Controversy calms as cross returns

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March 23, 2007

4:31 PM

The new policy regarding the placement of the cross within the Wren Chapel suggested by the Committee on Religion in a Public University presumably brings an end to the Wren cross controversy. However, it may usher new attention to College President Gene Nichol’s decisions, despite the fact that many on campus seemed to view the cross as a non-issue even while it garnered national media attention.

p. The conflict has brought the College’s donors to the forefront, as some withdrew their money. One such alumni was Margee Pierce, ’84, who joined the “No Cross, No Cash” listing on SavetheWrencross.org. She plans to continue donating upon the return of the cross, but she is now paying more attention to where her money is going.

p. “While I will resume donations, I will no longer give money to the Fund for William and Mary — or any unrestricted money that can be spent with minimal oversight,” she said. “I will carefully target my donations to the programs and projects that I can fully support and that fit with my values and goals.”

p. But her concern for the institution remained strong even though she did not agree with Nichol’s decision.

p. “I am concerned over the fact that our endowment is so much smaller than many peer institutions, especially the University of Virginia. I hope President Nichol and the Board can rebuild the relationships with alumni and friends of the College that have been broken during the course of the Wren cross controversy,” she said.

p. While Pierce feels Nichol has hurt the College’s relationships, Tom Mikula, ’48, has strengthened his own bond to the College in light of the recent controversy and has been trying to raise money to replace what may have been lost from disappointed donors. When he heard that a $12 million pledge had been revoked by a former major donor, Mikula decided to encourage people to donate in hopes that 1,000 people would donate $12,000 to make up the lost funds.

p. “Our purpose is to support President Nichol. We don’t believe his tenure is through; we believe that this may crop up again, and we’re ready to offer what support we can,” he said.

p. As of now, updated figures are not available, but money has been raised.

p. “I can say that people have come out and said that they favor what we’re doing,” he said. “And some have offered checks — probably the most substantial was $100,000. It is an ongoing endeavor.”

p. Our Campus United, a group that was heavily involved throughout the controversy and promoted keeping the debate within the College community, does not see the issue as changing anything fundamental at the College.

p. “This was not a legitimate issue — it was raised by a bunch of people trying make a political point. Therefore, it is unfair to say that this is going to change the way the school operates,” David Solimini, ’04, a leader of Our Campus United, said.

p. SavetheWrenCross.org gained attention from local and national newspapers, FOX News and CNN.

p. Our Campus United felt that SavetheWrenCross.org was using political pundits in a discussion that should have remained among the community members — though in the end the committee made the final decision as representatives of the community, satisfying Our Campus United.

p. “Did they get on TV more? Absolutely. But in the end the members of the community made the final decision,” Solimini said.

p. Now SavetheWrenCross.org and Our Campus United both support the Committee’s new decision, meaning a likely end to the national attention.

p. The cross’s position was settled in a private meeting after the last meeting of the Committee on Religion in a Public University March 6 in order to quell unrest surrounding the issue.

p. “The committee’s recommendation is unanimous. We hope that this policy regarding the display of the Wren cross will put this immediate controversy to rest,” Co-chairs Jim Livingston and Alan Meese said in a joint statement.

p. The final policy is that the cross will be displayed in a glass case with a plaque to commemorate the Chapel’s historical connection with Anglican religion and the Bruton Parish Church in Colonial Williamsburg. Additionally, the Wren sacristy will be available for sacred objects of any religion.

p. Though the Committee does not yet know how or where the glass case will be placed in the chapel, this and further study of religion in the public university will continue. The committee will meet both through this semester and into the next, Meese said.

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