Gene Nichol, former dean of the law school who left two and a half years ago to take the presidency of the College of William & Mary, resigned from that position with little warning this week after he was notified his contract would not be renewed.
In a letter sent by e-mail to the school’s faculty and staff, Nichol said the college’s board of visitors had offered him and his wife, Glenn George ’75, “substantial economic incentives if we would agree ‘not to characterize [the non-renewal decision] as based on ideological grounds’ ” or to make any statement not approved by the board.
Nichol declined that offer, calling it censorship, and included in the letter details of why he thought he lost support.
Early in his tenure, Nichol ordered the removal of a Christian cross in a historic chapel that often is used for secular campus events. He cited the separation of church and state, saying in the letter that he made the decision “to help Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and other religious minorities feel more meaningfully included as members of our broad community. The decision was likely required by any effective notion of separation of church and state. And it was certainly motivated by the desire to extend the College’s welcome more generously to all.”
He also attempted to broaden campus diversity through a stronger need-based financial aid initiative; refused to ban a controversial student-funded traveling exhibit, the Sex Workers Art Show; and would not ban a student speaker series that some found offensive.
For this, Nichol said in the letter, “A committed, relentless, frequently untruthful and vicious campaign — on the Internet and in the press — has been waged against me, my wife and my daughters. It has been joined, occasionally, by members of the Virginia House of Delegates — including last week’s steps by the Privileges and Elections Committee to effectively threaten Board appointees if I were not fired over decisions concerning the Wren Cross and the Sex Workers’ Art Show.”
He said he had considered resigning at times during the past year. In the letter, he said he would return to the William & Mary law school faculty to teach and write.
A statement from the college read: “It is critical to explain that this decision was not in any way based on ideology or any single public controversy. To suggest such a motivation for the board is flatly wrong. Indeed, the board has been repulsed by the personal attacks on the president and his family.”
Nichol joined the UNC law school as dean in 1999, leaving for William & Mary in mid-2005.
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