Thursday, February 14th, 2008...9:16 am
Right-Wing Coup Deposes William & Mary Prez Gene Nichol
This week we learned that the well respected and beloved (though controversial) president of the College of William and Mary, Gene Nichol, would not have his contract renewed by the Board of Visitors (headed by the college’s rector, the refried Bush administrator Michael K. Powell [son of the Good Soldier and former Bush Secretary of State who helped get us into the Iraqi cesspit, Colin Powell]). The controversy around Nichol’s presidency had been brewing for some time. Last October I wrote to Michael Powell in support of Nichol. Here is the text of that letter.
As a citizen in the regional community and as a member of the community of higher education professionals in Virginia, I am taking advantage of what the (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot has characterized as your and the board’s desire for comment on the presidency of Gene Nichol.
The mob has gathered to depose Mr. Nichol, a mob comprised of the “usual suspects” of religio-political ideologues and moneyed interests who are engaged in the kind of bullying that often works in church congregations to keep a pastor in line. Mr. Nichol appears guilty of two things: 1) Having reminded us that, regardless of its historical origins, the College of William & Mary is not a subsidiary of the Church of England or of the Country Club at Prayer, and the Wren Building (with its chapel) is not a museum property managed by English Heritage, but is a public space of a public (and therefore secular) higher education institution; and 2) Having unilaterally decided to remove a brass cross that had been placed in the chapel a few decades ago.
Permit me to point out regarding the second issue that this imbroglio should remind faculty, administrators, and board members of the importance of the principles of shared governance as articulated by the American Association of University Professors, principles that protect the participation of all parties in a college community. Mr. Nichol initially acted unilaterally but not in bad faith.
I have watched Mr. Nichol with admiration and gratitude. His passion for the College of William & Mary is evident, and he is an articulate representative for all that it values. In the higher education world where presidents usually view themselves as CEOs who stay for a few years before moving on to the Next Big Career Thing, Mr. Nichol gives every sign that he loves the College of William & Mary and would complete his distinguished career there. Finally, those of us among your poor relations in the community colleges have been grateful for his advocacy of transfer agreements allowing the best and brightest among our students to be admitted. I have sent a dozen or so students to William & Mary in recent years.
I hope that the board will see through the crass and cynical political bullying that seeks to remove Mr. Nichol and will renew itself to the principles of shared governance.