George Mason Law School

BOV, Nichol caught in crossfire of culture war

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March 12, 2008

8:33 PM

For two years, the BOV has been caught between two opposing forces. On one side is College President Gene Nichol, advocate of long-overdo reforms, supported by the majority of students, faculty and alumni.

p. On the other is a small group of vicious, conservative alumni with a long history of political sub-terfuge, unified by hatred of Nichol and a Machiavellian willingness to take him down regardless of consequences for the College.

p. Vitriolic bloggers, often using multiple anonymous names to appear more numerous, waged a non-stop propaganda campaign. On Flathatnews.com alone, one such blogger posted 64 times under the name MacSuile, mostly personal attacks and misleading half-truths.

p. Linda Skladany, a BOV member ten years ago when it attempted to abolish Black Studies, has long fought with Nixonian calculation. In a Nov. 16 email to fellow anti-Nicholites, she wrote an essay-length rebuttal to my column defending Nichol, ending: “I hope I have provided some fresh voice with something to cut and paste and call their own in order to respond to Max.” Some say Nichol or Powell crossed the Honor Code, but Skladany’s suggestion seems a far graver violation.

p. In the campaign against Nichol, Thomas Lipscombe writes reports, posts blogs, and generally disseminates the destructive propaganda on which he built his career. Lipscombe was an architect of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a smear campaign that has been called one of the most ma-liciously dishonest in American politics and a major factor in John Kerry’s loss of the 2004 presidential election.

p. Lipscombe works for the Heartland Institute, a policy group fighting to suppress scientific re-search with funding from Phillip Morris and ExxonMobil. If you have a loved one who has died fighting in Iraq or from lung cancer, you have Lipscombe to thank.

p. Republicans in Virginia’s General Assembly pressured the BOV, summoning members to a kind of ideological tribunal before approving their appointments. The official blog of the GA’s Re-publican Caucus celebrated Nichol’s firing, calling it “a great victory for Conservatives around the state.”

p. The post went up an hour and a half before Nichol announced his resignation. Who told them? Only Nichol and the BOV knew in advance and you can bet Nichol didn’t go out of his way to apprise the politicians pushing for his termination.

p. The post was quickly removed. Perhaps they wanted to hide evidence of the BOV’s collusion with openly ideological politicians, who see this wound to the College as “a great victory.” They were certainly hiding something.

p. A university president is fired only in extreme circumstances, when considered worth the indeli-ble scar left by the sudden, traumatic departure. Whether you agree or disagree with Nichol’s firing, there is nothing great or victorious about it.

p. BOV members lean liberal, so the board’s decision was likely not ideological. However, board members, by the nature of an institution like the BOV, cannot dedicate much time to the College.

p. As rational people, BOV members naturally prioritize their jobs and families. Spare time goes to appointments like the BOV. But each sits on as many as ten such boards and must divide their energy between them, leaving a sliver of time for the College.

p. Anti-Nichol crusaders exploit this by pressuring members so that the BOV becomes dispropor-tionately demanding, distracting from members’ other obligations. The BOV, an important responsibility but not designed as full-time, has come to dominate the lives of members who have only four days a year to give.

p. The BOV resisted at first. But when Nichol appeared to continue to attract criticism, enough was enough.

p. Of course, Nichol didn’t really attract more negative attention. The same handful who hounded him his entire tenure just never went away. They found new, increasingly absurd “issues” to harp on. I suspect most are not particularly concerned with the Sex Workers Art Show or how the College ranks against Brandeis University except as excuses to rehash old attacks.

p. Their mission from day one was get Nichol out of the president’s house whatever the cost. If our education or Constitutional rights suffer then so be it: for them, the ends justify the means.

p. They may well have fooled the BOV into thinking legitimate dissent exists. BOV members live, on average, over 100 miles away, some as far as Delaware or New Jersey, and can only infer the state of the College.

p. This tiny but dedicated group overpowered all other voices with non-stop disinformation and deft political maneuvering. Our alma mater has become the incidental casualty in the crossfire of their culture war.

p. They will not stop with Nichol; they have gone after academics in the past. The books we can read and subjects we can study will be next. It may be too late for Nichol’s presidency but not to save the College.

p. __Max Fisher is a senior at the College.__

p. __Note: This column was originally published Feb. 26.__

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