Looking back on Nichol

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February 13, 2009

1:00 AM

One year ago yesterday, former College of William and Mary President Gene Nichol resigned.

The resignation prompted protests, sit-ins, cancelled classes, candlelight vigils and a tense town-hall meeting with members of the College’s Board of Visitors.

Today, though, leaders from both sides of the conflict say that they — and the college –— have moved on.

“It’s kind of crazy it happened one year ago,” Student Assembly Sen. Sarah Rojas ’10 said.

Current College president Taylor Reveley, who served as dean of the Marshall-Wythe School of Law during Nichol’s presidency, was appointed interim president on the day Nichol resigned. The BOV named him Nichol’s permanent replacement in the fall.

“Last Feb. 12 I was too busy to have much time to think,” Reveley said in an e-mail this week. “As I said then, it was very much like being caught in the full blast of a fire hose. Looking back now, it’s wonderful to realize how deep peoples’ loyalty to William and Mary proved to be.”

Nichol has not returned repeated requests for comment from The Flat Hat since his resignation.

On the morning of Feb. 12, 2008, shortly after the BOV decided his contract would not be renewed, Nichol sent a lengthy e-mail addressed to members of the College community detailing the reasons behind his immediate resignation.

In the e-mail, Nichol implied the decision to not renew his contract may have been due to ideological or political pressures.

The e-mail set off a fire-storm of protests that culminated nearly 10 days later, on Feb. 22, when several members of the BOV, including Rector Michael Powell ’85, led a town-hall meeting to discuss student concerns with the decision to not rehire Nichol.

Powell declined to comment for this story.

Since then, the College seems to have moved on.

“It’s in the past,” senior class president Kevin Dua ’09 said. “Gene Nichol will always be remembered and loved by the majority of students here, but it seems like we’re in a new frame of mind right now. We have more important things to worry about.”

Despite the level of protests that took place a year ago, the conflict does not seem to resonate quite like it used to.

“I’ve been working so hard and so much that I have not had time to reflect on it,” theater professor Francis Tanglao-Aguas said. “On a personal level, Nick will be missed … In the end, the good will of the College community pulled through.”

Tanglao-Aguas was a prominent member of the faculty during the protests. During one faculty meeting following the Nichol’s resignation, he expressed his support for Nichol and the protestors by raising his right fist in a manner similar to a black power salute.

But there are those who do not miss Nichol. Jim Jones ’82 was one of the many who found Nichol’s leadership overly controversial and mismanaged.

“I think it was the right thing for all parties,” Jones said. “I think that Mr. Reveley has done a good job moving past Nichol and taking a realistic look at our situation.”

Nichol’s presidency began taking heat shortly after he decided to remove a cross from the altar of the Wren Chapel. Subsequent controversies arose, including his handling of the Sex Workers’ Art Show, problems funding the Gateway Program — designed to provide greater access to the College for students of different economic and social backgrounds — and complaints regarding his administrative management skills.

“I thought it showed inconsistency in his leadership,” Jones said of the Wren cross and Sex Workers’ Art Show decisions. “If you censor one, you should censor the other.”

Tanglao-Aguas said the College community benefitted greatly from the ideas and ideology Nichol brought to the forefront of the College’s agenda — particularly his efforts to diversify the student body and faculty.

The sentiment was echoed by both Rojas and Dua, who participated in the Feb. 12, 2008, candlelight vigil, held on the day Nichol resigned.

“I don’t expect to see a statue for him, but his name does come up,” Dua said. “When it is brought up among my friends, it’s usually in fondness of what he’s done.”

“I think President Nichol will always be remembered on this campus,” Rojas said. “And I applaud President Reveley for coming in during such a tough time.”

Nichol is currently a professor of law at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill law school and serves as the director of the University’s Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity.

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