Former College of William and Mary President Gene Nichol discussed the movement to oust him from office in a column in the Oct. 31 edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Commenting on a new book written by University of California-Santa Barbara Professor Christopher Newfield detailing an alleged conservative assault on public universities, Nichol said that his experiences at the College provide evidence for Newfield’s assertions. He cites the Wren Cross controversy as an example.
“My own controversial tenure as president of [the College] offers a good deal of evidence to ratify Newfield’s claims,” Nichol wrote. “After altering the way a Christian cross was displayed in a public facility, on a public-university campus, in a chapel used regularly for secular events both voluntary and mandatory, I was treated to a potent dose of cultural contest.”
Nichol also described his involvement in the Sex Worker’s Art Show controversy.
“When I then refused to ban a student-sponsored, sexually tinged performance-art program — a ban that would have flatly violated the First Amendment — the controversy became acute beyond the campus walls,” Nichol wrote.
Nichol said the Wren Cross controversy and Sex Worker’s Art Show incidents were strongly influenced by conservative forces and left a negative mark on his presidency and the College as a whole.
“I’ve seen at close hand the impact that battling bloggers, right-wing donors, fevered Fox News firebrands, demagogic legislators, and trustees unschooled in and uncommitted to the core values of a university can have upon a presidency and an institution,” Nichol wrote. “They are nothing to scoff at.”
Nichol is currently a professor of law at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
The entire book review is available online by paid subscription at the Chronicle of Higher Education, as well as at local public libraries.