Members of the William and Mary Board of Visitors spent an entire day
on campus Friday listening, learning and answering questions from
students, faculty and staff regarding the recent resignation of
President Gene R. Nichol and how the College community should move
forward and heal together in the coming days and weeks.
Michael K. Powell, Rector of the College, was joined by Board members Phil Herget, Kathy Hornsby, Suzann Matthews, Jeffrey McWaters, Anita Poston, John Charles Thomas and Barbara Ukrop as they participated in a series of collegial, yet frank public meetings at the University Center with all segments of the campus community. Board members said Friday’s sessions were important for the College so that the healing process can begin.
“We want to hear. We want to talk to you and we want to listen,” said Matthews, who is Secretary of the Board as she opened the session with students. “This is a conversation we have to have. We are committed to this College. This is not the end. Everybody comes to this room thinking first of the love they have for William and Mary.”
Earlier in the day, the Board held a meeting of
the executive committee where they adopted a resolution formally
recognizing W. Taylor Reveley III as interim president of the College.
Reveley, who served the past 10 years as dean of the William and Mary
Law School, said he appreciated the Board’s confidence and that he was
ready to lead the College through a difficult moment in its long
history. In speaking to members of the Board and those attending the
committee meeting, Reveley said the College’s immediate needs are
continuity, healing and renewed progress.
“Continuity – we need to finish this academic year in good order,” Reveley said. “Healing – we need to come together again in restored community, all of us, including members of the Board, faculty, students, staff, alumni and friends. And we need to show new and vibrant signs of moving powerfully into the 21st century. Along with you and the rest of the William and Mary community, I’m working hard, indeed doggedly hard, to move us in these directions. Together, I have steely confidence we’ll get there.”
All three public meetings – one each for staff, faculty and students -- were well attended, with nearly 400 people packed inside the University Center’s Commonwealth Auditorium for each session. Dozens more watched from an overflow area in the Chesapeake Room as Board members answered questions regarding the Board’s decision not to renew Nichol’s contract when it expired June 30, his subsequent resignation on February 12 and the emotional impact this series of events has had on campus the past two weeks. For more than five hours, Board members discussed everything from the College’s continued commitment to diversity – including its commitment to finding the needed funding to cement the future and success of the Gateway Program; to the review process that led to that decision regarding the former president; to the circumstances surrounding the Board’s decision not to renew Nichol’s contract.
Board members said they considered many factors in the review, including input from the campus gathered through emails, letters and personal meetings. They also considered an on-campus review, which was conducted by an independent consultant who interviewed a mutually agreed upon list of stakeholders between Nichol and the Board, such as students, faculty, administrators and others who worked directly with the former president. Board members said their decision regarding Nichol was the result of a lengthy process. They added it was a difficult decision that was not based on ideological reasons or outside pressure from individuals.
“This was not a Board that was trying to do in President Nichol because of his ideologies or his plans for making this College great,” Hornsby said.
Powell added they deliberated over many months. The decision, the Board said, was based on concerns such as management style, administrative follow-through and efforts to secure the financial future of the College.
“I’m not going to argue that the College has suffered no damage. We knew that it would and … that frightened us, it worried us. It caused us to pause. It caused us to do more, to think more or to try harder to solve the problem,” Powell told the faculty. “You have to believe that you think, on balance, that to continue on this path could be, might be, will be potentially more damaging than the harder choice that you have to take. Time will tell; we might be wrong. But our judgment was that we were right.”
During the public sessions at the University Center, Board members briefly discussed plans for the next presidential search – stating there was no timetable to begin the search but they did not plan to begin any part of the process until this summer or later.
“We don’t have anytime timetable here,” Matthews said. “We have no intention to rush into anything. We understand the great process we have to go through here.”
Board members also reiterated the importance of reassuring members of the campus, alumni, friends of the College – as well as the entire country -- that there will be a continuity of leadership at William and Mary. That William and Mary will move forward.
“We have a choice to make,”’ Powell said. “The whole world is watching. They are watching to see whether this community means it when it says ‘Tribe,’ or is that just a slogan? Our action from this day forward will have a lot more to do with how we are perceived in the United States and the world than anything else that has happened.”