WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – Embattled College of William and Mary president Gene Nichol resigned his post Tuesday after a controversial tenure that included the removal of a cross from the school's chapel and a sex show on campus.
Nichol's decision, effective immediately, was outlined in an e-mail to the university community after he was advised Sunday that his contract would not be renewed in July. The Board of Visitors confirmed his departure.
Nichol had been criticized by some alumni, students and members of the General Assembly during his almost three years on the job at the nation's second oldest college.
"Mine, to be sure, has not been a perfect presidency," Nichol wrote in the e-mail. "I have sometimes moved too swiftly, and perhaps paid insufficient attention to the processes and practices of a strong and complex university. A wiser leader would likely have done otherwise."
Nichol’s announcement sparked protests by students on the William and Mary campus. Two Facebook groups, Protest the Removal of Gene Nichol and We Will Miss You Gene Nichol, collected more than 1,500 members between them by early afternoon, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
Faculty, staff and students held a rally in reaction to Nichol’s e-mail. Classes were canceled, and the Student Assembly will be supporting a candlelight vigil at the President's House.
In October 2006, Nichol sparked loud protests when he removed the cross from permanent display in the school's Wren Chapel to make students and visitors of non-Christian faiths feel more welcome.
Thousands of alumni, students and others signed petitions and one donor rescinded pledges to give $12 million to the school. Angry state lawmakers weighed in on the matter, and some outraged alumni and students sought to remove Nichol from office.
The cross was returned to the chapel in August in a locked, Plexiglas-like case near the altar. It can be removed from the case and placed on the altar by request.
Last week, William and Mary brought to campus the "Sex Workers' Art Show" featuring monologues and performances by porn actors, strippers and other sex workers. It sold out.
In his e-mail, Nichol said that the Board of Visitors offered him and his wife "substantial economic incentives" to refrain from characterizing the decision not to renew his contract on ideological grounds or make any other statement about his departure without board approval.
In a statement to the university community, the board said the decision was not based on "ideology or any single public controversy."
The board said the decision not to renew Nichol's contract was "extremely difficult."
"His energy and passion is legendary," the board wrote. "He is a truly inspirational figure who has enjoyed the affection of many."
But the board said it believed there were "a number of problems that were keeping the college from reaching its full potential and concluded that those issues could not be effectively remedied without a change of leadership."
Nichol said he plans to return to the faculty at the school of law and resume teaching and writing. He came to William & Mary after serving as dean of the law school from University of North Carolina and the University of Colorado.
William & Mary will begin a search for a new president immediately, the board said. Law School Dean W. Taylor Reveley will take the post until a replacement is found.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.