Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Gene Nichol & the Bias Incident Reporting System

Yesterday I reported on the decision of Gene Nichol to resign immediately as president of The College of William & Mary when told by the Board of Visitors that his contract as president would not be renewed this summer. Nichol's said he'll remain at the college as a law professor .

Nichol also released a lengthy public statement you can read here. He attacked those who opposed him and presented himself as a martyr for causes he'd championed, including free speech.

Posts here and here tell you something about one of Nichol's causes, the showing at the college of what used to be called a porn show, but in this instance was called the Sex Workers Art Show.

I learned something I didn't know about yesterday until a W&M friend mentioned it: free speech advocate Gene Nichol supported something called the Bias Incident Reporting System.

The following is from Coyote Blog ----------

... [B]efore 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.


There's more to the Coyote Blog post, including a statement that the blogger, like Nichol, supported the showing of the Sex Workers Art Show on free speech grounds. The entire post is here. I hope you give it a look.

Coyote Blog has made a useful contribution to the discussion of Nichol's leadership at William & Mary

Also posting: See Michelle Malkin and trackbacks at her blog.


Anonymous said...

Gen Nichol is a smart man but he is also a divisive ideologue. He regularly wrote opinion columns while head of the law school at UNC, they always read like the conclusion was selected first then the facts to fit.

He is better suited to run the ACLU or than a prestigious university with the wonderful tradition of William & Mary.

When he left Chapel Hill to take the presidency at W&M, I said, "I hope he doesn't wreck the place." Sorry to be so prescient.

lynp said...

when four of the BOT was called to Richmond to explain this show to Legislaters, it was over for Nichol. I did not care about the sex show but was very concerned about the Wren Challice being removed. Hope it will be back in place this week.
John - Can this be a wake up Call to other University presidents?

W&M grad 86 said...

it's a crucifix (or cross), not a chalice. (Note: one l in chalice.) It is in the Wren Chapel now.