After turbulent day, Nichol rallies

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February 8, 2008

3:52 PM

__400 students rally support for Nichol__

p. After a year characterized by outspoken protest, none seemed louder than the crowd of 400 that lined outside the Muscarelle Museum of Art Friday night — in almost complete silence — to support College President Gene Nichol.

p. At the rally, which at times seemed more like a candlelight vigil, there was no mention of the controversy that could end Nichol’s presidency. The group was focused on Nichol’s future, specifically the tentative contract renewal on which the College’s Board of Visitors will soon vote. Several posters read “Renew Nichol,” and many students wore T-shirts that read, “If President Nichol’s not welcome here, then neither am I.”

p. But last night was all a response to the controversy — the Wren cross, a revoked $12 million dollar pledge and the Sex Workers’ Art Show, among others — that has mired Nichol’s tenure for the past year and a half and incited calls for his resignation.

p. The pro-Nichol crowd matched the voices of the vocal groups of bloggers, donors and state delegates who have all used their power to criticize Nichol’s presidency. And they did so in silence — for the most part.

p. While the group said little as BOV members passed, they applauded loudly and sang the alma mater as Nichol approached the museum.

p. “There’s nothing quite like being at the College of William and Mary,” a teary-eyed Nichol told the crowd before he entered the museum for a BOV dinner. Nichol, who said that he had not expected the rally, told the crowd that he would never forget the night, “no matter what happened.”

p. When asked about the ongoing controversy surrounding his presidency, Nichol acknowledged that change inevitably is followed by conflict.

p. “Sometimes when you try to stand up for some things you believe in there’s rough going,” Nichol said. “There is inspiration to be found in ways that I wouldn’t have anticipated and there are a lot of paths to the human heart.”

p. Nichol said that the challenge was worth it.

p. “I’ve said about this place before that it’s a challenge,” he said. “It requires all that one can muster, but it’s spending everything you’ve got in the worthiest of causes, that cause, of course, is these young men and women.”

p. Nichol also said that he had not expected the gathering, which was spearheaded by Nimish Shukla ’08. Shukla had also accompanied BOV members to Richmond yesterday morning after the members were called to answer to the House Privileges and Elections Committee, mostly about the recent Sex Workers’ Art Show controversy.

p. “I think we got our message across,” Shukla said after the event. “I think it was better than expected.”

p. Shukla said that he and others organized the event to combat those that have opposed Nichol in the past.

p. “A very vocal minority has been able to control a lot of the media outlets and just a lot of the thoughts on the president,” Shukla said.

p. “We think that there’s a large majority of students that are behind the president and we think this [rally] is a concerted effort just to show the BOV, who’s going to make the ultimate decision, that students are behind the president. And, frankly, it’s just to have the student voice heard in the process.”

p. Nichol was also supported by the Dean’s Advisory Council, which wrote a letter to the BOV supporting Nichol and arguing that his presidency has been unfairly characterized as “controversial.”

p. The advisory council is comprised of individual department chairs and program directors at the College.

p. In a letter signed by co-chairs Maureen Fitzgerald and Paul Heideman, the council said that controversy is expected at a liberal arts institution.

p. “Our mission on this campus, as in every liberal arts setting, by definition includes thoughtful engagement in ideas and ideals that may erupt in disagreement, debate or controversy,” the letter said. “We accept disagreement and debate, and we expect them. It is through rational and reasonable discussion of differences that our fields move forward and our students learn.”

p. Heideman said that Nichol is rarely recognized for the developments he has brought to campus. Both Heideman and the letter mentioned three indicators of Nichol’s accomplishments at the College: a greater interest in and focus on undergraduate research, the College’s attempt at internationalization and the increased importance placed on civic engagement, both locally and internationally.

p. The letter also said that a failure to renew Nichol’s contract would harm students and faculty.

p. “We do not expect a College President who does not make mistakes. Nor do we wish to have a College President who never inspires controversy, much less imagines his or her mission as a limiting controversy on this campus.

p. “We do expect a College president who is a leader and whose ideas can strengthen the College, the commonwealth, and the nation. We believe President Nichol meets that standard.”

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