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February 13, 2008

Up against political limits

For those who haven't heard, William & Mary president Gene Nichol has stepped down immediately after his contract was not renewed, and the governing board and President Nichol have given somewhat contrasting stories as to what happened.  Both explanations are available at the W & M web site.   Nichol was previously the dean of UNC's law school, and will now revert to being a law professor at William and Mary (my undergrad alma mater).

Two controversies precipitated the non-renewal of Nichols' contract.  First, he removed a cross from an altar at a chapel on campus to another display area.  Second, he did not ban an art exhibit that included the work of prostitutes.  Notably, William and Mary is a state school which has been trying to become more diverse and open in its approach to education and the academic world.  At the same time, it does appear that both sides made some questionable choices in addressing these issues.

This episode runs close to a topic I find fascinating:  The relationship between risk-taking within the academy and the political and economic reaction to those risks by conservative alums and supporters.  [Jim Chen had a great response to one of my prior posts on this topic, available here].  One premise of this blog is that risk-taking is not only good but an important aspect of the legal academy.  This view is sometimes in tension with the increasing importance of development, which can depend on relationships with some of the most risk-averse graduates and supporters of an institution.  The fragility of that balance seems to have played out to the long-term detriment of the institution in the case of William and Mary.

-- Mark Osler


February 13, 2008 | Permalink


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