controversy and consequences

This is a very disappointing turn of events. Gene Nichol, the president of the College of William and Mary was not only turned out by the (quaintly named) Board of Visitors, but they offered him a bribe to keep quiet about the ideological underpinnings of the Board’s decision. Being a man of principle (which is what got him in trouble in the first place), he turned them down, and declined to serve the remainder of his term as president.

What was so wrong about his leadership? The board explains:

Many policies championed by President Nichol are fully embraced by the Board. We agree unflinchingly with the President’s efforts to make William and Mary a more diverse educational environment. His achievements in this area will be the most enduring part of his legacy. We will continue the pursuit with vigor and will insist that all future presidents of the College do as well. We strongly support the Gateway program and will work to put it on sound financial footing by building an endowment that will allow it to blossom. Equally, we continue to see the enormous value that attends to the efforts of internationalization and civic engagement.

Hmm. That sounds like a pretty good record. But nevertheless the board determined there were “a number of problems that were keeping the College from reaching its full potential.” They deny that those unarticulated problems have anything to do with ideology, such as a controversial art show or the removal of a cross from a chapel to make it hospitable to all faiths. (The College of William and Mary is a public institution, and the former president believes in the constitutional separation of church and state.)

Maybe the key factor, despite strong support from current students, is this line from the WaPo coverage:

His decisions prompted many alumni to stop donating money.

Addendum: Inside Higher Ed covers the story here; the comments illustrate the extreme polarization. I can see where it would be tricky to have a president (whose job is largely to raise money) be a controversial lightning rod, but nothing good can come of this. Maybe the moral of the story is to avoid hiring constitutional law professors as college presidents – which is a very sad state of affairs.


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