Rector Powell’s statement on Sullivan-Nichol letter

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November 13, 2007

6:58 PM

William and Mary is a College with grand ambitions and an unwavering commitment to excellence. That does not come cheap. It costs a great deal of money to maintain our present position and to reach even higher levels. Particularly, private funding is indispensible [sic], as a relatively modest sum is provided by the Commonwealth. Our private financial needs will only increase in the years ahead.

p. Given this reality, the College must have a first-class development operation that can excel in attracting major donors. As anyone knows who has been involved in college development, the discussion to interest a donor in giving a large sum is a delicate one—more art than science. To bee [sic] successful, the College must protect private conversations that involve donors and the College. Making such communication public discourages donors and risks revealing details of donors’ thoughts, not to mention details of their private finances. It is for this reason that the College properly maintains a rigid policy against naming prospective donors and not releasing communications involving them or their gifts. The Board of Visitors strongly believes this policy is essential and must be maintained.

p. Today, however, the College made a rare exception and has released an email that has been a source of controversy. We support making an exception to the general policy in this instance because it is important for the public to have confidence in the integrity of the College leadership and believe it should be given the chance to review the facts, rather than be subject to a barrage of supposition and media speculation.

p. Even so, we would not support release of the email in question were it not for two important facts. First, we have reason to believe that there are members of the public that have seen the actual email. If true, as we believe, the substance of the communication has already been compromised. Moreover, it is not fair or appropriate that a sub-section of the public has access to the content, while others are left in the dark. It is better for all to see the content for themselves in the sunshine. Second, and more importantly, we have secured the permission of both the author and the donor to release the email. Our interest in protecting donor privacy is diminished to some degree (though not entirely), where the donor himself has informed us clearly that he has no objection.

p. Finally, this matter has conspired to rob the College leadership and the Board of Visitors of time that should be spent on the critically important business of William and Mary. It is time to move on. The Board is fully aware of the facts surrounding this matter and it is the Board that will consider whether anything in this episode bears on the performance of College leadership. Public sparring over such matters has little effect and only serves to harm the best interests of the College and its reputation.

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