Blair’s resignation raises questions on consensus
February 21, 2008
In an e-mail addressed to the College community Wednesday, Robert Blair ’68 announced his resignation from the College’s Board of Visitors.
p. Blair said that he was “one of several” board members who supported the contract renewal of former College President Gene Nichol, who resigned Feb. 12.
p. “Although no vote was taken, one was not required if the contract was not to be renewed,” Blair said. “Those for renewal were given ample opportunity to argue their points. We ultimately found ourselves in the minority.”
p. Blair’s statement contradicts earlier statements by BOV Rector Michael Powell ’85 that the board’s decision was unanimous. Powell told The Flat Hat in an e-mail this week that he had spoken with the board about holding a unified position.
p. “I have said there was not a vote, only a discussion and a consensus,” Powell said. “There was a discussion about speaking with one voice and whether anyone objected to describing our decision as unanimous. I did not hear any objection and believe other board members understood this. I deeply regret if I misunderstood Mr. Blair’s intent.”
p. Blair reaffirmed his position in an interview with The Daily Press Wednesday, after board members Henry Wolf and John Gerdelman said that the board had reached a unanimous decision.
p. “There was not a unanimous consensus, decision or other unanimous action against renewal,” Blair said.
p. Wolf also told The Daily Press that several board members had approached Nichol on Feb. 10 and informed him as a “courtesy” that his contract would not be renewed. Wolf said that he and other board members had not known Nichol would resign until the morning of Nichol’s resignation.
p. In an interview with The Flat Hat Thursday night, BOV member Barbara Ukrop ’61 confirmed that she — along with Powell and one unnamed board member — met with Nichol to inform him of the board’s decision. Ukrop said that she had agreed with the non-renewal decision.
p. Ukrop said that the non-renewal decision had been agreed upon at a BOV dinner in the days leading up to the board’s February meeting, but she did not recall Powell using the word “unanimous.”
p. “I guess maybe what [Powell] meant is that he thought the board agreed to speak with one unanimous voice,” she said.
p. In his e-mail Wednesday, Blair attributed his resignation to an “incipient effort” on the part of BOV members to “pick apart” Nichol’s presidency. He said that he had read unprofessional BOV e-mails.
p. “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.”
p. Blair thought originally that the board had not based their decision on ideology, but has since grown skeptical.
p. “Such communications call into question the real motivation for the initial decision not to renew the President’s contract,” he said.
p. When asked about the e-mails, Ukrop said she did not recall reading any negative comments against Nichol. She said that many board members were upset about the anti-BOV graffiti that appeared on many College buildings last weekend, including the Wren Building.
p. “I think maybe there got to be some anger last week, especially with the defacing of the Wren building, and maybe tempers flared,” Ukrop said. “I never saw any mean spirited thing against Nichol.”
p. Ukrop said that she was sure the board did not base its decision on ideology.
p. “Our decision was in no way based on ideology,” she said. “We believe in diversity, in multiculturalism, and access and Gateway … and we’ll continue to push forward with all of that.”
p. In his resignation e-mail, Blair praised Nichol for his efforts to increase racial diversity at the College, and particularly lauded the Gateway Program, which offers financial aid to low-income Virginia students.
p. “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. Blair had been on the board since 2004. He served as junior and senior class president while completing a mathematics degree at the College and received his J.D. in 1973 from the University of Virginia School of Law. He currently serves as President of Blair Law, PC in Washington D.C.