BOV came to unanimous consensus, planned to work toward ‘graceful’ exit

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February 13, 2008

9:53 PM

p. Nobody was expecting this — not even top Board of Visitors members.

p. Rector Michael Powell said he found out about College President Gene Nichol’s resignation only minutes before students did, giving him little time to make arrangements and compose a response to Nichol’s e-mail.

p. But nearly two hours later, Powell sent an e-mail to students saying, among other things, that Nichol wasn’t dismissed for the ideological reasons discussed in his resignation e-mail. Instead, the decision came after a five-month review of Nichol’s performance that ended last week in a discussion where all 16 BOV members agreed that Nichol’s contract should not be renewed.

p. “The weaknesses we found in executive skills were costing us,” Powell said in a telephone interview. “At the end of the day we felt we couldn’t make enough progress without making a change.”

p. The BOV, though, set no timetable for releasing the decision. After reaching a consensus at last week’s meeting, the board informed Nichol Sunday that his contract would not be renewed — after dining with the president Friday night and after the Charter Day celebration Saturday.

p. Powell said he hoped Nichol would serve out his term and that they could work in the remaining months to find a way for Nichol to leave gracefully. That’s why, Powell said, the board offered him a generous transitional package stipulating that he make no statements about his departure without the board’s approval. Nichol rejected the offer, saying his values are not for sale.

p. “It was not the board’s intention to censor him or unfairly restrict him,” Powell said. “We were hopeful that we would work together toward a mutual, agreeable public explanation and in a manner that was harming the school as little as possible and harming him personally as little as possible.”

p. Now, in the wake of Nichol’s e-mail, the board is left with the task of answering student calls for transparency. Hundreds of student protestors are saying that their voices were not heard and that the board acted in secrecy to dismiss a president who was admired by students and faculty.

p. BOV member Charles Thomas, a former Virginia Supreme Court Justice, said he was taking phone calls from students today and that he was considering a trip to Williamsburg in the near future.

p. “We listened to all the voices in the community,” Thomas said.

p. “We’re not budging on diversity, and we’re not budging on Gateway,” he added, saying that Nichol wasn’t dismissed for his ideological stances.

p. English professor Colleen Kennedy, who is the faculty representative to the BOV, said she originally supported Nichol but now believes that the board’s decision was in the best interest of the College.

p. Nichol’s resignation e-mail, she said, was not.

p. “I don’t see how that letter can be construed as doing any good for the College at all,” she said. “That letter is not in anybody’s best interest, except maybe his.”

p. “He made the board the villains and they’re not — they’re the people caught in the middle of it.”

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