College refuses to release e-mails between Nichol and Sullivan

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November 6, 2007

7:09 PM

In a move that will likely embolden his critics, College President Gene Nichol has decided against publicly releasing e-mails that would have cleared up questions about when he learned that a $12 million pledge to the College had been revoked.

p. Critics say he ignored information about the lost donation to improve his image during last year’s Wren cross controversy.

p. The Flat Hat submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for e-mails between Nichol and Sullivan from December 2006, and the College denied the request Tuesday night on the grounds that correspondences between private citizens and presidents of public bodies are exempt.

p. The donor, James McGlothlin ’62 J.D. ’64, told The Flat Hat that he clearly stated to former College President Timothy Sullivan in December 2006 that he was revoking the pledge because he disagreed with Nichol’s decision to remove the Wren Chapel cross from permanent display.

p. Sullivan released a statement saying he passed along all information about the donation to College administrators.

p. But Nichol said he did not learn of the revoked donation until Feb. 23, days after he announced that the Campaign for William and Mary had reached its $500 million goal. The revoked $12 million put the campaign back below its goal, which it later surpassed before its June 30 end date.

p. Nichol accompanied Tuesday night’s FOIA request refusal with a statement detailing his handling of the withdrawn pledge.

p. “I believed the message being relayed to me was that the donor was unwilling to make future gifts to the College,” Nichol said. “It was not apparent that the donor sought to revoke a prior estate commitment made in writing and booked to the campaign in 2005.”

p. He said that in preparation for the announcement that the campaign had reached its goal, the development staff identified problematic pledges, including the $12 million donation. But because McGlothlin had not communicated to the College a desire to revoke the pledge, it was approved as part of the total.

p. “Hindsight suggests that I should have more aggressively worked to discuss the donor’s concerns,” Nichol said. “It is also plausible, looking back, that the donor always meant to disavow both his prior pledge as well as any future giving. If so, I failed to understand that.”

p. Nichol’s decision to withhold the e-mails comes as no surprise to those who want him gone. His critics believe the e-mails would have shown that Sullivan told him about the revoked donation months before the decision was made to include it in the campaign total.

p. “The argument that Nichol is doing this because donors expect confidentiality, when McGlothlin is already on record with The Flat Hat in terms of all his actions, is simply laughable,” ShouldNicholBeRenewed.org spokesman Jim Jones ’82 said. “If Nichol could show SNBR and me up as liars, I promise you no ‘principles’ would stand in his way.”

p. But Nichol’s supporters feel that releasing the e-mails would have jeopardized donor confidence in the College. David Solimini ’04, a spokesman for IHeartNichol.com, said that the College must stand by its promise to keep communications about donors confidential.

p. “The College is in a tough place there,” he said. “And the College has more important things to deal with than a bunch of people hypothesizing and theorizing without substance or proof.”

p. Nichol’s statement in full is printed below:

p. There has been a good deal of discussion in the local press regarding a substantial pledge to the College of William and Mary and the decision by a longtime, valued, and generous donor to revoke that commitment. Because confidence in the integrity of William and Mary’s development program is essential, I offer the following particulars involving the revoked $12 million commitment.

p. During the summer of 2005 the donor made a written estate commitment to the Campaign for William and Mary. In the wake of my decision to alter the display of the Wren Chapel cross, I received a letter from the donor [which he has made public] indicating he was “very disappointed to learn” of the cross decision and “this is going to make a difference in how I view the College in the future as well as your leadership of the university.” It did not, however, say that he was revoking the written estate commitment made in 2005.

p. When I received this letter from the donor and after additional communication from President Sullivan, I believed the message being relayed to me was that the donor was unwilling to make future gifts to the College, including one on which President Sullivan and others were currently working. The communication spoke of making good progress toward closure on a $12 million gift to the law school—but indicated the donor was so upset about the cross decision that he was not prepared to give more money at this time. It was not apparent that the donor sought to revoke a prior estate commitment made in writing and booked to the campaign in 2005.

p. In preparing to announce that the College had exceeded its $500 million goal at Charter Day events on February 10, 2007, development staff worked to tally the count. As part of that process, a number of pledges were identified as potentially problematic for any number of reasons. The 2005 written commitment in question was also considered. Our staff recognized that we had a disgruntled donor. But the College had not received any communication from the donor revoking his written estate commitment. The decision was made to leave the donation in the total.

p. Hindsight suggests that I should have more aggressively worked to discuss the donor’s concerns. It is also plausible, looking back, that the donor always meant to disavow both his prior pledge as well as any future giving. If so, I failed to understand that. Every donor to the College of William and Mary is important, and it is my continued plan to reach out to all—including this donor.

p. Due to the long-established policy and practice of the College not to release correspondence involving specific donors, I will not release materials pertaining to emails between myself and President Sullivan. Donors, as a rule, need to have confidence that sensitive discussions involving their pledges and gifts will not be released publicly. I am unwilling to depart from this important practice simply to defend my role in a controversy.

p. The Campaign for William and Mary begun by President Sullivan in 2000 and concluded seven years later under the leadership of Chair Jim Murray and a cadre of exceptional volunteer leaders was a tremendous success. We surpassed the goal by more than $17 million, ensuring that the Campaign’s effects will long be felt on our campus and beyond. The historic Campaign is a credit to all the alumni, donors, and friends who gave of themselves to make it possible.

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