|26th President of the
College of William & Mary
July 1, 2005 – February 12, 2008
|Preceded by||Timothy J. Sullivan|
|Succeeded by||W. Taylor Reveley III|
May 11, 1951 |
Dallas, Texas, United States
|Children||Jesse, Jenny and Soren|
|Alma mater||Oklahoma State University
University of Texas Law School
Gene Ray Nichol, Jr. (born May 11, 1951) was the twenty-sixth president of The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, United States. He succeeded Timothy J. Sullivan and officially served from July 1, 2005 to February 12, 2008. It was the shortest tenure for a William & Mary president since the Civil War. During each year of his presidency, however, the College continued to break its own application records. The 2007–08 school year—Nichol's last as president—topped 11,500.
Nichol spent his prep years at Bishop Lynch High School in Dallas, Texas (Class of 1969). He then attended Oklahoma State University (Class of 1973), where he received a philosophy degree and participated on the varsity football team (although he never played in a varsity game). He received his law degree from the University of Texas (Class of 1976), graduating Order of the Coif. He then became the dean of the University of Colorado School of Law from 1988 to 1995 as well as dean of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law from 1999 to 2005. He previously worked at William & Mary as Cutler Professor of Constitutional Law and director of the Institute of Bill of Rights Law from 1985 to 1988. His other positions have included teaching law in the undergraduate and law schools of the University of Colorado, the University of Florida, the University of Exeter, the University of Oxford, and West Virginia University. Nichol made a bid for the United States Senate representing the state of Colorado in 1996 with the Democratic Party, but was defeated in the primary. He also made a bid for the U.S. House of Representatives and was again defeated.
Athletic logo and the NCAA
As president of The College of William & Mary, Nichol was forced by the NCAA to drop the College's feathers from its logo after a lengthy appeals process. The College was allowed to retain the team name of "Tribe." While several schools, including the University of North Dakota and the University of Illinois have been forced to abandon their mascots, others, such as the University of Utah and Florida State University, who have standing relationships and friendly histories with the tribes represented by their mascots, were allowed to keep their Native American-based logos. The College administration disputed the NCAA decision, but ultimately agreed to the restrictions.
Gateway William & Mary program
One of the first initiatives Gene Nichol undertook as president was the "Gateway William & Mary" program. It is a financial aid program that is "[d]esigned for women and men whose academic promise exceeds their economic means, the program will provide a combination of institutional, state and federal grants for low- and middle-income students who have the desire to attend a world-class university without incurring debt."
Wren Cross controversy
Nichol's October 2006 decision to change a long-standing university policy by removing a cross from permanent display on the altar of the Chapel in the Wren Building ended his first year as president in controversy. He explained that a cross in the chapel of a public university made some students of other religious traditions feel unwelcome in a place considered by the community to be an important part of campus.
Under the new policy, the cross would be displayed only in the chapel during Christian religious services, or upon request, in an effort to make the space more welcoming to groups of mixed faith. After complaints were made, Nichol amended the policy so that the cross would be displayed on Sundays, and other Christian days of observance.
Nichol became the target of criticism from a number of alumni, students, and benefactors for changing this policy. Nichol stated that he had received "several complaints," from students and parents because the College frequently holds student organization meetings in the Chapel.
Due to this decision, alumnus James McGlothlin revoked $12 million he had planned on giving to the College's capital campaign.
Stories had surfaced that Nichol knew of the revoked donation before he announced that the Fund for William and Mary met its $500 million fundraising goal. McGlothlin's rescinding of the pledge pushed the fundraising back under $500 million, and he had revealed to former President Timothy J. Sullivan in an e-mail that he would take back the pledge. In response, Sullivan wrote:
I would like to make it clear to everyone in the William & Mary community that since I left the College everything I have learned which might assist the College or protect her from harm has been communicated to the College administration verbally or by e-mail.
— Timothy J. Sullivan
Nichol denied knowing about the revoked pledge before the announcement that the fundraising goal had been reached. The College initially refused to release the e-mail between Nichol and Sullivan, but capitulated to several FOIA requests. The e-mail read:
Greetings from London where we are having a great holiday. I hope things are well with you, Glenn and the girls. I need to tell you about a recent communication from Jim McGlothlin. As you know I have been working hard with Taylor toward a 12 Million dollar gift from Jim to the Law School. I felt that we were making good progress and moving toward closure, but I talked to Jim who is very upset and angry about the Wren cross, and is not prepared to give any more money at this time because he is so upset about the removal of the cross from the Chapel. I am not sure that I can do anything more to help you with Jim. He is very angry. I have said from the time that you became president that I would help you with anything that you needed, and I was prepared to talk about anything with you. We have not spoken (absolutely you're right) but I could have told you where this decision would go. I will do anything that you can think of that would help you at this time — but I have to say that I am so sorry that William and Mary has come to this place.
After months of controversy, which saw conservative commentators and national conservative political figures speak against the decision, Nichol established a presidential committee to explore the issue. Comprising students, faculty, staff, and alumni, the committee was charged with examining the "role of religion in a public university" in general, and at William & Mary in particular. The committee focused its efforts toward resolving the Wren Cross controversy.
On March 6, 2007, William & Mary announced that the committee had recommended that the cross be returned to Wren Chapel as an artifact displayed in a glass case, with a plaque explaining the College's Anglican heritage and historical connection to Bruton Parish Church. Nichol and the Board of Visitors agreed to the recommendation in a press conference. In addition, the chapel sacristy would continue to be available to store religious symbols of any faith, which may be brought into the chapel as appropriate.
Sex Workers' Art Show controversy
Additional controversy followed Nichol after allowing the Sex Workers' Art Show to proceed to campus on February 4, 2008. The tour visits college campuses and other venues across the country. While personally expressing his displeasure with the content of the student-funded show, Nichol felt censoring the performance would be inappropriate. He issued a statement saying, "The First Amendment and the defining traditions of openness that sustain universities are hallmarks of academic inquiry and freedom. It is the speech we disdain that often puts these principles to the test. The College of William & Mary will not knowingly and intentionally violate the constitutional rights of its students. Censorship has no place at a great university." Nichol's allowance of the Sex Workers' Art Show to perform on the campus garnered mixed reactions among both the general public and the College student body.
Local and state levels of government officials, though not directly affected by the decision, spoke against it. Delegate Brenda L. Pogge (R – Yorktown) feared that the College, as a state symbol, may have "tarnished its legacy." Pogge mailed Nichol a letter that asked him to stop the show. She also requested a city police presence to determine if a state obscenity statute was broken.
Statewide, the Virginia House of Delegates (specifically the Privileges and Elections Committee) effectively "threatened" the Board of Visitors' appointees if they refused to fire Nichol over the surrounding controversies during his tenure, culminating with the Sex Workers' Art Show. Nichol’s permission to allow a cabaret-style burlesque show on campus also offended many of the College’s more conservative alumni, which resulted in some loss of endowment.
Student body reaction
The students at the College of William & Mary showed little opposition to the show. The Art Show's first appearance on campus in 2005 received little media attention, but the second visit in 2006 generated more interest from the students for the following year. Students who opposed the show's content often accepted its arrival on campus due to their support for freedom of speech. The tour performed two shows at William & Mary in 2008, both of which sold out quickly.
After the Board of Visitors decided not to renew his three-year contract, which was already set to expire on June 30, 2008, Nichol resigned on February 12. Several weeks after his resignation he returned to teach at the University of North Carolina School of Law. Matt Marvin, a UNC Law School spokesperson, said that all of the controversy surrounding Nichol did not alarm them and that they welcomed him back to the university.
In his resignation letter, Nichol claimed that the Board of Visitors had offered him money to stay silent on the reason he was fired, freedom of speech. He also claimed members of the Board of Visitors had been threatened by legislators if they did not order his resignation, and that the Virginia government was unhappy with his efforts to diversify the student body and faculty. Nichol claimed that he was offered "substantial economic incentives" to not mention this as well. The Board of Visitors denied these claims. W. Taylor Reveley, III, then dean of the law school, was named as the interim president of the College after Nichol's resignation. On September 5, 2008, Reveley officially succeeded Nichol as president when he was hired for a full three-year term.
- TransWorld News: William & Mary President Gene Nichol Resigns Amid Controversy. "The Board of Visitors for the institution decided not to renew his contract. His tenure at William & Mary is the shortest since the Civil War in school's history. Nichol has been president of the College since 2005." Accessed February 18, 2008.
- William and Mary logs another record year for applicants: Undergraduate admission applications up 6 percent to more than 11,500 - wm.edu. "The total application numbers represent another record year for the College – its third in a row – in terms of total undergraduate applications. In addition, the increase of more than 6 percent would be the highest percentage increase in undergraduate applications in three years. Last year, the College recorded more than 10,850 applications, which at the time was itself a record." Accessed February 19, 2008.
- NCAA puts Bradley on watch list - espn.com. "Three other schools are awaiting reviews, including the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. Nicknamed the Tribe, William and Mary was added to the list in October after submitting an evaluation and has requested an extension because of administrative changes." Accessed February 18, 2008.
- College opens Gateway - wm.edu. "Virginia students from lower- and middle-income families will be able to earn bachelor’s degrees debt-free thanks to a new financial aid program announced Aug. 26 by Gene R. Nichol, president of the College of William and Mary." Accessed February 19, 2008.
- Gateway W&M - wm.edu. Accessed February 19, 2008.
- Official College description of the Wren Building. "...for more than three centuries, it has been "the soul of the College." In the building, generations of William and Mary students have attended classes and lectures, enjoyed meals and attended chapel services." Accessed February 18, 2008.
- The Flat Hat online: Donor pulls $12 million over Wren cross policy. Accessed February 18, 2008.
- The Virginia Informer online: President Emeritus of the College of William and Mary Timothy J. Sullivan releases statement on $12M pledge controversy. Accessed February 18, 2008.
- The Flat Hat online: Questions surface about lost $12 mil. ""The notion that I sent out an e-mail to alumni talking about us having made the $500 million knowing that this pledge had been revoked is completely false,” Nichol said. "I think that this is an effort to say that I’ve been disingenuous on this front, and that’s completely untrue."" Accessed February 18, 2008.
- The Flat Hat online: College releases letter between Nichol and Sullivan. Accessed February 18, 2008.
- President's committee to focus on Wren Chapel. Accessed February 18, 2008.
- President and Board accept committee recommendation on Wren cross. Accessed February 18, 2008.
- William & Mary press release: Statement by William and Mary President Gene R. Nichol on the Sex Workers Art Show. "[The wage against me] 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." Accessed February 14, 2008.
- Commonwealth Times: William & Mary President Sparks Controversy. "Delegate Brenda L. Pogge, R-Yorktown, said she was concerned about William and Mary's reputation after the controversy surrounding the Sex Workers' Art Show. "Nichol approved the Sex Workers' Art Show and, thankfully, no laws were broken," Pogge said. "The school, however, is a symbol for this state, and I hope its legacy hasn't been tarnished." Students showed little opposition to two sold-out performances of the Sex Workers' Art Show." Accessed September 30, 2008.
- Connect 2 Mason – Sex Workers’ Art Show comes to Mason. "According to the Virginia Gazette, Del. Brenda Pogge (R-96th) sent a letter to Nichol on Friday asking him to stop Monday's show at William and Mary and has also asked that city police attend the show to determine if the show violates a state obscenity statute." Accessed September 30, 2008.
- The Cavalier Daily: Sex, religion catalyze controversy for Nichol. "According to Del. Mark Cole R-Fredericksburg, chairman of the House's Privileges and Elections Committee, the Privileges and Elections Committee held a meeting yesterday morning with four nominees to the Board to discuss concerns about Nichol's abilities." Accessed September 30, 2008.
- Washington Post: William & Mary President Resigns. Accessed September 30, 2008.
- Style Weekly - Despite controversy, the sex workers still want to show us how it's done. Accessed September 30, 2008.
- USA Today: Sex workers' art show raises southern ruckus. "Two shows (450 seats each) sold out quickly. School officials reportedly censored some material, and protesters assembled outside the theater." Accessed September 30, 2008.
- The Flat Hat online: Nichol, wife returning to UNC law. Accessed March 16, 2008.
- President Nichol's e-mail to the W&M staff and student body at 9:43 a.m. on February 12th. Accessed February 19, 2008.
- The Chronicle of Higher Education: Facing Ouster, William and Mary's President Makes Dramatic Exit. "He also wrote that the board had offered him "substantial economic incentives" if he would agree to not blame his ouster on ideological grounds." Accessed February 18, 2008.
- Statement from the Board of Visitors: Feb. 12 - wm.edu. "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." Accessed February 18, 2008.
- Reveley steps up as interim W&M president - wm.edu. Accessed February 19, 2008.
|Dean of University of Colorado School of Law
Harold H. Bruff
Judith Welch Wegner
|Dean of University of North Carolina School of Law
John Charles Boger