It seems a little ridiculous to discuss the renewal of College President Gene Nichol’s contract as if there existed any legitimate debate about the quality of his tenure.
p. In his first two years, he started the Gateway Initiative, a ground-breaking program that allows the College to foster greater racial and social diversity without compromising its rigorous admissions standards. He publicly defended student rights as members of the Williamsburg community, especially with regards to voting. He recruited Sandra Day O’Connor to replace humiliating former Chancellor Henry Kissinger. O’Connor has been ranked among the top 10 most powerful women in America by several widely read magazines. And, most recently, he increased the College’s financial holdings by about 20 percent in a single year.
p.And yet, the issue of Nichol’s renewal has become so contentious that Board of Visitor’s Rector Michael Powell created an e-mail account dedicated to hearing arguments. A handful of websites have sprung up for the sole purpose of defending or attacking Nichol. On the attack is the alumni-run shouldnicholberenewed.org, which launched in reaction to the moving of the Wren cross. Two websites have since launched in defense: the student-run iheartnichol.com and the jointly student- and alumni-run wmfightsback.blogspot.com.
p. So what’s all the fighting about? Despite the ear-shattering pitch of Nichol’s detractors, there are few of them out there. They are primarily composed of a few very vocal alumni, who have spent months blogging away on their own sites (as well as on flathatnews.com, which has become the unofficial dumping ground for crazed Nichol detractors who are ignored everywhere else), mostly citing Nichol’s weight and physical appearance rather than his actual policies or actions.
p. Let’s do some rough math to see just how popular or unpopular Nichol really is. Shouldnicholberenewed.org’s petition for Nichol’s contract to not be renewed, which has been open nearly a year, claims 359 alumni signatures. But how many alumni are there who didn’t sign it? The average American life expectancy is 77 years, and students typically graduate at age 22, so there are about 55 years worth of alumni out there. Assuming an average graduating class of 1,000 students (the number is higher now, but has grown over time), that’s 55,000 alumni of the College. This means, according to our rough figures, that about two thirds of one percent of alumni dislike Nichol enough to enter their name into an online petition.
And the supporters? The only pro-renewal petitions I’ve seen have circulated among students, of whom there are about 5,600. Each petition is inevitably signed by hundreds of students (the most recent garnered 370). The Facebook group “Renew Gene Nichol’s Presidency” contains 755 members at the College, or about 13.4 percent of the student body. The number of self-reported students who signed the petition asking Nichol’s contract to not be renewed? 42, barely enough to fill an intro to statistics class.
p. Despite being a part of such a tiny minority, the anti-Nichol militia keeps hammering away at blogs and online discussion boards. I can imagine how it must feel: the College is changing rapidly with the progress Nichol has brought it — its more diverse, more international and its physical campus is expanding into newer and more modern buildings as its reputation and prestige expand across the world. It is no longer the WASPy, preppy, regional university it used to be. The College is evolving, and that means that the school some alumni may remember from decades past is disappearing.
p. That change, of course, is what this is really all about. Long after most of the people upset by the Wren cross episode accepted the religion committee’s compromise and went home, this handful of alumni is still angry, and they want Nichol to be punished. Nichol’s accomplishments — diversity, financial holdings and leading the College towards a more global, prestigious identity — are secondary to the desire for Nichol’s punishment. The detractors are, in fact, quite ready to sacrifice all of these things so that their anger may be appeased.
p. Are these really people whose voices should influence College policy? Are these voices rational? Do they have the interests of the College in mind? Or are they a fringe, a desperate, angry fringe who should have their fair say but never be allowed to slow the progress and growth that Nichol has brought our university? Powell’s e-mail indicated that the BOV is hearing all opinions with regards to Nichol’s contract. This is good; all voices must be given fair say. But if the BOV truly has the interests of the College at heart, as I believe they do, then only the voices of the rational may prevail.
p. __Max Fisher is a senior at the College.__