Controversial sex show returns to William & Mary

A year after the traveling theatrical production embroiled the campus in controversy, the Sex Workers' Art Show returns to the College of William & Mary tonight, the Associated Press reports. "For practical as well as philosophical reasons," says William & Mary president Taylor Reveley in a statement, "I will not play the censor." The difference this year is that Reveley has mandated that a forum take place this morning where protesting students can voice their opinions. As the Hook reported in a cover story last year, anger among some members of William & Mary's board over the Sex Workers' Art Show helped lead to the firing of former College president Gene Nichol.


Three cheers for Mr. Reveley ! Free speech is alive and well at W & M

It has been said (a lie actually, but it's been said) that the remedy for abuse of free speech is--more speech. It' a lie because every word you hear or read is another word you didn't. Couldn't. There are only so many minutes in a day, so many days in a year. When poisonous noise takes up time and attention, that is a piece of your life stolen and gone forever. I do not suggest the Sex Workers Art Show should be cancelled-- even though that's not the kind of performance people hire then for, not what they're good at. They are trading on naughtiness: if you took Sex Workers out of the title, would anybody go? For that matter if the ads told the truth--that most are way, way over-the-hill former sex workers, sagging, wrinkled, balding, and diseased, who can no longer support themselves at their chosen profession--would anybody go? We should say no to this sort of thing not out of prudery, but good sense. The best way is simplest: don't go. Don't encourage them.

PS--Full disclosure: I know one of them, a former Echols Scholar at U. Va. who had published a play in his teens, and did have talent. He had potential. Look what happened to him. Don't blame the Cruel World that doesn't appreciate and subsidize poets. He would be the first to say, he chose his life. Blame him.

FYI, Taylor Reveley is no longer "acting" -- he was sworn in as the 27th president of the College of William and Mary on September 5, 2008.

Mr. Reveley has taken what I believe is a refreshing approach to the Sex Workers' Art Show (SWAS), in which he insists that dissenting voices have a forum for discussion. The proponents of the SWAS have claimed that the show is academically important because it stimulates discussion about issues of sexuality and the demonization of sex industry workers. I have maintained, in postings to The Flat Hat (one of the W&M student newspapers), that there is no discussion taking place -- just the usual emotionally-based screaming between the two sides. There is very little actual discussion. Reveley is attempting to remedy that sitution, something his predecessor, Gene Nichol, never did. Last year's show featured diatribes against "W" along with such entertainments as a stripper in a nurse's cap with a cross on it sucking on a dildo to the tune of "Ave Maria." While the academic value of such a performance is a matter of opinion, it certainly did generate a lot of discussion.

I was the spokesperson of a group that sought the non-renewal of Mr. Nichol's contract, (SNBR). The press has always held that Mr. Nichol was ejected by right-wingers intent on revenge for the SWAS and the Wren Cross controversy. As SNBR spokesman, I am in a good position to comment on the press's view of the matter. It isn't true. In our briefings to the William and Mary Board of Visitors (BoV), we mentioned the SWAS and the Wren Cross controversy as examples of Mr. Nichol's extremely poor judgment, but that was NOT why we wanted him to leave the College. Unlike his predecessors, Mr. Nichol was completely unable to separate his job as president from his personal history as a fire-breathing crusader for left-wing causes. Other W&M presidents have been politically liberal, and probably always will be, but they were all able to run the College based on what was best for the school, not on their own political views. Nichol was simply unable to do that, forgetting that as president, his job was to represent people across the political spectrum in order to be an effective president. Nichol created a chasm across the W&M campus, with opponents on one side and supporters on the other, screaming at each other. He tossed aside W&M history and tradition, two of the only things that make W&M unique in today's competitive environment, as outmoded and often characterized by bigotry and hate. He treated W&M as his own personal lump of clay to be molded as he saw fit.

The W&M BoV tends to lean to the left politically, as the appointments have been made by Democratic governors. The BoV members, despite much criticism, all love and respect the College and seek to do their best for her. I spoke regularly with two of the most liberal members of the BoV, and I can assure everyone that the BoV ignored the screaming of both the left and the right and made their decision based on the facts and on what most of them believed was best for the College. There was plenty of argument and controversy among the BoV members as well which nearly led to the BoV coming apart at the seams. Such is the legacy of Nichol wherever he goes.

The BoV was continually in crisis mode because of the sayings and doings of Mr. Nichol. Many of them looked fearfully at the news each day wondering whether Nichol had done something else they didn't yet know about. Nichol did not feel he was at all accountable to the BoV and did not tell them what he was doing most of the time. He announced expensive new programs with no funding sources, alienated large segments of alumni and students, lost millions in donations (far more than was ever admitted to in public), made the school somewhat of a national laughingstock, and was exposed by The Flat Hat (one of W&M's student newspapers, and not at all conservative) in a serious lie about what he knew and when he knew it. Despite his liberal politics, Nichol ran the President's Office the same way Nixon ran the White House. He refused to speak to detractors, refused to seek unity within the campus community, attacked his opponents in public, ran away from a news camera crew who surprised him outside his house after his office told them Nichol would be "out of the country" that day, had poor town-gown relations, and denied every FOIA request we, and the press, submitted based on his "Presidential FOIA exclusion."

We did a lot of research on Mr. Nichol through SNBR. What we found out about him was surprising. Two of our senior members were financial, statistical, and economic experts who prepared in-depth analyses of the Nichol presidency that we included in our briefings. They found, for example, that when Mr. Nichol was Dean of the law school at Colorado and at UNC Chapel Hill, the USN&WR ratings for both law schools went down by a full third under his leadership. Nichol had been in competition for the presidency of the University of Colorado but lost the position to Judith Albino. Nichol later led the fight to fire Albino, standing up in public to read the charges against her. She was fired. Later Nichol, while running for Congress, was taped asking the fired Ms. Albino to backdate a check to his campaign and applying some rather thuggish tactics (Google the words Nichol Albino Colorado and you'll find links to some of the stories). Albino wrote a letter to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) about Nichol. Fortunately for Nichol, the FEC ruled that because Albino didn't write the check, Nichol had not committed election fraud. That didn't make his actions any more palatable in our view, however.

Cheers to Taylor Reveley for striking a balance between 1st Amendment rights and common sense in what was basically a no-win situation.

And for those of you out there who are willing to consider alternative viewpoints, consider the possibility that Nichol's extremely poor and dishonest leadership, NOT the Wren Cross and the SWAS, are the reason he lost the best job he ever had and went back to Chapel Hill. "Ah, those William and Mary grapes were probably sour anyway..."

Dear Mr. Jones,

Thanks for reading and thanks the tip about President Reveley. See the correction above.

Lindsay Barnes