Mission, Vision, and History
To prepare students for university transfer through academically rigorous programs grounded in the liberal arts tradition of William & Mary and to expand access to college credentials through strategic partnerships, specialized programming, and scalable innovation.
As an extension of William & Mary, Richard Bland College is in the vanguard of learning-outcomes based liberal arts education for university transfer and a model for testing and applying outcomes-driven solutions in higher education.
Richard Bland College (“the College” or “RBC”) was established in 1960 by the General Assembly of Virginia as a branch college of The College of William & Mary. The College was named for the Virginia statesman and champion of public rights, Richard Bland. Son and grandson of successful planters, Richard Bland was educated at The College of William & Mary. From 1742 until his death in 1776, he represented the area in which the College is now located, first in the House of Burgesses, and later, with the adoption of a state constitution, in the House of Delegates. He also served as a delegate from Virginia in both the First and Second Continental Congresses. Because of his careful study of the ancient records of the colony, he was respected not only as a political leader, but also as the leading authority on Virginia’s history.
It seems fitting, therefore, that an institution of higher learning located in an area served for so many years by this distinguished Virginia patriot and scholar, should derive its name from one whom Jefferson described as “the most learned and logical man of those who took prominent lead in public affairs.”
Before the Civil War, the property on which the College is now located was a plantation owned by the Gurley family. It became an important part of the Union-occupied territory during the 1864-1865 Siege of Petersburg. The present campus was the scene of two battles during that campaign.
Shortly before the turn of the century, the Hatcher-Seward family established a dairy and cattle farm on the former Gurley property and constructed two farmhouses. Today they serve as the President’s residence and the Hospitality House.
In the early 1900s, the still-beautiful grove of pecan trees was planted. The farm was used as a work camp for about twenty conscientious objectors during World War I. The Commonwealth of Virginia authorized Central State Hospital to purchase the land in 1932 for use as the Petersburg Training School and Hospital for African-American Youth. That institution was moved in 1959, and the land, still owned by the Commonwealth, became the location for the establishment of Richard Bland College of The College of William & Mary.
Leadership: Under the guidance of Colonel (Ret.) James M. Carson, the former hospital and training facility was transformed into Richard Bland College, and classes were held beginning in 1961. In the late 1960s, Ernst Hall (named for a local business leader influential in the establishment of the college) was added to the original campus. The Student Center/Library building and a gymnasium were constructed in the early 1970s, and with the core of the campus established, Colonel Carson retired as the founding President of the College in 1973.
From 1973 through 1975, Dr. Cornelius Laban, Professor of Biology, Emeritus, served as the Acting President of Richard Bland College.
In 1975, Dr. Clarence Maze succeeded Colonel Carson as Richard Bland College’s second President. During his tenure, Dr. Maze designed and built a water garden that was inspired by Monet’s garden at Giverny in addition to expanding the College’s academic programs and international travel-study offerings. In recognition of his service to the College, the renovated administration building was named Maze Hall upon his retirement in 1996.
In 1996, Dr. James B. McNeer succeeded Dr. Clarence Maze as Richard Bland College’s third President. Dr. McNeer introduced a residential life program and oversaw the completion of the Residential Village in 2008. The Residential Village is comprised of two dormitories, Freedom Hall and Patriot Hall, which together originally housed 250 students. A new Science and Technology Building was added in 2010, and in recognition of his service to the College, the building was named James B. McNeer Hall. Dr. McNeer retired in 2012.
In 2012, Dr. Debbie L. Sydow succeeded Dr. James McNeer as Richard Bland College’s fourth president. Dr. Sydow worked with College stakeholders to develop a far-reaching strategic plan that was approved by the Board of Visitors in 2013; expanded student housing; resurrected intercollegiate athletics; and centralized the Academic Quad on West Campus by re-purposing the former Ernst Hall, which houses state-of-the-art social sciences and humanities classrooms and a 220-seat auditorium.
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