- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 6, 2007

College of William & Mary alumni are sending a simple message to the school’s governing body: No cross, no cash.

They are encouraging the Board of Visitors (BOV), which meets tomorrow and Friday, to overrule college President Gene Nichol’s October decision to remove a cross from the 313-year-old public college’s Wren Chapel.

Karen Hall, a 1978 alumna, has decided not to renew her membership to William & Mary’s Fourth Century Club, a fundraising group.

“I felt like the best voice I had was my checkbook,” said Ms. Hall, a member of a student, alumni and faculty group called Save the Wren Cross Coalition. “If they’re going to become famous as the school that took the cross out of the chapel … I can’t in good conscience write them checks.”

The issue has drawn national attention to the 7,500-student college.

“It’s something we want [the BOV] to look seriously at,” said Dennis Di Mauro, a 1986 graduate and a member of the Save the Wren Cross group. “Now people are saying, ‘Do we really want to contribute to a college that has become an embarrassment to us?’ ”

Alumni Andrew and Connie Roberts sent a letter to administrators in December urging them to rethink Mr. Nichol’s decision.

“We are sorry to take this step, but until President Nichol reverses this ill-considered Wren Cross policy and returns to the policy that worked well for many years, we will no longer support the college financially,” they wrote. “We hope that this action will get the attention of those who may have influence in this matter, and our financial support may begin again soon.”

The alumni who are seeking to withhold contributions make up a small percentage of the college’s donors. In fiscal 2006, nearly 16,000 donors gave $4.77 million to the college’s Fund for William & Mary. Nearly 10,700 of those were alumni, according to the school’s Web site.

As of yesterday, at least 18 alumni have said they will not donate to the school.

Restoring the cross isn’t enough for some alumni, who say the issue signifies a larger problem about the direction in which the college is headed.

“I have great concerns about the leadership at the presidential level. I know the board is in a very difficult position, but the board has to step forward and exercise leadership,” said Linda Arey Skladany, a 1966 graduate who recently redrafted her will to remove a gift to the college. Instead, she plans to leave a gift to Colonial Williamsburg.

“I have more confidence in Colonial Williamsburg as an educator now than I do in the College of William & Mary,” said Mrs. Skladany, 62, who served on the college’s Board of Visitors from 1994 to 1998.

Asked if a policy reversal will change her mind, Mrs. Skladany said she will “have to see.”

“An instant return isn’t going to do that now,” she said.

Author Karla Bruno, a 1981 graduate, recently reversed her decision to donate to the school 10 percent of her royalties from her 2006 novel.

“I may reconsider giving the 10 percent, but only if Gene Nichol is no longer president,” Ms. Bruno said. “He is a destructive force.”

Mr. Nichol justified his decision as an attempt to make the chapel more open to people of all faiths.

The cross, he wrote in a December letter to the college community, “sends a message that the Chapel belongs more fully to some of us than to others. That there are, at the College, insiders and outsiders.”

The 18-inch brass cross had been on display since Williamsburg’s historic Bruton Parish donated it to the college in 1940. Previously, the cross could be removed by request; now it can be returned by request.

Responding to criticism, Mr. Nichol returned the cross on Sundays and last month announced the creation of a special committee to study the issue.

So far, more than 14,000 people have signed an online petition at savethewrencross.org calling for a policy reversal.

Some opponents of Mr. Nichol’s decision disagree with withholding donations. They said it unfairly punishes the entire college community.

“The decision to withhold funds from the College directly affects the lifeblood of this fine institution. That is, the College’s ability to provide each student with a top-notch education,” wrote a William & Mary junior in an anonymous comment on a blog at nocrossnocash.blogspot.com. “President Nichol’s decision to remove the Wren Cross was, unfortunately, made unilaterally. Your fight to restore the cross should be aimed directly at him, instead of the school as a whole.”

William & Mary is the country’s second-oldest college, chartered in February 1693 by King William III and Queen Mary II. It became state-supported in 1906 and coeducational in 1918, according to the university. The college has roughly 7,500 undergraduates and graduate students. Alumni include four U.S. presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and John Tyler.

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