Student Consulting.
In 2009, for the first time in more than two decades, Peppers
got a change in job title — he became the first Crawford Family Dean
of the Williams School, thanks to an endowment given by E. Mac
Crawford and Linda Crawford, parents of Drew Crawford ’96.
This year, his job title will change once again. After 29 years,
Peppers will rejoin the ranks of the faculty. He will spend a much-deserved, yearlong sabbatical writing a book about the economics
of higher education and enjoying extra time with his four
grandchildren; son Todd Peppers and daughter Susan Peppers-Bates are professors at liberal arts colleges themselves. Peppers
then will teach before officially retiring in 2017.
“I’ve been blessed with an increasingly rare environment
in higher education,” says Peppers, “one that is shaped by
an abundance of good students, a faculty devoted to the
teacher-scholar model, strong financial support, a devoted
alumni base and senior administrators who unfailingly seek
the best for the entire University.”
“The End of the Day,”
a self-portrait by
Curating Connections: Fran Peppers
With Larry Peppers stepping down as dean, the Williams School
loses not one but two valued members of the community. His
wife, Fran Peppers, has curated more than 50 art exhibitions in
the Williams School since 1989.
“I was auditing art classes at Washington and Lee, and
it became quite clear that the art students did not enter the
Williams School, and the business students infrequently visited
the gallery or studios in duPont Hall,” says Peppers. “I found this
interesting, since both groups came to W&L to get a liberal arts
education. It made me want to bring art to the Williams School.”
Peppers convinced her husband to abandon the building’s
drab green walls adorned with charts and maps. They repainted
the walls and installed track lighting, picture molding and a
professional hanging system.
“In the 1980s, Lexington did not have an art scene in any
sense of the word,” says Peppers. “There were many professional
artists but no community galleries. My mission was to bring new
artists and their work to the area.”
When the University renovated the Co-op into Holekamp
Hall, the dean advocated for additional gallery space, and Fran
Peppers worked with the design firm to coordinate every detail
of the finished area. Today, the Williams School hosts four
exhibitions per year — two in Holekamp’s McCarthy Gallery
and two in Huntley Hall.
Over the years, Peppers has brought artists such as Elise
Sprunt, Al Gury and Ken Smith to campus. Her favorite
exhibitions have been those that challenged students to make
connections and think about the world differently. Some students
complained that Gury’s Rubenesque paintings of nude figures
were pornographic, and they were equally provoked by Smith’s
sculptures of pregnant women.
“It was always gratifying to see students pay attention to the
art,” she says.
It is fitting that Peppers’ last exhibition, in Huntley Hall this
spring, showcased her own work. “Life’s Moments” included
paintings that depict the life she and the dean have built together
in Lexington. She dedicated the show to her husband.