Nichol discusses finances, cross with The Flat Hat
August 31, 2007
__The following is a transcript of yesterday’s Flat Hat exclusive interview with Nichol__
**Flat Hat:** In your first year as College president, you brought Sandra Day O’Connor to campus. In your second year, we got a visit from the Queen of England. How do you plan to top that this year?
p. **Nichol:** I don’t know if you can top the Queen. Justice O’Connor, thankfully, she set a great pattern, and I think she’s going to be here a lot. She was here a ton last year, if you remember. So she’s going to continue to be a really active chancellor and then she’ll be here in a couple weeks with the start of the Democracy Conference. … I don’t know, I mean, you know, to me if Bruce Springsteen or Mick Jagger would come that would — but I don’t know how you top the Queen. I’m not looking to actually top the Queen.
p. **FH:** Congratulations on a successful end to the Campaign for William and Mary. Three years ago, when you were being considered for the job as College president, you said in a student forum that when the campaign ends, we would need to begin a larger campaign. Do you still feel that way and what are your plans?
p. **Nichol:** There can be no downturn in the efforts of the College to raise the resources that it needs. We will go into what are considered quiet planning phases for the next campaign, but there will definitely be another campaign and it will be one that presses the ambitions and the success of the College of William and Mary. We won’t announce it today.
p. **FH:** Any indication of when it will go public or how much money we will need to raise?
p. **Nichol:** It will be ambitious, but we’re a long ways away from making those kind of announcements or even, finally, what those decisions will be. Those decisions will be made in consultation with the volunteers who have done so much to make this campaign a success. So those decisions are down the road. Sometimes universities at the end of fundraising campaigns decide to retrench a little bit in terms of their fundraising efforts — take a big breather — so their generous supporters can have somewhat of a rest. We’re not taking any break … [and] we’re not going to be downsizing our fundraising efforts. They will be targeted, I think, to some specific ventures that we’ll be announcing, but the energy will remain very high and the commitment to raising private resources will stay up at the top of our pantheon of efforts.
p. **FH:** Are you happy with the Committee on Religion in a Public University’s decision to put the Wren cross inside a glass case in the chapel and do you think it accomplishes your goal of making the chapel more welcoming to people of all faiths?
p. **Nichol:** I do. You know this was a long and very heated controversy. It’s one in which you folks have pointed out, and I think I have admitted, that there are some things I should have handled differently. But I also think it involves very important issues. … I was, to be honest, immensely impressed with the work of the religion committee. It was a very strong committee, as I think you know if you looked at it. It had very powerful opinions, pro and con. The folks were real serious both about these questions of religious diversity and religions expression and about their love for the College. I don’t know if I thought they would be able to come up with a unanimous recommendation, but they certainly did. I was heartened with it and glad to see it come to pass and bring it into play. I’m not saying it’s exactly what I would have chosen, but it’s what this committee — what this community — chose, and I think it’s a strong step forward. I mean, for me, it reflects a welcoming chapel, and it indicates its history in a way that is powerful and accurate, and so I think it meets the goals that I was after, and I didn’t just grudgingly accept it — I accepted it with enthusiasm. I think it’s much more beneficial than the circumstance that we had before. I have very high regard for the folks both who agreed with me and didn’t agree with me on this committee. … I think we’re better off than we were.
p. **FH:** How will you go about making such decisions in the future?
p. **Nichol:** Well, I would surely go slower on some controversial matters. I will consult more broadly, as I have said many times. I think that’s part of learning to be an effective university president. … I was a law school dean for a long time, and sometimes law school deans can move with more dispatch … than is wise for a university president. And so I think I’ve learned some lessons from that experience. By the same token, I think the Wren Chapel issue involved questions that are very important to the nature of the College and to its future as a remarkable public institution. So I think there are lessons learned, and there are steps gained.
p. **FH:** I interviewed Board of Visitors Rector Michael Powell last semester, and he told me that he believes the controversy will have an overall negative financial impact on the College. Do you think so and how has the controversy affected your relationship with the BOV?
p. **Nichol:** I am glad to have a continuing strong relationship with the Board of Visitors. We work together a lot …. They are accomplished and heartening folks to work with — I rely on their advice a good deal. I wouldn’t say that each of them has agreed uniformly, probably, with everything I’ve done as president, but I’m glad that we have a strong relationship and we continue to. You know that the cross controversy had some financial impacts on us. I think that they were short-term — they reflect relationships which we are working hard to rebuild. By the same token, you have to say that the Capital Campaign was a huge success — we exceeded $517 million. Last year, we had, thankfully, the largest senior class gift in the College’s history. We had the largest fiftieth reunion class gift in the College’s history — $12 million. For the first time, the annual fund exceeded $5 million, which is very important to our ongoing operations. …
p. **FH:** Powell also said that he and other College administrators would be contacting James McGlothlin about returning his revoked $12 million donation. Has McGlothlin been contacted and does he plan to return the money he previously pledged to the College?
p. **Nichol:** I’ve talked to Mr. McGlothlin. … We’ve had friendly conversations, and we will continue to do that — we will continue to work on this relationship. I haven’t asked him to make any particular financial commitment, and that initial decision of his has not been changed. Like a lot of other long-term relationships, we will continue to work on it and have these conversations. He’s an important member of this community.
p. **FH:** As a result of the Wren cross controversy, your every move is scrutinized by people who want you fired. There’s even a website calling on the Board of Visitors to not renew your contract when it expires in 2008. How are you dealing with this intense scrutiny?
p. **Nichol:** Well, it’s interesting. It makes life fascinating. I have found life to be fascinating as president of the College of William and Mary. To be honest, I know there’s a lot of this blog work. I don’t pay a great deal of attention to it. I think if I did — if I was a great scrutinizer of blogs — that’s what I could do full-time. And I have a lot of work to do. …
p. **FH:** You were once a more visible president, going around to dorms to speak with students and often attending sporting events. Now that the controversy has played out, do you plan to return to being the easily accessible president that you were and how else do you plan to move on?
p. **Nichol:** I would modestly disagree with that factual assessment. I was all over this campus all of the time last year as well. Now sometimes — given this controversy — others claim that it wasn’t so. I have been here all over this campus for the last two weeks, as you likely know, with the beginning of school. It is the part that I like best — being with the students, being at university events across the board, participating heavily in them. I was over in the dorms a couple days ago helping to move people in. I was out here with hundreds of parents for several hours late last week. It is my nature to be in the middle of this campus; it is what I like doing most. People won’t have any lack of opportunities to see the president of the College of William and Mary as long as I’m the president of the College of William and Mary.
p. **FH:** The College fell this year from 31st to 33rd in U.S. News and World Report’s annual college rankings. We were particularly concerned about the peer assessment score of 3.7, a drop from the score of 3.8 that the College had maintained for several years. How much value do you place on College rankings and what will the college do to improve in the future?
p. **Nichol:** I do think they’re important because people pay attention to them — people watch them. I was disappointed in this modest dropping from … 31st to 33rd. Now, I should point out that the College remains the sixth-best public university in the United States … [and] the best small state university in America. … I think, in truth, the reason for this modest change — which I don’t like, I’m not happy with and I’m not going to be satisfied to see maintained — the modest drop has to do with our resources picture. If you study those rankings, they give a hard time — perhaps intentionally, perhaps unintentionally — to public universities.
p. As you see, there are no public universities in the top 20 of U.S. News — an absurd result. I don’t think you could talk to any thoughtful person in American higher education who would say there aren’t public universities in the top 20 in American higher education. But public universities frequently have a different resource picture — largely because of tuition — than is the case with privates. The two universities most relevant to us on this one are … Brandeis and Lehigh. They’re about, as I understand, 47th in per-student resources, where as we are 106th. … The College of William and Mary is 106th in resources and, under this measure, 33rd in quality. That reflects the difficulty that public universities with lower tuition models can have. And it reflects our long-term challenges of building an endowment, which is essential to our success.
p. I’m not satisfied with this. We are going to look at the way the College responds to these rankings — look at the factors in which we have some opportunity to have an impact. But the main thing — the main thing I’m after — is to take what I think already is … the strongest educational experience of any public university in the United States and make it even better. That will eventually pay off well and highly in these and all other rankings. And William and Mary’s main goal is to be the best public university the nation has to offer — to be able to do things which no other public university can accomplish. I think we’re making real progress on that front, and I think we’ll continue to do so. So, I think that the future of the College — no matter how you measure it, now matter how you look at it — is very bright and appealing and strong.
p. **FH:** Applications to the College increased this year by 0.9 percent, while U.Va. and many of our other peer schools saw much higher increases in the number of applications. With the applicant pool skyrocketing, why isn’t the College keeping up and what will be done to attract more applicants?
p. **Nichol:** I think the College is keeping up. The College had more applications this year than at any time in its history. Now it may seem that that’s not much, to some, but that’s not the way I look at it. I think we have as strong an entering class as we’ve ever had in our history. Some of the questions about the number of applications relate to people’s perceptions about their chance of being admitted, but there is no doubt that this is a tremendous entering pool from which we chose. … I’m immensely heartened at the credentials of this entering class — the fact that this entering class has more first-generation students than any of its predecessors, more international students than its predecessors. … I think our admissions portrait is very appealing, and we will constantly recruit students beyond the road, taking the case of William and Mary across the commonwealth and across the nation, as we have. I regard this as a very successful admissions season, as do all the folks that work in our admissions office, and I’m confident next year is going to be the same.
p. **FH:** The Gateway Program is widely considered your first major accomplishment as president. Are there any updates on the program and what long-term affects do you think it will have on the College?
p. **Nichol:** I think the Gateway initiative is an important one. I think it has meant that we have more first-generation students, as I just said. It has meant that we have more students from the bottom of the economic ladder, particularly Virginia students from the bottom economic ladder. It has been heartening, to be candid, to meet students immensely capable, intellectually, with powerful records of academic accomplishment, who will come here and be quite candid to say that they could not be here — they would not be here — but for Gateway. … It’s a necessary and beneficial way of opening up the College of William and Mary to a more economically diverse student body, which is an important part — not only for opportunity, but for the educational experience which these remarkable young women and men get to have. …
p. **FH:** How else do you plan to reach out to minority students?
Nichol: I think you reach out to the entire community in the most powerful ways that we can. We do that through recruiting efforts for students, faculty and staff. We do it a lot now through work of the sort of front door of the institution — the admissions staff — by going all over the commonwealth. If you talk to [Associate Provost for Enrollment] Earl [Granger] and [Dean of Admissions] Henry [Broaddus], they are frequently going now to high schools where students don’t expect to come to the College of William and Mary or the University of Virginia.
p. Sometimes these questions are flatly financial in terms of access. Sometimes they have to do with expectations — that is, students who are immensely capable but have never thought that they might be able to go to the College of William and Mary or to the University of Virginia. Some of this is reaching beyond expectations which get in the way of us having a more diverse institution. It is crucial that we have a diverse institution. It is crucial for the opportunity which is afforded the young women and men who come here. It is crucial for the educational experience which the entire student body enjoys, if we are to be successful. A diverse institution is a more powerful one — educationally, academically — and so we are committed to becoming more diverse in that sense, and we’re making some substantial progress. … The opening up of the College to different paths — different walks of life into our door — is one I think that is strongly beneficial to the whole community and that’s the centerpiece of why I’m committed to it. …
p. **FH:** You strongly opposed the voter registration policies of former Registrar Dave Andrews. Now that he has been replaced, do you think the inequalities in voter registration eligibility are still a problem and how do you plan to continue fighting for standardized guidelines across the state?
p. **Nichol:** It is my understanding … that real progress is being made. … My goal has been to try and push back against the notion that these remarkable William and Mary students who are such powerful contributors to this community in every sense that you want to describe it — from William and Mary students getting a different treatment than students all across the commonwealth. I think real progress has been made on that front, and that’s been the focus of my efforts.
p. **FH:** Several administrators have said that they feel that the NCAA’s decision on the logo gives the College an opportunity to redefine its overall image. Do you also see this as opportunity and why?
p. **Nichol:** Well, I think it is. It’s probably not one that I would have rushed to — I’ve never agreed with the way the NCAA reached its conclusions. As you know, Sam Sadler’s chairing a committee to look at the logo that we will use in the future. That will include a broader look too at the impressions made by our publications — a sort of branding, if you will — so it’s a nice opportunity on that front. … We’ve overlooked it some, but I am very heartened that we are still using the term Tribe. We’ve had a lot of discussion about feathers and, to me, the feathers — I think the position the NCAA took was indefensible, and I said that as quickly as I could — but I think the most important part of the calculus for us — for me anyways — [is] the use of the term Tribe, which I think is meant here in an ennobling fashion. It’s a description that fits this community and the way we feel bound together, and so I am glad that we will remain the Tribe, even as we look at other ways of crafting the logo to get across the message of the College of William and Mary.
p. **FH:** Last year, the housing lottery involuntarily bumped 326 students — an increase of 150 from the previous year. What is being done to solve this problem and have you considered reopening the Dillard Complex?
p. **Nichol:** I think you should go talk to Sam Sadler about reopening the Dillard Complex. This is a real issue — it’s one that we are looking hard about, thinking about it. It reflects somewhat of a change — what I think is an encouraging change in the number and percentage of students who want to live on campus. I think some of that may have to do with opportunities they have or don’t have off-campus. I bet a lot of it … has to do with Jamestown and how nice that dorm is. I don’t anticipate — to be honest, partly because Sam had been working for so many decades to get the Dillard closed down — that … we’re going to be running out to reopen Dillard. Our goal is to have this be, at even a higher percentage, a residential experience. It’s already very high in that, but I think the wiser course for us — if the demand can sustain it in the future — is to build more dormitories. … I like the fact that such a high percentage of our students want to live at the heart of this campus. I think it says a lot about the experience at the College of William and Mary and so we may be seeking to reach a higher percentage of residents in the future.
p. **FH:** What are your plans for attracting more college-friendly businesses to Williamsburg?
p. **Nichol:** Well, they are multi-faceted. And the most direct answer to that is that we have formed now a real estate foundation which is a joint project of the College of William and Mary foundation and the Board of Visitors. It is looking at retail properties around the College. We have a number of holdings that we could perhaps sell in order to finance other ventures in Williamsburg and outside of Williamsburg. But the purpose of this real estate foundation is to help secure more student-friendly retail around the perimeter of campus. Now, I’m heartened about New Town myself. … If we could find more appealing ways for students to get back and forth to campus, I think New Town could play a real role in this. But our principal focus is on the areas within walking distance by student calculus … of the campus and wanting to have more to do at night. … I think we will see some progress in that we have the tools in place to begin to do it. It’s not going to happen overnight, but we spent a lot of time putting this framework in place. We have put some resources into it. We are in discussions with property owners in various parts of the city, and we hope to make progress within the near future.
p. **FH:** What are some other goals for the next year?
p. **Nichol:** The powerful notion, which lies at the heart of the College, is we have at present, I think, the strongest, most engaged educational experience of any public university in the country. We want to move to make that even stronger, even more effective. So we are working on initiatives … to more effectively fund and support undergraduate research, faculty and student research. We are carrying forward initiatives to provide more what we’re calling “capstone courses” at the junior and senior levels — small, independent learning experiences for students which will mean, increasingly, that the senior year at the College of
p. William and Mary is an effective training ground for the graduate and professional work that so many of our students are planning to undertake. We will give a lot of focus on civic engagement during this calendar year. … Students come here believing they can change the world, and it’s our goal, increasingly, to have them leave with those capabilities. We will be exploring a lot, linking these efforts to our broader goal to internationalize the campus. We will have in the fall semester a broad-reaching, faculty-driven study of the more effective internationalization of the College — bringing the work of the global community more effectively to Williamsburg and bringing the work of the College more effectively to the world at large. …
p. **FH:** I assume that by now you’ve settled into your new home. How do you like living on campus?
p. **Nichol:** I like it a lot. To be honest, I wasn’t sure about that. It’s a bit of a fish bowl. You know, you’re not going to walk out and get the paper in your underwear — I’m careful not to do that. But I have found it delightful, and no small part of that is the interaction which we have with my family and students as a result of location. People come by a lot — they knock on the door, and I suppose there are many different ways you could look at that — but I find it appealing. … They come by and say hello and bring some brownies and say hello to the dog or they’ll pet the cats, and I find it a very central and appealing part of the life here. It gives one a much different sense of the role that you play at the College, and I like it. It’s a cool house too — it’s a little formal, but it’s inspiring. You can’t live there without thinking repeatedly about who has been there before you and what that has meant. …
p. **FH:** Lastly, do you have any advice for the football team on how to crack Virginia Tech’s notoriously tough defense in Blacksburg on September 22?
p. **Nichol:** Well, my heart goes out to the football team and my hat goes off to them and to Jimmye for his ambition. There’s one thing that’s clear and it’s that the College of William and Mary and Jimmye Laycock and his troops — they’re not scared to play Virginia Tech. And I think if Virginia Tech thinks they’re going to have an easy time, I bet they’re going to be wrong.