George Mason Law School

With released e-mail, Nichol supporters feel lost

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November 16, 2007

3:10 PM

When I ask people around campus about the recently released e-mail between College President Gene Nichol and former College President Tim Sullivan, the response is totally unlike anything I have ever seen.

p. Ask someone about Nichol’s other controversial moments, or about one of George W. Bush’s policies, or even about that pop quiz your professor gave on the first day of class, and you will find one of three responses to the decisions of leaders: defense, attack or apathy.

p. Sometimes people like a leader’s decision, and they defend it, as many students did after Nichol removed the Wren cross. Disliked decisions are attacked. Apathy is most common, inspiring only a shrug.

p. But the reaction to Nichol’s e-mail is none of these three, is something I’ve never seen, even through all the ups and downs of Nichol’s tumultuous three years as president. People look at the ground when asked about the e-mail. They frown. They sigh a lot. They don’t know what to say.

p. They are sad. They are hurt. It hurts, this e-mail and its implications. It hurts us because we wanted to like Nichol, wanted to join him in his quest in making the College a better place, wanted to cheer him on along the way.

p. But we don’t know if we can do that any more. We, who understand the pettiness of Nichol’s detractors and the importance of his contributions to the College, are unsure if we can still defend him. The revelations of this e-mail may be too much to forgive. So, the dream of a better College dies with our faith in Nichol. Nichol’s real betrayal, his real crime, more than anything else, no matter what they say, is allowing that dream to die. It was his dream, too. Now cracks a noble heart.

p. It is unclear whether Nichol was being honest when he announced in February that the Campaign for William and Mary had reached its goal of $500 million, which included the then-revoked $12 million from James McGlothlin ’62 J.D. ’64. Some critics claim that Sullivan’s e-mail shows Nichol knew at the time that the donation had been revoked, but the wording of the e-mail is vague and I remain unconvinced.

p. Nichol likely thought Sullivan was referring to a future donation. After all, the donation had been booked years prior and Sullivan’s e-mail only says McGlothin “is not prepared to give any more money at this time.” We now know this refers to the revoked donation, but it could easily have been read as referencing future gifts. I, for one, am not comfortable condemning Nichol of dishonesty under such ambiguous circumstances.

p. His statements during a Oct. 22 interview with The Flat Hat, however, leave despairingly less room for interpretation: “Tim [Sullivan] and I talked about the donation and had communication, but there was no indication that this was revoking this past pledge.”

p. Nichol could have misinterpreted Sullivan’s e-mail back in December, when the revoked donation was not publicly known. But this interview was a matter of weeks ago, when furor over the re-voked donation was loudest. Nichol’s critics were saying, very specifically, that the then-unreleased e-mail showed Nichol could have known about the donation. This turned out to be true, though Nichol implied that it was false in his Oct. 22 interview.

p. I have re-read both the interview transcript and the e-mail many times and I cannot find a way for Nichol’s implication to be true.

p. Nichol led us to believe he couldn’t have known about the revoked donation. He said that it wasn’t clear at the time, which is true. But what he left out is that it’s now obvious that the e-mail does indicate that the donation had been revoked and that he had misread it. He allowed us to believe that the e-mail made no mention of the donation, though he knew that to be false. That’s far too big a detail for its omission to be a mistake. That’s far too big an omission for it to be anything but a deliberate misrepresentation.

p. I am saddened that this is how Nichol’s presidency may well end. I am saddened that Nichol’s enemies — who have not been fighting Nichol so much as the loss of the regional, WASPs-only, good-ol’-boy college they remember — may be brought closer to their goal.

p. I am saddened that Nichol’s gifts to the College — gifts, such as the Gateway Program, which are much more valuable than any amount of money — might end. I am saddened that we might now never reach the noble, righteous place towards which Nichol has been leading us. I am saddened that our president — a good president, a good leader and a good man — may have sacrificed all he could have brought to the College for one little infidelity.
Nichol is a great leader and president, but his fault is this dishonesty. And, as Antony said of Caesar, it is a grievous fault, and grievously hath he answered it.

p. There are people who would cite this as a victory, but, this week, we all lose. Our loss is not from any public relations snafu, which will be forgotten long before today’s freshmen receive their diplomas.

p. Our loss is not one of petty, small-minded political minutia such as the location of the Wren cross. Our loss is the immeasurable, unprecedented growth the College would have experienced under years of Nichol’s leadership and which we will probably never know.

p. __Max Fisher is a senior at the College.__

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