In an e-mail to the College community, Robert Blair ’68, a member of the College’s Board of Visitors, has announced his resignation.
p. In the e-mail, released to Student Assembly President Zach Pilchen ’09 and SA Vice President Valerie Hopkins ’09, Blair said that he was “one of several” BOV members who argued for the contract renewal of former College President Gene Nichol. Nichol resigned last Tuesday after BOV Rector Michael Powell ’85 told him on Feb. 10 that his contract would not be renewed. Powell said that the BOV had reached a unanimous decision.
p. “Although no vote was taken, one was not required if the contract was not to be renewed,” Blair said. “Those for renewal were given ample opportunity to argue their points. We ultimately found ourselves in the minority.”
p. In an e-mail to The Flat Hat, Powell said that, while there was no official vote, he had spoken to the board about holding a unified position.
p. “As I have said there was not a vote, only a discussion and a consensus,” Powell said. “At the end of the discussion it was decided what course to take. Then there was a discussion about speaking with one voice and whether anyone objected to describing our decision as unanimous. I did not hear any objection and believe other board members understood this. I deeply regret if I misunderstood Mr. Blair’s intent.”
p. Powell also said that the BOV valued Blair’s membership and is sorry to lose him.
p. Blair said that his resignation is due in large part to many BOV members’ negative reactions to Nichol’s presidential accomplishments.
p. “There has been an incipient effort by some members of the Board of Visitors to pick apart President Nichol’s accomplishments,” he said. “To what end? They gained their stated objective.”
p. He also criticized the board for a lack of professionalism.
p. “I have also seen mean-spirited communications that are not worthy of the professional deliberations of any managing board, but most especially not the Board of Visitors of William and Mary,” he said. “Such communications call into question the real motivation for the initial decision not to renew the President’s contract.”
p. When asked about the board’s conduct, Powell said he had received hundreds of e-mails and is uncertain of what Blair was referring to.
p. Blair attributed the board’s behavior as a response to Nichol’s resignation e-mail, which was sent to students less than an hour after Nichol told Powell of his resignation. In the e-mail, Nichol said that the BOV offered his family “substantial economic incentives” if he agreed, in the words of the BOV, “not to characterize [the non-renewal decision] as based on ideological grounds.”
p. “Would I have refrained from some of what Mr. Nichol said?” Blair wrote, “Certainly, but then I knew more than he. Several of us Board members are actually baffled by the surprise of other Board members regarding the content of the President’s message. President Nichol is a proud, intelligent and charismatic leader and visionary who demonstrated his love for the College in many ways while being under relentless, vicious attack since the Wren Cross decision. That he held his tongue for so long is remarkable.”
p. He said that he and other BOV members — who remain unnamed — fought for Nichol’s renewal because of the progress Nichol brought to the College, especially in regards to diversity. Blair noted that, in praising Nichol, he is not maligning the achievements of former College President Timothy Sullivan, who retired in 2005.
p. “President Nichol increased diversity without reducing the opportunities for others,” he said. “Specifically, he achieved that without taking away from the rights of Caucasians or Christians, regardless of what vocal and forceful groups have alleged in attacking President Nichol, often in some of the most un-Christian language imaginable.”
p. Blair also stressed the importance of keeping the College secular and public.
p. “William and Mary is not a private, religious school,” he said. “It is a public university that must be open to all who qualify for admissions based upon academic achievement and other accomplishments.”
p. Blair also praised Nichol for Gateway William and Mary, a program that provides financial assistance and debt relief to low-income Virginia residents.
p. He acknowledged that Sullivan envisioned the program, but that Nichol was fundamental in its implementation.
p. “I believe that Mr. Sullivan strongly wanted to provide access for those who were socio-economically disadvantaged. Mr. Nichol boldly created and gave Gateway William and Mary its name, funded it through the College’s budget process, and put the program in place.”
p. Blair also criticized “detractors” who have criticized the program for being “affirmative action in disguise.”
p. “I have been assured that students benefiting from Gateway share one common denominator, socio-economic status,” he said.
p. Blair also credited Nichol with recruiting former Chief Justice Sandra Day O’Connor as College Chancellor.
p. Blair closed his e-mail saying that he hopes the board will conduct their meetings with students and faculty this Friday in a “professional and civil manner.”
p. “I place my trust and hope for the future of the College in the hands of our incredible students and our esteemed faculty,” he said.
Flat Hat News Editor Austin Wright contributed to this report.
This article has been updated to correct an error.