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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Is Gene Nichol Recreating East Germany in Williamsburg?

Stanley Kurtz raises concern about the Nichol's new speech codes and anonymous tips.
I’ve heard of speech codes, but I’ve never heard of anything quite like this: a mechanism to anonymously report "bias related to race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or other protected conditions" to the university administration, for possible action against the perpetrator. This system has been set up at William and Mary, and a website protesting it can be found here. Is this something new, or at least rare, or is it perhaps more common than I realize?

The definition of "bias" that should be reported to the W&M Speech Code Police:
A "bias incident" consists of harassment, intimidation or other hostile behavior that is directed at a member of the William and Mary community because of that person's race, sex (including pregnancy), age, color, disability, national or ethnic origin, political affiliation, religion, sexual orientation, or veteran status. A bias incident may be verbal (whether spoken or written) or physical.

If you are not certain whether an occurrence meets the above definition, please report the occurrence under this protocol and allow the College to make the determination.

The Bias Reporting Team them springs into action:
A student or college employee who would like to report an incident may use the online form if the event in question is not presently occurring, and if there is no continued threat of harm to person or property. For immediate response, use the phone report or personal report (listed below). A person reporting online may report anonymously by leaving the personal information fields blank. The Bias Reporting Team will assume that providing a name and phone number indicates a desire for follow-up contact, which will occur within 24 hours, Monday through Friday, 8am to 5pm. Reports submitted on the weekend or holidays will not receive a response until 24 hours from the normal business hours of the College. Those submitting an online form will receive an auto-reply email that will include a list of the steps to be taken next, and a timeline for personal contact.

Or not, but always urgently:

Regardless of the means of reporting (phone, personal, or online), the Bias Reporting Team Chair receives the complaint in the time frame described above, and initiates the following process:

The Chair reviews the report, and decides whether the event fits the mandate of the Bias Reporting Team (is it a bias or hate related event).

If the Chair determines that it is an issue of bias or hate, proceed to the next step. If it does not fit the Bias Reporting Team mandate, the report will be passed on to the appropriate office for reaction and response.

The Chair then determines the level of significance of the report, and whether the Bias Reporting Team should convene. This meeting will occur no more than 24 hours from the time this determination is made. The Team will ALWAYS convene if any of the following are true of the event:

The event includes physical harm, or its potential.

There is the potential or reality for large-scale impact (to the campus or wider community).

The event includes the presence of hate or bias-related symbols. The more public, the more urgent.

The establishment of an entire organization to track down and punish speech code violations via anonymous tips at W&M is the subject of discussion at The Volokh conspiracy.. Volokh himself is not too concerned before students are actually haled before the kangaroo court. But most of his correspondents don't share his view.

There is a difference in the view of a tenured law professor and some poor schlub at W&M who will get hauled in front of this star chamber with the real possibility that he will be expelled, or sent for "psychological counseling" with permanent black mark against him that will follow him for the rest of his career.

Law professors rarely appreciate the transaction costs of lawsuits and analogous actions. I refer not only to economic costs, but to the time and agita' that result from being haled before an official tribunal and forced to defend oneself.

Even if the W&M bias squad were scrupulously fair, and if there were a real presumption in favor of the accused (which is not always true with campus disciplinary bodies), the accused still has to appear and explain himself. The publicity of being accused harms people's reputations. (Yeah, these tribunals are supposed to be confidential.)

Exactly. Law professors make a living teaching people how to participate in a process that can destroy a person's life (at worst) and which is never pleasant. For them, it's what life is about. For others, it's a nightmare. And this is what William & Mary is institutionalizing.

And let's not forget the reason Gene Nichol came to national attention in the first place. Patrick216 reminds us:
I was a 2000 graduate of W&M. In my time there, the university was never a bastion of leftism and I never felt unsafe or unwelcome as a right-of-center student there. To be sure, the professors were predominantly left of center, and in some cases were not afraid to express those views to students in their classes. But I always felt comfortable expressing right-of-center views in class and my grades were never penalized as a result.

But that was under the old President, Tim Sullivan. The new guy, Gene Nichol, strikes me as a total disaster. This was the guy who last year ordered the Wren Cross to be removed from the Wren Chapel out of a fear of offending religious minorities. (Mind you, no religious minorities actually felt offended.) Now we have the Bias Reporting System. Is there any indication that ethnic, religious, sexual orientation, etc. minorities are under assault at W&M such that this system is needed? Or is this another Gene Nichol gross PC overreaction? (Given that Nichol was formerly associated with the ACLU, I'm inclined to believe he's overreacting for no reason.)

There is currently a board that's been appointed by the Board of Visitors to consider whether they want to retain Nichol as President following the expiration of his contract on June 30, 2008. You better believe I am going to write a letter advocating that he not be reappointed. This kind of stuff is over the top and is defaming the good name of a great school.

For more on the Wren Cross fiasco go HERE.

UPDATE: Mike Adams, a professor at UNC-Wilmington reminds us that Nichols and his wife are no strangers to controversy (A Tale of Two Bigots):
Although websites like have done a good job of exposing the history of the current controversy, some facts have been omitted. These accounts have incorrectly suggested that President Nichol has acted alone out of some individual animosity towards Christianity. That is unfair because it fails to mention the probable role of his wife Glenn George, a professor at William and Mary School of Law.

Glenn George was named as University Counsel at UNC-Chapel Hill on December 7th, 2002. Just three days later, a Jihad was launched against religious organizations at that school. Thirteen letters were written to religious groups - twelve to Christian groups – threatening to de-fund them and kick them off campus.

These threats were issued because the groups did not allow membership and voting privileges to students hostile to their religious views. There was also a mandate that the groups adopt policies that allow all students to hold office in the religious groups they oppose.

The policy was so absurd that it should not have required a lawsuit to correct. But it did.

After a religious group filed suit, a federal judge issued an injunction against UNC that caused the policy to be amended. Eventually, Glenn George and her husband Gene Nichols – then the Dean of UNC School of Law – moved on to William and Mary. And they took their penchant for harassing Christians with them.

A comment below refers us to a website devoted to dumping Nichol. William & Mary's Board of Visitors also has a website from which you can e-mail them.


Anonymous said...

Since W&M is a public university, all Virginians have a stake in this. The Board of Visitors is deciding now whether to renew Nichol's contract as president of the university. You can send comments to the board at this email address:

There's even a web site devoted to dumping Nichol, complete with a petition signed by Virginia residents, alumni, and even a few brave faculty/emeritus faculty:

Moneyrunner said...

Thanks for the comment and the links to other sites.

I think the headline is overwrought because W&M will not have armed guards with dogs ready to shoot escapees. I should have chosen my words more carefully. But this much is true, Nichol is turning the W&M into the kind of place that Duke is, led by a cadre of rabid faculty and staff. And outpost of political correctness in Tidewater Virginia.

I fear for their lacrosse team.