Live Report: BOV forum

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February 22, 2008

1:02 PM

p. 6:29 p.m. | Diversity; Forum concludes:

p. “Gateway is the most important program that has ever been initiated at this school,” Powell said.

p. He said that the next president must continue the College’s diversity initiatives and guaranteed that he would try to fully fund the Gateway program.

p. That statement ended the student forum. Students have dispersed and the BOV will now hold smaller group sessions with students.

— Brian Mahoney

p. 6:23 p.m. | Wardrobe Malfunction: Eric Newman ’10 is standing in the audience with his shirt held up, and red letters on his chest say “wardrobe malfunction.” The forum continues uninterrupted.

— Brian Mahoney

p. 6:12 p.m. | BOV transparency and staff representative:

p. Thomas said that the board’s transparency during the review process was limited by Nichol’s lawful right to privacy.

p. He also did not want any criticisms of Nichol’s presidency made public.

p. “We didn’t mean to come out ripping this man apart, tearing him down. We wanted a smooth transition.”

p. A graduate student said that she felt the board was patronizing the College community.

p. “I found the tone of your language today and the tone of the language that have been sent our from the administration extremely patronizing,” she said. “I’ve heard enough – I don’t hear anything that’s convincing me that you had a just reason for.”

p. She said she was voting no confidence on the board and encouraged others to do so. The comment was followed by some applause and boos.

p. A student also asked Powell if he would support a non-voting staff representative on the BOV. Powell said that he would.

— Brian Mahoney

p. 6:03 p.m. | Transition Package :

p. Powell was asked about the transition package offered to Nichol on Feb. 10, and if such packages are customary in higher education.

p. According to Powell, the package offered Nichol one year paid faculty leave with benefits, use of university housing through the summer and a deferred compensation account which involved two deposits of $10,000 with a promise for a third deposit.

p. He said that the package was contingent on Nichol serving the remainder of his term.

p. “[The package] worked both ways — the president also doesn’t want us trashing him,” Powell said. “The mutual part was that we would also agree to protect his interests.”

p. Nichol also asked the BOV to inform him of their decision as soon as possible.

— Brian Mahoney

p. 5:50 p.m. | BOV decision :

p. Powell was asked about when the BOV made their final decision about Nichol’s contract. He said that the decision had been made on Feb. 7, before three BOV members went to Richmond to talk to Virginia delegates.

p. Powell, Gerdelman, and Ukrop went to Nichol’s house on Feb. 10 to inform him of the board’s decision.

— Brian Mahoney

p. 5:50 p.m. | Weight of Student input :

p. Matthews said that she and John Gerdelman read every student e-mail submitted to the BOV’s 360 degree review process.

p. A student said he felt that the board “devalued” student input after describing the presidential review process as something that students only know 10 percent of the presidential review.

p. Powell and Mathewson responded, saying that they never meant to devalue the input of students.

p. “I suspect you don’t have much experience watching what’s going on at the fundraiser donor side,” Powell said. He also said that most students were probably not concerned with the College’s “strategical operating planning process.”

p. A student asked why the BOV did not hold a forum six months ago to discuss Nichol’s contract.

p. Powell said that he had met with many student groups in the past year, but expressed concern about holding a public referendum during the review process.

— Brian Mahoney

p. 5:30 p.m. | Evaluation Criteria :

p. The second question asked about the criteria involved in evaluating the College’s president. Powell emphasized the importance of fundraising.

p. “You can’t afford to be deficient on the fundraising front,” Powell said.

p. Powell also said that — even though the College is public — the commonwealth of Virginia is not a reliable financial partner. He said that only 20 percent of the College’s operating expenses come from public funds.

p. Powell also spoke about competition among other universities, and that the College is in danger of losing students to institutions that can offer a better value. He cited Stanford University’s recent program to give free tuition to all students whose families earn less than $100,000.

p. A student asked Matthews if the BOV will hire a fundraiser for the next president.

p. Matthews said that the new president muct have a “package of skills,” including the ability to fundraise.

— Brian Mahoney

p. 5:17 p.m. | Unanimous decision :

p. Dukes has been given a list of eight prepared questions
gathered from student input to the SA. Students will also be given the chance to respond and ask follow-up questions.

p. The first question asked about the non-renewal decision that Powell described as “unanimous.” Powell was asked to clarify his statements in the light of BOV member Robert Blair’s ’68 resignation e-mail last Wednesday, which said that there was not a unanimous consensus among the board.

p. “Credibility and integrity are about the most important things we teach here, and I owe you an answer,” Powell said.

p. Powell said that he had discussed with board members about describing a consensus among the board. He said no board members opposed that decision.

p. “I’m sorry if it came across as something less than candid or accurate,” Powell said.

p. Devan Barber ’08 read the College honor code’s definition of lying. She asked the board if they misrepresented themselves in representing the decision as unanimous.

p. Powell said that, if a vote had occurred, there would have been a second motion to make the decision unanimous. He said that, because the BOV did not take an official vote, the decision process was more ambiguous.

p. Ukrop said that the deliberation process has taken months and has been very difficult for the board.

p. “We feel your pain,” she said.

— Brian Mahoney

p. 5:02 p.m. | Reveley and BOV introduction :

p. Dukes introduced Interim President Taylor Reveley. Reveley stood and received applause.

p. After a short speech by Suzann Matthews, the board introduced itself.

— Brian Mahoney

p. 4:46 p.m. | Student Forum:

p. Students have filled the auditorium as they wait for the forum to begin. Many are distributing yellow and green armbands, and a line to enter the auditorium extends to the UC’s front entrance. Student Assembly President Zach Pilchen ’09 and SA Vice President will introduce the event. Franklin Dukes of the University of Virginia will moderate.

p. Powell has taken his seat and the forum has begun.

p. — Brian Mahoney

p. 4:30 p.m. | Faculty Forum Conclusion:

p. The last faculty member to speak thanked the board for its efforts to explain the decision.

p. Before that, a non-faculty member stood and said, even after being told that the last question should be reserved for a faculty member, that the BOV should read the College’s charter and see that it says that the College should work for the glory of God.

p. A physics professor stood and loudly criticized many of the board’s decisions, saying that the board is isolated from the community and that he wishes the board would spend more time living with us than visiting us.

p. Another professor asked why the BOV did not come to Nichol’s defense when newspapers and people were spreading public lies about him.

p. “Some criticisms didn’t deserve our response because they were so absurd,” Poston said, to boos from the crowd.

p. “Perhaps you’re right we didn’t do enough, loudly enough,” she then added.

p. 4:15 p.m. | Calls for Powell’s Resignation: Sociology Professor Kate Slevin stood and publicly called for Powell’s resignation.

p. “Our community is in turmoil and it has been for the past 10 days because of the failures in your leadership,” she said. “Right now the rector as the head of BOV has, and I’m speaking for myself and with regret, but he has compromised his legitimacy — to the point where I believe that in order to heal that, the rector has no option but to resign immediately.”

p. Many board members came to Powell’s defense, saying that he has done a great job under the circumstances and that what he says speaks not for one person, but for the entire board.

“I’ve never seen anybody work any hard, and since I graduated in ’61, I’ve known a lot of rectors here,” Barbara Ukrop said. “Michael Powell is one of the finest individuals I’ve ever known or gotten to work with in my life.”

p. “There have been failures here but they are not the failures of Michael Powell,” Matthews said. “This was a board decision. This was not Michael Powell’s decision.”

p. 4:07 p.m. | Presidential Search: A physics professor who said he has been at the College 45 years stood and stated that he hopes, to the possible anguish of one person in the room, that the board asks Taylor Reveley to stay on as interim president for at least two-and-a-half years.

p. He said he thinks the state wants somebody to come in and run the school as a “tight ship,” and he hopes the board slows down and takes the time needed to find someone who won’t take that approach and who is worthy of the College.

p. “We couldn’t agree with you more, we don’t have a timetable here,” Matthews said. “If we take our time, the best of William Mary is going to come back.”

p. Powell added that there is no set time for finding a new president, so if they find the perfect president quickly, they would certainly hire him or her.

p. 4:00 p.m. | Transition Package: English Professor Jacquelyn McLendon asked why the BOV offered Nichol a transition package stipulating that he make no statements about his departure without the board’s approval.

p. “I have to tell you that that is the norm — it is not at all unusual to agree upon a mutually acceptable public statement,” Poston responded. “I was stunned and hurt by his statement that we were trying to buy his silence.”

p. Powell said the only thing the board proposed was that they would work together to come up with a mutual explanation.

p. He then read an e-mail that he sent to Nichol on the day before Nichol resigned. In the e-mail, Powell expresses his sympathy for Nichol and says that everything is flexible and that the board is willing to work with him to accomodate his concerns.

p. Powell said the only response he received was Nichol’s call the next morning to announce his resignation.

p. 3:45 p.m. | Outside Influence: Board member Kathy Hornsby, who was appointed to the board this year, said she lobbied to be on the board because she wanted to fight against the extreme conservative voices that she felt were trying to influence the school.

p. She said that the board is not influenced by outside voices.

p. A professor then said he is concerned that the state legislature and wealthy alumni are having too much power over the school. Board members maintained that they act in the best interests of the school and are not swayed by pressure.

p. Powell said he thought the General Assembly trying to pressure the BOV was inappropriate. He said he voiced his opinion to the governor.

p. “I think what they did at the end was hideous,” he said. “It was overreaching. It was inappropriate.”

“We will not be pushed around,” Thomas said, adding that the GA will probably take credit for Nichol’s dismissal but that is not accurate.

p. Professor Robert Archibald said he wanted to hear that Nichol’s message was not what got him fired.

p. Powell then emphasized the importance of Gateway and again stated that the board continues to support the program.

p. “Gateway is the best thing to come to this school in a long time,” Powell said. “It’s also not funded. It’s also in danger of collapsing on our kids.”

p. “Our next president sure as hell must care about this thing,” he added.

p. 3:30 p.m. | Future of the College: Anthropology professor Barbara King said, “We feel that the future of the College has been harmed,” and the crowd immediatly applauded.

p. Powell said that the board factored the negative reaction that the decision would cause into the decision, but found that the need to replace Nichol outweighed potential costs.

p. “Time will tell — we might be wrong,” Powell said. “But our judgement was that we were right.”

3:24 p.m. | Cross: In discussing the independent consulting firm’s conclusions about Nichol, board members said the consultant’s view was that the cross decision was not significant.

3:19 p.m. | Reasons: Powell discussed reasons for Nichol’s dismissal and said that the board was concerned with competitors offering better financial aid packages, did not think Nichol had made enough progress toward a billion-dollar fundraising initiative and thought Nichol was not spending enough time building relationships with the schools’s top donors.

p. At one point, Powell referred, hypothetically, to a president seeking a job as chancellor of the University of North Carolina. Rumors have circulated that Nichol has been interviewing for that position, but they could not be confirmed. Nichol said he was on vacation at a beach in North Carolina earlier this week.

p. Powell said that he has been criticized for “picking apart Nichol’s record,” but that it is hard not to criticize a person when trying to justify reasons for firing him.

p. Powell also said that he was concerned about Nichol’s relationship with the General Assembly.

p. “There’s much deplorable about the Virginia General Assembly,” he said. “But at the same time, we are a public school and managing that relationship is important and critical.”

p. –Austin Wright

p. 2:54 p.m. | Integrity: In wake of Robert Blair’s resignation e-mail in which he said he disagreed with the board’s decision, a professor asked Powell if, as an alumnus, his statement in The Flat Hat that the board’s decision was unanimous is consistent with the College’s honor code.

p. “I’ll just be candid in explaining exactly what happened, and I’ll leave you to judge the integrity.”

p. He said that after debate, the entire board appeared to be unified in its decision.

p. Thomas said that Blair’s letter was “nasty” and that at the time, Blair seemed to agree with the board’s decision to speak with one voice.

p. –Austin Wright

p. 2:52 p.m. | On-campus reaction:

p. American Studies professor Maureen Fitzgerald asked the BOV if they had anticipated the student reaction to the non-renewal decision.

p. Powell said that the board had, and that on-campus reaction was the hardest part of their decision.

p. — Brian Mahoney

p. 2:50 p.m. | Review Process:

p. Powell was asked if the faculty and staff were 2 of 11 constituents in the BOV review process. Powell said that there was no such division among constituents.

p. Hornsby said that today was the first she had heard of an 11 point process.

p. — Brian Mahoney

p. 2:43 p.m. | Faculty Forum: Faculty have packed the auditorium, and some had to go to the overflow room in Chesapeake A.

p. Faculty member and moderator Tom White gave the opening statement and acknowledged Interim President Taylor Reveley, who is in attendance.

p. –Austin Wright

p. 2:22 p.m. | Conclusion: The meeting concluded with closing remarks from Powell, followed by a large applause from the audience. The meeting with faculty begins in about 10 minutes.

p. Faculty members are lined up from the doors of the Commonwealth Auditorium to the front of the UC.

p. –Austin Wright

p. 2:20 p.m. | President Nichol’s Weaknesses:

p. Powell was asked why Nichol’s tenure did not “fit” the College. Powell said that, in Nichol, he had “never seen a better visionary” and a President who had such close relationships with faculty, staff and students.

p. Powell said that the BOV had concerns about operation planning and the Nichol’s tendency to avoid consulting the board about executive decisions.

“You can’t wake up one day and find out you just got an $80 million bill for Gateway,” he said.

p. Powell also had issues with Nichol’s “internal management” and said that the former president was “not on the road enough with donors.”

According to Powell, the board wanted to hire a chief operating officer to better handle those management issues, but could not come to an agreement with Nichol about the new hire.

p. Powell said that the BOV wanted to have a $1 billion fundraising goal.

p. — Brian Mahoney

p. 2:05 p.m. | The State and the BOV:

p. Hornsby talked about the Virginia General Assembly calling her and other BOV members to Richmond during the BOV meetings in February. She said they were never asked about Nichol’s presidency.

p. “We were asked a variety of questions for 90 minutes. I was never asked specifcally ‘what are you going to do about President Nichol?’ They had no influence whatsoever.”

p. Herget agreed.

p. “Theres been zero pressure, and I don’t think any influence, at all by the legislator or the governor’s office around this decision.”

p. Powell said that “the greatest trick of a legislature is to see something happen and pretend to take credit for it.”

— Brian Mahoney

1:56 p.m. | Sex Workers’ Art Show: Powell said that while he supports students’ rights to choose what activities and entertainment come to campus, he has been advised by the College’s legal counsel that there may be some complications to allowing students to have complete control.

p. He said, though, that he believes students have a right to bring the Sex Workers’ Art Show to campus.

p. –Austin Wright

1:56 p.m. | Delayed Notification: A staff member asked why the board delayed notifying the College community about its decision on Nichol’s contract.

p. Powell replied that Nichol asked the board to tell him as soon as possible whether he would be renewed so that he would have time to make arrangements. Powell said they told Nichol after the February board meeting and that the board would not be renewing his contract, but that the board hoped Nichol would remain as president through June.

p. “We all failed to have that happen successfully,” Powell said. “I think it’s unfortunate.”

p. –Austin Wright

p. 1:42 p.m. | General Assembly: In response to a question about the College’s perception, Powell said that the efforts of some of Nichol’s critics and the General Assembly to influence the board’s decision have been reprehensible. The crowd erupted in applause.

p. –Austin Wright

p. 1:38 p.m. | Herget: Board member Philip Herget has arrived and is now sitting in the front with the other board members.

p. –Austin Wright

1:36 p.m. | Staff Representation: Asked about the process of evaluating Nichol, Powell said the board reviews the president every year, but that this year’s review took on an increased importance because Nichol’s contract expires in June.

p. He said that for the independent review of Nichol, 40-some people were interviewed, selected categorically by virtue of position. He said that the findings of the independent consulting firm were only one element of the total review.

p. “A lot of campus employees are reviewed just this way,” he said.

p. He added that over 1,000 public comments were submitted to the e-mail account that the board set up and that each comment was read and evaluated.

p. “We’ve delibereated long and hard, and it has not been easy,” Ukrop said.

p. Powell also said a commitment to diversity was a requirement for the next president.

p. Powell addressed the Gateway Program, saying it needs a stable funding source and that the board is working to secure one.

p. “Money’s going to talk on that program,” Powell said. “In terms of its aspirations and its philosophy, we’re as deeply committed to that program as anything else.”

p. A staff member asked why there is no staff representative to the board. Powell replied that faculty and students have only recently received representation on the board, and that the board’s processes are always evolving. He implied that he is open to making a change.

p. –Austin Wright

1:24 p.m. | Second Question: A staff member said that Powell failed to address the staff in his communications with the College community.

p. “We just want to be heard, and we’re hoping that you guys will be sure to include us,” she said.

p. Powell expressed his gratitude for the staff and said they would be included in future decision-making.

p. “Our ears are open,” Matthews said, adding that staff members were included in the last presidential search and would be included in the search to replace Nichol.

p. –Austin Wright

p. 1:20 p.m. | First Question: At the start of the first of today’s three sessions, BOV members Jeffrey McWaters, Barbara Ukrop, John Charles Thomas, Michael Powell, Suzann Matthews, Anita Poston and Kathy Hornsby introduced themselves to the crowd of College staff who fill the auditorium.

p. Powell took the first question, from a staff member who asked why the decision was characterized as unanimous, and he said that board members agreed that they would represent the decision as unanimous, even though several board members had expressed that they disagreed with the decision.

p. “It was an error — it was done out of honest misunderstanding,” Powell said.

p. In interviews with The Flat Hat on the day of the decision, Powell characterized the decision as unanimous. But this week, Robert Blair resigned from the board and said that he wanted the board to renew Nichol’s contract.

p. –Austin Wright

p. 1:08 p.m. | BOV Entrance: BOV members, including John Charles Thomas and Suzann Matthews, have begun trickling into the UC and toward the Commonwealth Auditorium. As members pass the student protestors outside the UC, students continue chanting slogans like, “What do we want? Honesty.”

p. –Austin Wright

p. 1:03 p.m. | Student Protest: About 30 students are standing outside the University Center awaiting the Board of Visitors, who are set to enter any moment. Students are chanting about solidarity and the “power of the people” and standing behind a poster that says, “BOV: Lead by example.”

p. “We are hoping to get our voices heard by the BOV,” protestor Grace Sherman ’09 said. “They are welcome on this campus — we are grateful and excited and determined.”

p. –Austin Wright

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