Faculty debates response to BOV decision

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February 15, 2008

12:24 AM

p. Approximately 300 members of the faculty of arts and sciences convened today in a special meeting to discuss the non-renewal and resignation of College President Gene Nichol, and to put forth recommendations on an action plan.

p. Three motions were put on the floor. The sole passing motion was a nearly unanimous vote to request that Rector Michael Powell come to the College to answer questions about the BOV’s decision process and reasoning.

p. The meeting, led by biology professor Margaret Saha, opened with the reading of a letter written by the Faculty Affairs Committee to the BOV prior to Nichol’s non-renewal, stating that the FAC supported the renewal of his contract.

p. Saha listed frequently asked questions and other requests from faculty that she has received since Nichol’s resignation Tuesday. The first issue was the faculty’s desire for more information regarding the BOV’s decision, both to give proof that the decision was not ideological and to explain why the faculty was not consulted throughout the process.

p. The faculty also questioned the process itself and called for more openness in the decision-making.

p. Saha then indicated that many faculty are unsure about the future direction of the college and question what will happen to diversity initiatives championed by Nichol, how the College will move on, and a concern that this is “just the beginning” of a lack of faculty voice in BOV decisions.

p. The floor was then open for questions and airing of concerns by troubled faculty.

p. The first speaker was chemistry professor Gary Defotis, who spoke in support of Powell’s e-mail explanation of the BOV’s decision.

p. “I accept Rector Powell’s statement; it strikes me as reasonable. I saw in it an endorsement of Gateway,” Defotis said.

p. Defotis held a minority opinion. Most of those present at the meeting felt that Powell’s e-mail lacked specificity and ignored major issues.

p. Questions arose during this time, breaching topics such as standards that future presidents will have to obey, transparency, open lines of communication with the BOV and the scope of the Virginia state government’s involvement with College issues.

p. One point of contention was the fact that while the BOV hired an external consulting group to conduct interviews and participate in the decision-making process, only three professors of those present said they were questioned by the commission. The BOV utilized what many professors referred to as a “corporate model,” employing benchmarks in a 360-degree review system to assess Nichol’s performance as president.

p. Several spoke to highlight the differences between an academic institution like the College and a corporation.

p. Many also expressed discontent with the way Powell characterized the BOV’s non-renewal in his e-mail to the College community and in personal conversations.

p. “This is corporate speak for ‘we didn’t like the guy,’” John Nezlek, professor of psychology, said. “This is not a company, not a political body.”

p. Some also spoke in defense of the BOV’s alleged political motivations, stating that the BOV is not the right-wing group that many have perceived, and that most were appointed to their positions by Democrats in the Virginia state government.

p. “They are very thoughtful people who want the best for William and Mary. I am angered by the people who believe this is ideological,” said Robert Archibald, an economics professor who previously served as the FAC representative to the BOV.

p. While at several points during the meeting various professors voiced the desire to protest the decision, including a suggestion by anthropology professor Barbara King to not “recognize the legitimacy of the interim president,” the majority of speakers agreed that the best path was to begin moving on, while still taking action.

p. “Damage to campus morale is unmistakable … [but] there are two things we could do that would be catastrophic. The first is abandoning the field, pulling back our contributions to the College, and the second is deciding that the interim [president] is illegitimate,” history Professor Melvin Ely said.

p. Many professors echoed the complaint that Nichol did not consult others on his actions. Speakers cited the Wren cross decision, the bias reporting system and the Gateway program as actions Nichol made unilaterally.

p. Three motions were then put forth. The first motion, receiving a nearly unanimous vote, requested Powell’s presence on campus to engage in open dialogue with students, faculty and staff to discuss the process and expound on the BOV’s decision.

p. The next motion suggested a review of the process of administrative appointments and renewals and an evaluation of the extent to which the views of faculty and students are weighed in the BOV decision process. This motion was referred to the FAC.

p. The final motion proposed a vote of no confidence toward the BOV. This motion was met with criticism from those who thought the vote precluded the results of Powell’s response to the visit request, and several spoke out saying that more information must be obtained before a final statement is issued. This motion was postponed until after Powell’s visit to the College, and will be taken up separately if Powell chooses to decline the invitation.

p. Saha stated that these issues would be taken up as needed at their next scheduled meeting or in another special session.

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