Nichol websites questionable

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November 6, 2007

1:37 AM

Should College President Gene Nichol stay, or should he go? Two websites stand diametrically opposed in their positions: ShouldNicholBeRenewed.org and IHeartNichol.com. I examined both strategies, and I attack both.

p. Let me begin with the opposition, SNBR, whose creators remain nameless and will henceforth be referred to as “the authors.”
Simply put, the content on the website is slanderous and slanted. It belies mostly irrelevant or incomplete facts in a way that tastes bitterly of the shallow, sensationalist political ads of late.

p. For example, the site summarizes two Virginia Gazette articles in this way: “Nichol was removed as Commencement speaker at Walsingham Academy … Writes attack letter against Sisters of Mercy.” Nichol’s “attack” in the article is nothing more than a claim that Walsingham’s officials did not clearly explain that it was the school’s decision to uninvite Nichol, despite an earlier offer to withdraw. He did accuse them of a breach, but of what significance is that? Surely the Sisters of Mercy aren’t immune to criticism.

p. At most, this point leaves some unanswered, though uninteresting, questions to be discussed. Seemingly, the authors would disagree and leave the issue as a poor attempt to rally me to their side by reporting on Nichol’s vicious assault on the defenseless Sisters of Mercy.

p. Some of the facts on the site aren’t even all that hard-hitting: “The Fund for William and Mary has not reached its goal the past two years — Gene Nichol years. The goal last year was $5 million and Nichol raised only $4.77 million. This year the goal was $5.2 million and he raised only $5.03 million.” Taken out of context, these numbers are without much meaning. If the figures did represent a significant loss, shouldn’t the authors in question perhaps have explained their significance, rather than relying on my having an immediate, negative reaction to such a deviation?

p. I also chose to research a claim about Nichol’s stay as dean of the law school at the University of Colorado. On a page where the authors “summarize” Nichol’s prior record, they state that in 1996, the year after he had left, “the Law School was threatened with losing their accreditation by the ABA.” Then I discovered an article entitled “Law and disorder” by Cheryl Nedderman of the Colorado Daily. In it, she wrote, “Earlier this year [2003], the [ABA] threatened to take away accreditation from the law school … if it didn’t update its building and hire more tenured faculty to achieve compliance with the standards outlined by the organization.”

p. It came to light that for the seven years between 1996 and the article’s publication, the law school’s accreditation was threatened almost exclusively due to sub-standard building requirements, compounded by state financial problems. Nowhere is Nichol’s former role as the law school’s dean mentioned as a cause of the trouble, nor is any reason given for thinking Nichol was at fault for the ABA’s threat.

p. The authors should be ashamed and embarrassed by the caliber of the “facts” they have brought to bear on this debate. I suggest on an honest, personal level that these people take a long, hard look at what they understand to be objective facts, as well as how they reason. As an aside to the authors, you are legitimately misguided if you think that the information on your site isn’t grossly misrepresented and doesn’t reek of concentrated bias.

p. If there is anything to be taken seriously on the website, it is the statistics. Cursory research suggested to me that at least some of them, while in cases exaggerated, are correct. Taking the site’s statistics as true, it seems that the University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill’s law school rankings fell significantly during Nichol’s tenure. It appears true that the College’s application rate has dropped. These numbers and others like them raise questions that should be addressed. The question becomes, “Who will answer them?”

p. Enter IHeartNichol.com. It succeeds in rallying a strong show of student support. However, declarations such as “He’s our tribe pride leader and demonstrates it by supporting us 100 [percent]” or pointing out that he comes to football games don’t address any of the accusations currently leveled against the president.
Singing the praises of a man’s charisma and affability in the face of charges that he is failing at the duties he has undertaken is something like trying to fight fire with smiles.

p. Nichol supporters, your president is under fire. If you really heart him, then consider that you may have to do more than smile and wear a button to save him.

p. __Per Hoel is a senior at the College.__

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