Gene Nichol: Not Quite the Martyr He Pretends to Be

Gene Nichol of William & Mary has resigned, pointing to the university's opposition of his First Amendment defense of a campus sex workers' show as a major reason for leaving.  Which is all well and good -- I for one compliment him on supporting the speech rights of controversial people and performers. 

However, before we go declaring Mr. Nichol a martyr for free speech, FIRE reminds us that less than six months ago Mr. Nichol spearheaded this far more comprehensive violation of free speech:

This fall, The College of William & Mary launched a Bias Incident Reporting System
"to assist members of the William and Mary community"”students, staff,
and faculty"”in bringing bias incidents to the College's attention." In
its initial incarnation, the system was fraught with constitutional
problems, from both free speech and due process standpoints. The system
initially allowed
for anonymous reporting, providing that "[a] person reporting online
may report anonymously by leaving the personal information fields
blank." The definition
of "bias" was overbroad and encompassed constitutionally protected
expression: "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." The homepage
for the system even contained an explicit misstatement about the First
Amendment, stating that the First Amendment did not protect
"expressions of bias or hate aimed at individuals that violate the
college's statement of rights and responsibilities."

...a group calling itself "Free America's Alma Mater" published an advertisement in William & Mary's student newspaper, The Flat Hat,
skewering the new program. "Welcome to the new William & Mary's
Bias Reporting System, where W&M now invites you to shred the
reputation of your neighbors"¦anonymously," the ad read. "Prof
gave you a bad grade? Upset at that fraternity brother who broke your
heart? Did a colleague vote against you for tenure? Now you can get even!!
Anonymously report anything that offends you to the William & Mary
Thought Police at"

This earlier episode reveals that Mr. Nichol clearly does not believe that all speech is protected.  In this light, the episode with the sex workers becomes one of taste rather than first amendment privileges, a mere quibble over where the censorship line (that Mr. Nichol believes should exist) is going to be drawn.

Which reminds me of the old joke:  A man approaches a beautiful woman at a party, and says "Would you sleep with me for a million dollars?" and she says, "Yes."  He then asks "would you sleep with me for $10?" and she screams "what kind of girl do you think I am?"  He retorts "We already established that.  Now we are just haggling over price."

One Comment

  1. KK Bruno:

    Max Fisher Flat Hat columnist got it right last November -see

    When Nichol lied, the Dream died. Students, including those who wholly supported Nichol, were lost and shaken at his dishonesty, lies about donations and when he knew what.

    Two local papers, both big Nichol fans, finally conceded his flaws in editorials this week:
    Nichol's Fareswell:,0,7332211.story
    End of an Error:

    When three people, all who adore Nichol, come out against him, you know the BOV did the right thing by not renewing his contract.