For Nichol, a mixed legacy
February 14, 2008
p. Former College President Gene Nichol kept people talking all throughout his career and will make news for weeks to come as well.
p. Nichol was selected as the College’s new president in early March 2005. The Board of Visitors picked the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s law school dean in a unanimous vote, beating out the College’s School of Education Dean Virginia McLaughlin and Marshall-Wythe School of Law Dean (and now interim president at the College) Taylor Reveley, following a nine-month search for previous President Timothy J. Sullivan’s replacement.
p. Nichol was sworn in July 1, 2005. He stated his goals of helping the College better compete against private institutions, increasing funding and cultivating better student and faculty engagement. He was then installed as the College’s 26th president April 7, 2006, along with Sandra Day O’Connor as the 23rd chancellor. Diversity was one of his goals from the beginning. “The College needs to more vigorously open its doors to become more racially and geographically diverse,” Nichol said in the April 14th issue of The Flat Hat.
p. Nichol introduced a program early in his career that will carry on beyond his presidency. The Gateway program provides tuition, room and board for students whose families make less than $40,000 a year. Student recipients are chosen based on Free Application for Federal Student Aid forms. The first Gateway freshmen arrived in fall of 2006. Nichol mentioned Gateway in his e-mail to students following his resignation.
p. Soon after his installation, Nichol received news that the National Collegiate Athletic Association had ruled the two feathers on the College’s logo hostile to Native Americans; however, the College’s sports program was allowed to keep the name “Tribe.”
After lengthy appeals, Nichol announced Oct. 6, 2006 that the administration would adhere to the NCAA’s decision. He reasoned that suing the NCAA would cost a large amount of money that would be better spent on financial aid.
p. Feb. 20, 2007 Nichol charged Vice President for Student Affairs Sam Sadler with the task of forming a committee to create a new logo. The committee consisted of 14 total alumni, students, faculty and staff at the College. Members accepted student input until April 29 and then worked on the decision until December 2007, when the committee revealed the new logo it had selected to the BOV. The design faced strong opposition among students, who formed an online petition to “express profound disappointment” in the new design.
p. The biggest event in Nichol’s career came in October 2006, with what came to be known as “the Wren cross controversy.” He removed an 18-inch gold cross from the Wren Chapel to make the chapel more welcoming to people of all faiths. It was to be relocated to the sacristy and made available on request.
Nichol made the decision to relocate the cross after receiving some requests from members of the community to reconsider the cross’s placement in the chapel.
p. Word about the seemingly small change started spreading when Assistant Director of Historic Campus Melissa Enginmann sent an e-mail to employees of the Wren building informing them of the decision on the day of the cross’s removal. As the news spread, Nichol then sent an e-mail on Oct. 27 verifying and explaining the move.
p. Major news sources soon picked up on the story. A few members of the SA proposed bills against the decision and the Campus Crusade for Christ expressed displeasure.
p. Its removal also became an issue with alumni. Oct. 31, Vince Haley ’88 started savethewrencross.org, a website which included a link to petition Nichol’s decision. It had 1,300 signatures when The Flat Hat printed a report on it Nov. 17, 2006.
p. Margee Pierce ’84 witheld a donation, and four members of the Fourth Centry Club, a group of alumni who contribute $1,000 or more annually, signed Haley’s online petition. However, Vice President for Development Sean Pieri told The Flat Hat Feb. 13 that the number of alumni withholding donations was small compared to contributions to the Campaign for William and Mary.
p. Nichol defended his decision in the Nov. 16, 2007 BOV meeting, while money went back and forth. Supporters donated to make up for those retracting donations; these included Tom Mikula ’48 and Marilyn Entwisle ’44, who both pledged $12,000 to the College and called for 1,000 others to make up for this, the biggest loss. Then, last February, founder and former CEO of the United Coal Company James McGlothlin ’62 J.D.’64 pulled his $12 million donation because he was upset by the cross’s removal.
p. This year questions about McGlothlin’s retraction resurfaced. Jim Jones ’82 had given the BOV a 40-page document arguing that Nichol should be fired. The presentation included a letter to Jones from McGlothlin. In the July 18 article, McGlothlin stated that he never fully committed to the donation. He said that he had told former College President Tim Sullivan ’66 the previous December that he no longer planned to make the donation.
p. The presentation included allegations that Nichol knew of McGlothlin’s retraction of the money before he announced that the Campaign for William and Mary had met its $500 million goal.
Nichol said that he had never misrepresented the amount of money in the campaign, and that he did not know McGlothlin would retract the $12 million until the campaign had already ended.
p. Nichol also said that he had discussed the donation with Sullivan, but Sullivan did not mention McGlothlin’s plan to revoke the money. Nichol said that he learned of the pledge Feb. 23, when he received a letter that had been forwarded to the BOV Feb. 16, in which McGlothlin said that he planned to withhold a large donation. That letter became public in February 2007.
p. Like Jones, the anti-Nichol website ShouldNicholBeRenewed.org used this uncertainty as the basis for their main argument that Nichol should be fired, taking the view that Sullivan told Nichol about the $12 million loss, and Nichol subsequently ignored it due to he criticisms that had been surfacing ever since his decision concerning the removal of the Wren cross.
p. College officials released the e-mail in which Sullivan warned Nichol that the pledge was “in jeopardy” two months before Nichol said that he actually learned of the retraction.
p. Nichol had appointed a committee to deal with the controversy surrounding the placement of the cross called the Committee on Religion in a Public University. It was made up of students and professors and chaired by Ball professor of law Alan Meese and religion professor Emeritus James Livingston. After only a few meetings, on Apr. 16, they made their decision to place the cross in a display case with a plaque explaining the College’s historic ties with Bruton Parish Church and its Anglican roots. The cross was placed in its glass case in August. The conflict seemed to have been resolved, though criticisms continued to surface for Nichol.
p. Following the cross conflict, Nichol seemed to face scrutiny concerning almost all of his actions. His last difficulty arose with the hosting of this year’s Sex Workers’ Art Show, a show that tours the country with former or current workers in the sex industry who talk about their experiences and perform various pieces. This was the second year in a row that the show was hosted by the College.
Nichol said that although he did not approve of the content of the student-funded show, he would not agree to censor it. However, a vocal anti-Nichol minority raised issue with the “questionable” content on a college campus.
p. Nichol faced vocal criticisms of his presidency up until the day he resigned. Early in December the BOV decided to delay a decision about his contract; Rector Michael Powell sent an e-mail Sept. 28 to students telling them that the BOV would vote on Nichol in the February or April meeting in 2008. The BOV announced that they would not renew his contract after its meeting last week, and Nichol sent an e-mail informing the College community of his resignation, sparking varied responses, including reflection on Nichol’s actions and his overall influence on campus.