Letters to the Editor (Feb. 15)
February 15, 2008
**Sleaziness and secrecy**
p. To the Editor:
p. Many people are appalled and horrified at the recent decision by the Board of Visitors to not renew College President Gene Nichol. There is also a substantial group of students who think his subsequent resignation is the appropriate course of action for the college and best path for the future.
p. Yet, there is more to the story than his immediate resignation and the BOV’s attempt to provide Nichol “substantial economic incentives” to avoid discussing the decision. There is the manner in which the BOV reached its decision. Under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, it is illegal to hold a vote in a closed session of a meeting. During the past BOV meeting, no vote was held on Nichol’s renewal and some observers concluded that no decision had yet been reached. When news broke that the BOV had reached a decision, Rector Michael Powell ’85 was contacted by a student who had been following the situation closely, accusing him of illegally reaching a decision.
p. Powell addressed the discrepancy by saying no decision was made regarding Nichol’s contract; it was simply allowed to lapse. Renewal is a positive action that would have required a vote in open session, but Powell justified the decision not to renew and not have a vote as something that required no action (it would happen naturally), so no vote would be required.
p. Now I suppose this may be legal, technically. However, it is certainly sleazy and a most unfortunate way of handling the matter. The decision was made behind closed doors, without student consultation, and Nichol was not even given the legitimacy of an “up or down” vote by the BOV on the most important decision of his career.
p. It is my belief that it is the way the BOV chose to handle this tense situation that has inspired such a tremendous student response. Had the BOV more actively included student and faculty voices and held a vote, the decision would still be displeasing to many, but more legitimate due to the observance of due process.
p. By disregarding due process and taking unilateral action, the BOV has perpetrated the same crime it accused Nichol of committing.
p. Student protest should be galvanized and focused around this crime. We cannot ask them to change their decision; but we can ask them to explain the rationale behind the decision, why it was conducted in secrecy, without student input, using a legalistic and fundamentally unsatisfying rationale to avoid a vote. While students cannot change this decision, they indisputably deserve an answer to one pressing question: why has the BOV eviscerated the fundamental elements of democracy in order to sanction a defender of free speech?
p. — David Husband ’09
**Nichol ignored College’s past**
p. To the Editor:
p. When College President Gene Nichol resigned Tuesday, he wrote a letter to the College community making excuses for some of his decisions while president. Below I respond to the first two of his four points.
p. The chapel is a part of the foundation of the College — a college established to train Anglican priests for service in the New World. The controversial Protestant cross that resides there is not particularly old, but it is reasonable to believe that there were many such crosses in the chapel, classrooms and living areas of the Wren Building. Nichol’s effort to strip Christianity from the chapel is an insult to the history of the College. That Protestant cross in a once-Protestant chapel does not offend me in the least, despite the fact that in colonial times my Catholic co-religionists were banned from public office in the Virginia colony and priests were forced to flee to Maryland for their lives for the crime of celebrating a mass in the Old Dominion.
p. Today, it is extreme secularists such as Nichol who persecute my co-religionists and other people of faith. Between 1980 and ’81, I was president of the William and Mary Catholic Student Association (now called the Catholic Campus Ministry) and attended Catholic mass numerous times in the Wren Chapel, which, then, as now, was non-denominational. I thought that the Protestant cross was a lovely symbol of how the best of the Christian faith of the early College lives on in a broader respect for the moral foundation of Western civilization today.
p. In Nichol’s letter, he could not even bring himself to say the words “Sex Workers’ [prostitutes’] Art Show.” Could it be that he is too embarrassed to mention which student-fee-based activity he refused to ban? What would he have done if the student government paid to sponsor an art show praising Adolf Hitler or showing disrespect to Islam? I bet he would have banned such student-funded displays in a New York minute.
p. In his arrogant and extreme secular liberalism, Nichol never bothered to understand the foundations of the College that he served as president. When it was founded, the College embodied the best of Western civilization on the edge of a savage wilderness. Back then, the savages were the Native Americans. Now they are the secularist liberal barbarians like him.
p. I wish Nichol luck in his future endeavors. In his letter he claimed that Thomas Jefferson “argued for a ‘wall of separation between church and state.’” Actually, Jefferson used the phrase precisely once in personal correspondence while frequently arguing the need for religious-based moral principles as the foundation of a free society. I hope that Nichol’s law school lectures are better and more fairly researched than his resignation letter.
p. — Tony Delserone BBA ’82
**A president worth fighting for**
p. To the Editor:
p. I would like to think that the students on campus would have something to say about the resignation (firing) of College President Gene Nichol. Do the currents students not see how the College needs a president like Nichol? From my viewpoint, Nichol was and is exactly what the current and future students of the College need in a president. Isn’t that worth fighting for?
p. — Jeff Mosher ’85
p. To the Editor:
p. Board of Visitors’ Rector Michael Powell’s ’85 trite excuses for firing College President Gene Nichol do nothing to cover up the horrendous decision made by the BOV. The fact that the BOV has refused to stand with its own president in the face of a tiny handful of donors, no matter how wealthy, is unforgivable.
p. The BOV may have ensured that the College will receive a few more dollars now, but I can guarantee that, in the long run, this decision will not be forgotten by many students and alumni. Any donor or politician who is willing to embarrass the College, as this bunch has done, are not friends of the College and do not have this school’s best interests in mind.
p. In Powell’s letter, he promises that he will continue to support Nichol’s policies, yet he will not support Nichol. The College’s administration has a history of saying one thing and doing another altogether, something I remember clearly as a student liaison to the BOV in 2002 and 2003. It appears that, with the departure of Nichol, this policy will resume.
p. I know that I speak for many graduates, both recent and otherwise, when I say that with this news I will never give a penny to the College, unless a great deal is done to make amends for the actions of the BOV. The College has made a step away from progress and away from recognizing and supporting all its students equally. Today, I am ashamed to call the College my alma mater.
p. — Jake Hosen ’05
**Mary Washington student responds**
p. To the Editor:
p. As a student from a neighboring university, I have often visited the College and looked fondly upon its rich traditions, diverse student body, outstanding faculty and high aesthetic quality.
p. Although I was impressed by all of these aspects, I was deeply envious of the most striking facet of the college: the steadfast leadership of College President Gene Nichol. Fiercely loyal, stoutly resolved, intellectually vigorous, socially courageous and morally indomitable, Nichol was as inspiring as he was capable.
p. As a Roman Catholic and pilgrim to Israel, I view his decision to alter the appearance of the cross in the Wren Chapel as an appropriate symbol of compassion that best honors the teachings of Jesus Christ.
p. As a student whose economic background has closed doors to many fine educational institutions in our great country, I consider the Gateway scholarship program one of the most progressive remedies to poverty that Virginia has witnessed in recent years.
As a student of history, I recognize his willingness to question superficial assumptions as a singularly reverent allegiance to the ideological foundations promulgated by the Virginia Bill of Rights and American Constitution.
p. Without question, Nichol has influenced the educational landscape of Virginia in a way rarely witnessed. His tenure, though brief, will be spoken of fondly by the many lives he touched for years to come. The stuff of movies, his ousting belies the goals of an institution intended to foster intellectual growth, demonstrating the truly unfortunate nature of academic politics.
p. As a policy maker, his leadership had the finer qualities of Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, which is perhaps the best compliment I can pay him.
p. I wish Nichol and his family every success and blessing, and I strongly encourage other leaders to emulate his brave and forthright direction in his attempt to usher in a new age of enlightenment and compassion at the College.
p. — N. Slade Bond II, University of Mary Washington ’08
**Demanding an answer**
p. To the Editor:
p. I strongly disagree with the Board of Visitors’ decision not to renew College President Gene Nichol’s contract. I have read both its statement and Nichol’s, finding the BOV’s more than wanting. The BOV seems to agree with the four policy issues Nichol cited as “thorns.” What then were the grounds on which it made its decision?
p. The only explanation in its statement is this:
p. “After an exhaustive review, however, the Board believed there were a number of problems that were keeping the College from reaching its full potential and concluded that those issues could not be effectively remedied without a change of leadership.”
p. I believe that the College, its staff, faculty and alumni (not to mention Nichol) deserve to know what these problems are and why Nichol could not lead us to our “full potential.” It is unfair to those who support him not to give a full explanation. It is also irresponsible not to share with the College community any problems that face us as a whole.
p. I hope that a more complete explanation of the BOV’s reasons will be forthcoming. As a recent alumnus, I have been truly disappointed in the conduct of the BOV since I graduated. Having followed the Wren cross “crisis” from afar, I can’t help but wonder whether it was the threat of decreased giving from some large donors that prompted this latest decision. In the absence of an adequate explanation from the BOV, I think many people will fear the worst. I sincerely hope that was not the BOV’s motivation.
The College and its leaders should be above such petty and individual pressures and focused on the common good, which cannot and should not be measured by the height of the William and Mary Fund thermometer.
p. I respectfully request that the BOV respond to the questions I raise here, either by a public explanation or an e-mail. When I left the College, I was confident it was in safe hands but my confidence has been shaken today.
p. — Jonathan Tew ’06
**Turmoil on campus**
p. To the Editor:
p. I have been reading e-mails back and forth all day yesterday about our current turmoil and the resignation of College President Gene Nichol. My concern is that we as an institution are sliding into a political mud pit. Whether or not the BOV made the correct decision, only history can decide. But I firmly believe that it is completely out of line for the Student Assembly to send e-mails out to the student body with any political overtones.
p. A close friend of mine and a member of the Class of 2009 had to read e-mails from his class president bashing one of his favorite professional sports teams after a recent loss. These personal opinions do not help any one stay informed about campus events. If SA President Zach Pilchen ’09 can send out his personal opinions to all undergraduate students then I should have the same right. There are a great many students on campus who believe that the BOV decision was the correct one to make, myself included. Why have none of these individuals gotten the chance to e-mail their opinions to the student body?
p. My personal opinion is that the SA needs an academic advisor to proof all future e-mails. It is obvious that they lack the maturity to put the needs of the community above their own political opinions.
A few excerpts from Pilchen, which I found offensive coming from a 20-year-old:
p. “We are particularly ashamed of the way the BOV chose to handle this situation. Michael Powell’s statement on the BOV’s decision rings empty.”
p. “This was a decision made in a closed room with no recorded vote. We have yet to hear anything but evasive, cheap rhetoric from the Rector. … The BOV has a responsibility to the College community to not hide behind closed doors, and to act with behavior befitting William and Mary. Sadly, they have failed in that duty.”
p. I would be happy to meet with any administrator to discuss how Pilchen and other members of the SA have failed in their duties to represent the entire student body. Nichol prides himself on the diversity of people and opinions, which he brought to campus, yet the only voices I hear in this matter are anti-BOV fanatics. To me it seems that a diversity of opinion is only celebrated when those opinions are in line with the liberal attitudes of campus leaders.
p. — John F. Ockerman ’08
p. To the Editor:
p. Today, I am ashamed to be an alumna of the College. A year ago I was proud because under the direction of College President Gene Nichol, I felt that the College was finally becoming a true public institution, welcoming to all people and open to new ideas. I was just sad that I had graduated too soon to experience for myself the benefits of his governance.
p. With the firing of Nichol, unimaginable damage has been done to the reputation and future of the College. I cannot support, financially or ideologically, a school that has proven it does not know what is of real value, and I know that I am not alone in this.
p. The Board of Visitors has disgraced our community, and I hope that the faculty, students and staff will not suffer too terribly for the BOV’s mistakes.
p. — Lindsay Bloch ’04
p. To the Editor:
p. I am very sorry that College President Gene Nichol and his family have had to deal with this terrible situation. I was a proud graduate of the College. The events of the past year and the solemn news this week, however, make me feel very embarrassed that a school, which sells itself as the epitome of liberal arts, actually is controlled by a small group of closed minded, egotistical bullies. Of course, the Board of Visitors and the Republican House of Delegates fall right into lock step with this small slice of the College community because of their money. Isn’t it always about the money?
p. I am embarrassed that the school I once held in such high esteem believes that freedom of thought and expression have no place on a college campus. I’m also embarrassed that a minority opinion could carry the day by waging a war against Nichol. It’s unfortunate that students and alumni are caught in the middle — and the strong reputation of the College ultimately suffers from their relentless assault.
p. I admire the way that Nichol has handled himself in the face of the vast, right wing conspiracy. They threw everything at him — including bribery — but he did not take their bait. It is unfortunate that the vocal few who have invoked Christianity as their rallying cry continually fail to remember that Christ taught us to love one another as ourselves.
p. — Greg Cota ’98