BOV decides to let cross decision stand for now

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February 9, 2007

1:37 PM

p. At its meeting Thursday, the Board of Visitors issued a statement acknowledging that College President Gene Nichol made “mistakes” in his handling of the Wren Chapel cross removal.

p. The statement was a change in tone from BOV Rector Michael Powell’s Nov. 16 remarks, which said that the BOV was “proud” and “grateful” for Nichol’s leadership.

p. Rather than taking a stance on the policy, the BOV has instead decided to allow discussion of the issue.

p. “We feel there is merit in taking time to reflect upon the issue and allow full discourse, led by the President’s committee,” the statement read.

p. Invited guests also spoke at the meeting on the topic of the Wren cross. From 12:45 to 1:45, a succession of diverse speakers addressed the Board of Visitors in a section of the meeting open to the public (though not public comment) to allow the Board to hear varied perspectives on the issue.

p. The meeting was the first since President Nichol’s announcement during his State of the College address that a committee would be formed to study the use of the cross and religion in public universities. The Board of Visitors released a statement Thursday supporting the committee;

p. Nichol admitted he may have acted too quickly; the Board noted this, and said that “Nichol has acknowledged that mistakes have been made.”

p. In the meeting, Bob Thompson, ’77, who described his reaction as “shocked” after the decision three months ago, spoke first.
Thompson, as a Christian, said that he feels that the action excluded his religion rather than making a welcoming atmosphere.

p. He also argued that the policy change will not be enough to satisfy those felt excluded when the cross was in place.

p. “Is this so that those who are perpetually offended can be mollified?” he said.

p. Senior James Ambrose, assistant secretary of public affairs and student assembly liaison to the Board of Visitors, stated that he spoke on behalf of students and presented a different viewpoint.

p. “For the majority of students I have spoken to, the issue of the Wren Cross is a non-issue,” he said. “They simply do not see this as an issue that dominates what students do every day on campus.”

p. Students support President Nichol and what he has done for the College in the past 18 months, Ambrose said.

p. Katherine Kulick, president of faculty Assembly and Associate Professor of French, represented faculty. At the Faculty Assembly’s first meeting of the year on Jan. 30, College faculty unanimously affirmed their confidence in President Nichol’s leadership and endorsed his committee formation, she said.

p. “The committee will lead to greater understanding for all involved,” Kulick said.

p. Kulick also cited Professor of Economics Robert Archibald and Professor of Sociology Kathleen Slevin’s combined effort for support of the President’s policy change. The petition circulated for one week and gathered 394 signatures — 71.5 percent of full-time faculty.

p. Vince Haley spoke for SavetheWrenCross.org, providing anecdotes of his experience at the College and how he enjoyed those memories this year visiting during Homecoming weekend. But upon reading about the policy change days later, he was disappointed.

p. “My bubbling enthusiasm drained from me,” he said.
Haley criticized the decision for its lack of public process and asked the Board to be consistent with the College’s history.

p. Campus Ministry, alumni and students allied to resolve the cross debate on campus without outside politics, was represented by Brian Cannon, alumni (’04) and leader in OurCampusUnited.org.

p. “SavetheWrenCross.org and their national political allies cannot be said to represent students and alumni,” he said.

p. He cited statistics asserting that only 6 percent of the signers of the “Save the Wren Cross” petition are current students, only 5 percent of alumni have signed the petition and 70 percent of the signers have no affiliation with the College.

p. “Outside agendas should not be welcomed,” he said.

p. The last of the invited speakers was Rector of Bruton Parish Church Holly Hollerith, who first assured his impartiality on the matter.

p. Hollerith provided background and history of the cross. According to him, after the Reformation, crosses were extremely rare on altars. Bruton Parish did not obtain one until 1909. Around 1939, the church received a new one and began loaning its old one to the Wren Chapel at the College. It was used not used regularly.

p. “I surmise that it was left there more for convenience,” he said
As a minister, he described the cross’s placement as “theologically trivial.”

p. “I urge you to be cautious of the tremendous religious and political hypocrisy that surrounds this issue,” he said to the Board.
Nichol then announced the 14 chosen members of the new committee, which includes co-chairs James Livingstone, Walter G. Mason Professor of Religion Emeritus and Alan Meese, Alumni (’86) and Ball Professor of Law at the William and Mary Law School., who both spoke.

p. Livingstone emphasized the College’s attention to religion through campus organizations and available classes. Mease addressed the new committee’s upcoming challenges in organizing itself and conducting interviews.

p. The Board will hear recommendations concerning the cross from the president and the new committee in April and proceed from there.

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