College releases Nichol e-mail

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November 16, 2007

10:22 AM

p. It was all a big misunderstanding.

p. That’s how College President Gene Nichol is defending himself after College officials decided to release a controversial e-mail in which former College President Timothy Sullivan warned Nichol that a $12 million donation to the law school was in jeopardy two months before Nichol said he learned that the donation had been revoked.

p. College officials released the e-mail Tuesday night after they realized several unintended recipients had seen it. The College typically does not release documents referring
to specific donors, but both the donor and Sullivan consented to the release.

p. In the December 2006 e-mail, Sullivan said he had been working to secure a $12 million gift to the law school from long-time donor James McGlothlin ’62 J.D. ’64. “I felt that we were making good progress and moving toward closure,” Sullivan said. “But I talked to Jim who is very upset and angry about the Wren cross, and is not prepared to give any more money at this time.”

p. The donation was included in the total of the College’s seven-year fundraising campaign when Nichol announced in February that the campaign had reached its $500 million goal.

p. It had been in the campaign total since 2005, when McGlothlin made the donation in writing, according to Nichol and Vice President for Development Sean Pieri.

p. Pieri could not be reached for comment yesterday. Sullivan, McGlothlin and Marshall-Wythe School of Law Dean Taylor Reveley
refused to comment.

p. In an interview last night with The Flat Hat editorial board, Nichol blamed the language of Sullivan’s e-mail for his misinterpretation.

p. “I would not under any circumstance describe a gift committed, locked up, placed in the capital campaign a year and a half or two years earlier as one on which we are making progress toward closure,” Nichol said. “Closure had to have happened before it was booked in 2005. That was the way I read that — that was a reasonable reading.”

p. He said he thought Sullivan was seeking additional money from a donor the College has frequently turned to for support. He also said he tried, without success, to contact the donor about his concerns.

p. Sullivan stated Oct. 24 that he communicated all that he knew about the donation to College administrators “in the clearest possible terms.”

p. The fundraising campaign fell back below its goal when the $12 million pledge was removed from the total after the lost donation became public in late February. Nichol said a letter written by McGlothlin that was forwarded to him Feb. 23 prompted him to investigate whether McGlothlin was revoking the prior pledge.

p. He said he learned Feb. 27 that McGlothlin no longer intended to make the donation.

p. “I’ve tried to explain that I’ve had some misreadings, some miscalculations — I’m responsible for that,” he said. “But they were not deceptions. They were not conspiracies.”

p. Nichol’s critics allege that he ignored information about the revoked donation to avoid further embarrassment during last year’s Wren cross controversy. In an interview Wednesday, ShouldNicholBeRenewed.org spokesman Jim Jones ’82 said that Nichol is either dishonest or incompetent.

p. The online group’s petition calling on the Board of Visitors to fire Nichol currently has 698 signatures, while a Facebook group supporting Nichol has 775 members.

p. In the month leading up to the release of Sullivan’s e-mail, the Facebook group lost one member. Since the e-mail’s release two days ago, the group has lost 17 members.

p. Students and faculty have strongly supported Nichol in the past against vocal alumni who have been criticizing him for a number of issues since his decision last October to remove the Wren Chapel cross from permanent display. The cross has been returned to the chapel inside a glass case.

p. Nichol said yesterday that his opponents will continue hurling allegations at him until the BOV makes a decision on whether to renew his contract, which expires in June.

p. He also said he should have worked harder to contact McGlothlin.

p. “Hindsight is frequently better than foresight,” he said. “At least in my case.”

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