Blair’s e-mail to College community

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February 20, 2008

12:11 AM

Robert Blair ’68 will resign from the Board of Visitors today, a decision he announced yesterday in an e-mail addressed to the College community and sent to Student Assembly President Zach Pilchen ’09 and SA Vice President Valerie Hopkins ’09.

p. Printed below is Blair’s e-mail.

p. Dear Members of the William & Mary Community:

p. After much soul searching, and input from my family and from alumni I respect, I will tender my resignation tomorrow from the Board of Visitors of the College of William and Mary to the Honorable Timothy M. Kaine, Governor of Virginia.

p. I was one of several members of the Board who argued forcefully for the renewal of Gene Nichol’s contract as President of the College. Although no vote was taken, one was not required if the contract was not to be renewed. Those for renewal were given ample opportunity to argue their points. We ultimately found ourselves in the minority.
p. I was confident at the time that most of those speaking for non-renewal based their positions on non-ideological grounds and without animus towards Mr. Nichol.

p. I fought for renewal because I am proud of the progress that Gene Nichol boldly brought to the College. I would say before proceeding, in praising Mr. Nichol I in no way seek to diminish the critical work and achievements of our former President Tim Sullivan. They are many. Some would try to drive a wedge between Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Nichol, because Mr. Nichol takes credit (and is blamed) for progressive policies now in place, some of which I think built upon Mr. Sullivan’s work.

p. I especially applaud President Nichol for making the College a more welcoming place for students, faculty and administrators of color, diverse ethnicities, and diverse religions. William and Mary is beginning to reflect more nearly the makeup of the citizenry of Virginia. President Nichol increased diversity without reducing the opportunities for others. Specifically, he achieved that without taking away from the rights of Caucasians or Christians, regardless of what vocal and forceful groups have alleged in attacking President Nichol, often in some of the most un-Christian language imaginable. William and Mary is not a private, religious school. It is a public university that must be open to all who qualify for admissions based upon academic achievement and other accomplishments. Virginia families of color, various ethnicities, and various! ! reli gions properly expect as tax-paying citizens of Virginia that the doors of the College will be as open and welcoming to their children as to children of other backgrounds.

p. Gateway William and Mary has been particularly critical in moving the College forward. As is commonly known now, Gateway William and Mary is a program that furthers the goal of diversity by financially helping those worthy, successful applicants whose socio-economic status (regardless of color, ethnicity or religion) would preclude them from attending the College. I believe that Mr. Sullivan strongly wanted to provide access for those who were socio-economically disadvantaged. Mr. Nichol boldly created and gave Gateway William and Mary its name, funded it through the College’s budget process, and put the program in place. Now some detractors wish to belittle his achievement, and others claim wrongly that it is affirmative action in disguise. I have been assured that students benefiting from Gateway share one common denominator, socio-economic status.

p. I could go on with specifics of President Nichol’s accomplishments, including playing a critical role in recruiting our wonderful Chancellor Sandra Day O’Connor. I will not.

p. Suffice it to say that dozens of our incredibly talented students (and others) called me both before and after the Board’s decision, pouring out their hearts with love and admiration for President Nichol and the College. After President Nichol’s resignation, I was initially reassured by public statements of Board Rector Michael Powell and other members of the Board of Visitors that the Board would not change the policies put in place by Mr. Nichol, including that dealing with the Wren Chapel Cross. Based in good measure on such statements, I tried to calm the fears of President Nichol’s ardent supporters and assure them that while they mourn his loss, the important policies he put in place would remain. I strongly encouraged their continued commitment to the College.

p. Why then am I resigning from the Board at this juncture? Because there has been an incipient effort by some members of the Board of Visitors to pick apart President Nichol’s accomplishments. To what end? They gained their stated objective. I have also seen mean-spirited communications that are not worthy of the professional deliberations of any managing board, but most especially not the Board of Visitors of William and Mary. Such communications call into question the real motivation for the initial decision not to renew the President’s contract.

p. I know the reasoned reactions, as well as the emotional ones, of Board members are in response to the President’s message of February 12th to the William and Mary Community. Would I have refrained from some of what Mr. Nichol said? Certainly, but then I knew more than he. Several of us Board members are actually baffled by the surprise of other Board members regarding the content of the President’s message. President Nichol is a proud, intelligent and charismatic leader and visionary who demonstrated his love for the College in many ways while being under relentless, vicious attack since the Wren Cross decision. That he held his tongue for so long is remarkable.

p. My conscience now tells me it is time to move on. And I am. I hope my leaving will give Rector Powell and the Board pause, and cause them to follow Thomas Jefferson’s advice contained his letter to John Tyler in 1804: to open the doors of truth and test their necessary deliberations by reason. I hope the Board will conduct those deliberations in a professional and civil manner worthy of our venerable institution and will defend their decision (as they are being asked to do by the faculty and students for whom the College and the Board exist) in a similar fashion.

p. I place my trust and hope for the future of the College in the hands of our incredible students and our esteemed faculty.

p. Robert Blair (’68)

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