Former College President Gene Nichol was featured and interviewed Friday evening during the inaugural broadcast of “What Matters” on WHRO. The interview was Nichol’s first since he resigned Feb. 12.
Nichol answered questions about his departure and his family in the half-hour show. He also maintained that he was fired for the four reasons outlined in his Feb. 12 e-mail to students. Nichol has denied requests for an interview with The Flat Hat several times, both in person and via e-mail.
WHRV radio personality Cathy Lewis hosts “What Matters,” which she said focuses on issues that do not receive attention from the mainstream media.
Lewis introduced Nichol and presented a timeline of his presidency, including his 2005 installation, the 2006 removal of the Wren cross and the recent Sex Workers’ Art Show.
The interview mostly focused on Nichol’s preparations to move back to work at University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill.
“My wife and I have accepted appointments at North Carolina, which will be something of a homecoming,” he said. “But I think of the students, the faculty members, the really singular character of the College of William and Mary and how much I’m going to miss it. I’m much more moved to think and talk about that than [presidential controversies].”
Nichol stressed several times how much he would miss students and faculty.
“Thinking now about leaving the College and thinking about what a singular place it is — those are the largest matters on my mind right now,” he said.
He added the students give him “faith for the future,” and this experience has been “one that has a larger impact on me than certainly anything in my professional life.”
Lewis asked if that dramatic support from students was a comfort during the controversy, which she said occasionally became vitriolic.
“By any read of internet traffic on this, I was struck by [the] viciousness of some of the commentary; it seemed to have crossed the line, and we’re really not accustomed to seeing this,” she said.
“Being involved in a series of controversies has complicated results,” Nichol responded. “The support [of the students] was among the most touching experiences of my life.”
He also agreed that some of the responses were vicious.
“There is also a dark side of this. There has been viciousness, which I hadn’t anticipated. It’s complicated to comment on it,” he said. “It’s hard to tell where such a line is when you’re a public figure. When you take on a public mission and role, you do it willingly, and I did.
“But the kids and family — they didn’t take this on. I decided to become president of the College of William and Mary — my wife didn’t do that, my daughters didn’t do that. I know there’s a theory, if you’re trying to run the guy out, that’s what you do, but I think you could conclude that that’s unworthy.”
Nichol also said that he remains committed to the idea of the College being a public university and that it is crucial that it remain such.
“I am still an advocate of higher public education to the bottom of my feet,” he said.
The former president looks forward to researching again and shared his view on the country from his perspective as a Constitutional scholar, reflecting on the values that inspired the Gateway program.
“The door to equal opportunity still at the heart of many problems — this is of particular interest to me,” he said. “[I have a] concern that we too easily turn our gaze away from those locked at the bottom, economically particularly.”
Nichol said he looks forward to teaching again and “not having to worry so much about what the fellow next door might be thinking.” He has no plans to re-enter the collegiate political sphere.
“I am going to UNC to teach and write,” he said. “I am not a candidate in the chancellor’s race.”
In addition to teaching, Nichol says he will be, “chasing [his wife] back and forth a little bit.” Glenn George recently received a Fulbright Scholarship and will spend time studying in China.
“What Matters” concluded with a commentary in which Lewis said that the next step for the College is a search for the new president. The search will start next fall as Nichol moves on to UNC.