Staff Editorial: Embrace transparency
February 23, 2008
p. By all rights, the Board of Visitors shouldn’t be on campus today. If former College President Gene Nichol’s ouster had been conducted properly, no reason for further inquiry would exist.
p. The board could have preempted student and faculty questions with a transparent process and a thoughtful explanation. But that didn’t happen. While we remain confident that the BOV made the correct decision about Nichol’s contract, we worry their process only aggravated what has become a troubling new tradition at the College: high-minded policy-making conducted from behind closed doors.
p. At the College, well intentioned decisions have too often sparked outrage because of a lack of transparency. Of course, Nichol’s decision to move the Wren cross without prior consultation marks the most notorious instance of relatively benign policy changes gone awry. While we did not criticize the cross policy shift itself, we found the apparent secrecy with which it was made disconcerting. The debate that followed would likely have proven more useful before, not after, the fact.
p. Similarly, the BOV’s actions concerning Nichol’s contract have left much to be desired. Even if the affair ran by the book, the lack of a clear statement detailing the board’s procedures and reasoning after nearly two weeks raises eyebrows — and protests. BOV members’ arrival on campus today, however, indicates a commitment to clearing the air. We must remember that these men and women are accomplished and educated. Much is to be expected of them.
p. We hope today’s discussion will ease the process of sifting the personal from the objective. Too many recent developments have surfaced from individual e-mails and correspondences rather than official statements. Robert Blair’s ’68 resignation from the BOV — although it prompted members to concede their decision may not have been unanimous — raised more questions than it answered. Now is the time for explanation from the BOV that will satisfy anxious members of the community.
p. Absent a comprehensive report, divining an official position has become a game of journalistic Whack-a-Mole — finding an opinion from one source has ensured another’s popping up elsewhere. Whereas BOV Rector Michael Powell ’85 said recently the search for a new president had already started, just yesterday, fellow board member Barbara Ukrop ’61 thought otherwise. “That will not even begin — we’re talking not until next September,” she said.
p. Confusing? We thought so, too. Waffling like this does nothing to instill further confidence, especially on an issue as significant as the selection of our next president. But here again, the BOV has the opportunity to do right by offering an official position on the matter. The past year and a half have proven the value of releasing information for public scrutiny. Better to provide too much than too little.
p. Certainly a friendly presentation of the facts is preferable to their forcible extraction. The ACLU has offered to challenge the legality of BOV’s decision to appoint Taylor Reveley as president designate. Following Nichol’s resignation, Reveley was installed as president with a bit or parliamentary finagling. The ACLU contends the move violated Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act. Reveley is immensely qualified for the interim, but installing him as president without an official vote opens the BOV to criticism. As is the case with our other items of concern, greater transparency from the outset could have prevented such a situation.
p. In large part, the ongoing controversy surrounding Nichol’s departure should have been avoided. A correct decision has become mired in a procedural morass, but today’s sessions provide an opportunity for the College community to find its way. Above all, the event will require openness on both sides so that the community can be satisfied and we can move on as a school.