Staff Editorial: Doubts on Nichol

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November 16, 2007

10:42 AM

p. The decision facing the Board of Visitors over the potential renewal of College President Gene Nichol’s contract is the most important issue that the College has confronted in the last three years.

p. The ramifications of this decision will be far-reaching, leaving no student, faculty member or alumnus untouched. With the future of the College and every member of its community at stake, all concerned groups and individuals should focus on the facts and allow the BOV to make a logical, calculated decision.

p. The release of an e-mail correspondence between former College President Timothy Sullivan and Nichol has led many to conclude that Nichol intentionally misled alumni and students
when he announced last February that the Campaign for William and Mary had reached its $500 million goal.

p. While our confidence in Nichol has been considerably shaken over his misinterpretation of this e-mail and his inadequate response to disgruntled donor James McGlothlin ’62 J.D. ’64, we have not seen irrefutable evidence that Nichol lied about his knowledge of McGlothlin’s intentions. His response to these allegations, which he articulated in a meeting with The Flat Hat’s editorial board yesterday evening, was that he believed that Sullivan was referring to a future pledge from McGlothlin to the College, as opposed to the $12 million dollar estate pledge that was booked in 2005 before Nichol became president.

p. Nichol maintains that he made an honest mistake in misinterpreting Sullivan’s e-mail. While the wording was somewhat ambiguous, Nichol’s inability to respond to this e-mail and actively pursue contact with both Sullivan and McGlothlin is inexcusable. Nichol said that he would rather not comment on his relationship with the College’s former president, but his failure
to consult Sullivan on an important issue like the removal of the Wren cross and his inability to recognize the urgency of Sullivan’s e-mail raises important questions about Nichol’s leadership capabilities.

p. The e-mail may be the news of the day, but everyone in the College community should understand that this is part of a larger, complex problem that will dictate the future well-being of this university. We encourage the BOV to release any other pertinent documents or information that may enhance the public’s understanding of this difficult issue. As BOV Rector Michael Powell articulated in a recent statement to the community, “The Board [of Visitors] 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.”

p. This is precisely what the College needs at this time. We are not making an argument for restricting free speech, but blind hatred and systematic attacks on Nichol by various groups are hindering
the delicate job with which the BOV has been tasked. Continuing dialogue on the issue is something that we will continue to encourage — particularly since Powell has notified the community via e-mail that the BOV would welcome submissions — but this decision should not be made in the public forum. Moreover, making accusations of dishonesty without proper evidence is irresponsible and undermines this important process.

p. Since Nichol’s honesty in this case cannot be indubitably proved or disproved at present, the deciding factor in the BOV’s decision should be his judgment as a leader, and the board should consider all of the decisions he has made over the past two and half years, good and bad. Based on the current evidence, The Flat Hat is quite disappointed with many of his choices as president, particularly his inability to see potential problems with a disgruntled donor and his apparent lethargy when it came to contacting both McGlothlin and Sullivan.

p. The situation with Sullivan is particularly discouraging. It is apparent from the e-mail that Sullivan had offered his counsel in the past, yet it seems that Nichol failed to consult with Sullivan before removing the cross.

p. The apparent lack of contact is troubling. At the time of the Wren cross decision, Nichol was still learning the terrain and adapting to life at the helm of the College, and his predecessor’s wisdom likely would have proved to be an invaluable asset. In the e-mail, Sullivan states, “I could have told you where this decision would go,” implying that Nichol may have had a better idea of the potential consequences for his actions had he contacted Sullivan before removing the cross. We are concerned that Nichol has a pattern of making poor decisions without consulting others.

p. Nichol has underperformed in several cases, but it must remain the BOV’s decision as to whether his accomplishments as president — some of which are quite notable and have improved our school — outweigh the alumni alienation and other side effects of the Wren cross debacle. It is difficult to believe that a president can lead this College under such scrutiny and ridicule, but Nichol remains convinced that he is the right man for the job. While we are unhappy with his leadership at the moment, we recognize that a solution will come with the BOV’s eventual decision. We hope that whatever decision is reached, the best interests of the College are preserved and continue to be the ultimate priority for all concerned.

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