February 16, 2008

William and Mary SDS Calls for Support in Wake of Fired University President

On Tuesday morning, February 12th, the widely-popular and progressive Gene R. Nichol, President of the College and William and Mary, tendered his resignation, following a decision by the Board of Visitors to not renew his contract (set to expire at the end of the academic year). President Nichol bravely denounced the Board of Visitors and their attempt to purchase his silence as to the true reasons for which he was fired: free speech and broad-minded change to a traditionally conservative institution. The Board of Visitors, the governing body of the College, is composed of the political appointees of the Governor of Virginia. The majority is otherwise not active members of the William & Mary community, and has in their decision-making process continuously silenced the voices of students, staff, faculty, and alumni, who are overwhelming in support of President Nichol and the substantive, progressive change he has made to this institution in three, short years.
In the wake of the shock of President Nichol's sudden resignation, members of the Faculty of the College of Arts and Science issued a call for fellow faculty-members to join them in a "Strike", refusing to hold regular classes on Wednesday (2/13) and Thursday (2/14), during a rally of over 500 students, staff, and faculty in support of the president. Following this announcement, members of the William & Mary Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) announced a student strike in solidarity with their professors. That night, over 1500 students expressed their grief for our community's loss of a great man by congregating in front of the President's House to intone to Gene Nichol the Alma Mater of our college. Students - stunned, grieved, incensed - are experiencing 'the fierce urgency of now'.
More...On Wednesday, February 13th, over 400 students and faculty occupied the lobby of the University Center in an informal sit-in to voice their opposition to the dismissal of President Nichol and to the blatant disenfranchisement of their voices at the highest administrative level of the college. At a subsequent student- and faculty-organized Town Hall Meeting, over 700 members of the William & Mary community gathered to organize their resistance to the gross injustices committed, adopting a list of five tentative demands & overarching points of unity to channel their grief and anger toward constructive ends. Those who are affected most by the decisions of the Board of Visitors now actively express their opposition to the secrecy and egotism of this distant, aloof body.
On Thursday, February 14th, the William & Mary SDS organized a teach-in, inviting faculty and students to join in the sunken gardens of their old campus - an active reclamation of education, denying the legitimacy of any attempt to circumscribe the academic freedom of students everywhere - young and old. Over 400 people were in attendence.
Since the WM campus is still extremely upset and angry about the undemocratic decision of the Board of Visitors, students are putting on a forum about the role of the public university. Students are inviting anyone who can come to be a part of this very important discussion and are emphasizing that the current situation at WM isn't unique. Secretive decisions are the norm for colleges and universities where those most involved in the educational process (students, faculty, and staff) have little to no input in how their campus runs, while absentee boards make the majority of steering decisions.
The event will be happening this Saturday, February 16th from 4pm-6pm in the University Center Atrium. Folks with questions should direct them to Sean Walsh of William and Mary SDS: spwals(at)wm.edu
As events continue to unfold over the following days, the members of the William & Mary SDS ask their comrades and compatriots throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia and across the country to stand in solidarity and to support their struggle to regain control of their college.