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Nichol Supporter Quits Board in Protest

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 21, 2008; Page B03

A prominent Washington lawyer stepped down yesterday from the governing board of the College of William and Mary, protesting the board's handling of Gene R. Nichol's resignation last week as president.

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In a statement this week to the college community, Robert A. Blair, who had served on the Board of Visitors since 2004, cited "an incipient effort by some members of the Board of Visitors to pick apart President Nichol's accomplishments."

Blair also wrote: "I have also seen mean-spirited communications that are not worthy of the professional deliberations of any managing board, but most especially not the Board of Visitors of William and Mary. Such communications call into question the real motivation for the initial decision not to renew the president's contract."

Blair, a 1968 graduate of the state college in Williamsburg, declined to comment further, saying the statement was carefully worded. "I think it's best to let these words stand," he said by telephone.

The 17-member Board of Visitors is appointed by the governor.

Board member John W. Gerdelman told the Daily Press of Newport News that he was surprised and "very disappointed" by Blair's resignation -- and baffled by his comment about "mean-spirited communications." Gerdelman added: "I had no idea what he was talking about."

Nichol resigned after the Board of Visitors decided not to renew his three-year contract, which would have ended June 30. His departure brought to a stormy end a tenure marked by controversy.

In his statement, Blair said he was one of several board members "who argued forcefully" to renew Nichol's contract.

"I fought for renewal because I am proud of the progress that Gene Nichol boldly brought to the college," Blair wrote. ". . . I especially applaud President Nichol for making the college a more welcoming place for students, faculty and administrators of color, diverse ethnicities and diverse religions."

Nichol's critics have argued that he moved too quickly and upset the character of the historic school.

Members of the Board of Visitors, including Rector Michael K. Powell, plan a series of public and private meetings on campus Friday with faculty, students and staff. "We plan to spend the entire day listening, learning and offering answers to a number of questions we've heard over the past week," Powell said in a statement.

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