WASHINGTON, DC—The American Council of Trustees and Alumni today praised the Board of Visitors of the College of William and Mary for ensuring that it was open to alumni concerns in its decision not to renew the contract of President Gene R. Nichol.
“Hiring presidents, evaluating them, and deciding whether to retain them are important and difficult decisions, but they are ultimately the board’s to make,” said ACTA president Anne D. Neal. “I commend the Board of Visitors for accepting its responsibility to determine what is in the best interests of the College—and for inviting input from the entire William and Mary community, including alumni, before making the decision.”
Rector Michael K. Powell conveyed the Board’s decision to Nichol on Sunday, and official statements were issued today.
The Board’s decision comes in the wake of a series of steps taken by the College administration that drew significant opposition from concerned alumni across the country.
In November, ACTA wrote to Nichol on behalf of William and Mary alumni, calling on him to abolish a recently-implemented “bias reporting system” and to reaffirm the College’s commitment to the First Amendment. This system, advertised with a new website, allowed members of the campus community to report anonymously on “bias incidents,” which were defined in a way that raised serious free-speech issues. In the face of opposition from alumni and noted constitutional scholars, the administration modified—but did not eliminate—the system.
In 2007, ACTA also wrote to the Board of Visitors raising concerns about Nichol’s unilateral decision to remove a cross from historic Wren Chapel and calling upon the board to exercise its responsibility—to students, faculty, staff, and alumni—to review the matter. “We write to express deep unease about how [President Nichol] has handled an issue that involves the history and traditions of the nation’s second-oldest institution of higher learning—and how he has disregarded the opinions of thousands of concerned alumni,” the letter said.
“Colleges that exclude alumni from important discussions, or simply manipulate them, not only break their covenant with alumni, but also deprive themselves of the independent judgment and broader perspectives that alumni have to offer,” ACTA’s letter added. “Shutting out informed voices of concern at the very moment when the College’s valued history and identity are threatened is perilous indeed.”
“Good boards let their presidents do their jobs—but also hold them accountable for their performance,” ACTA’s Neal concluded today. “That’s exactly what William & Mary’s Board has done here.”
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, national organization dedicated to academic freedom, academic quality, and accountability. Its network includes alumni and trustees from more than 600 colleges and universities across the country, including William & Mary. ACTA has issued numerous reports on higher education including The Vanishing Shakespeare, The Hollow Core, and Losing America’s Memory.