- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 28, 2007

WILLIAMSBURG (AP) — A longtime donor to the College of William & Mary will withhold a $12 million pledge to the public university because of the removal of a cross from a campus chapel.

The donation was pledged to the campaign fund before Gene R. Nichol became the university’s president and was revoked because the donor disagreed with Mr. Nichol’s decision to remove the brass cross from permanent display on the chapel’s altar, spokesman Mike Connolly said.

The donor was not identified.

The loss of the funds “represents a serious setback to the college,” Mr. Nichol wrote in an e-mailed statement Tuesday afternoon. “While I know it is intended to make a policy statement, ultimately it only hurts our students.”

The gift had been earmarked for the school’s $500 million Campaign for William & Mary.

In a letter obtained by the Daily Press of Newport News, former Board of Visitors member James W. McGlothlin wrote that Mr. Nichol’s decision to remove a brass cross in the chapel was “unbelievable.”

“This has been so disturbing to me that I have decided to withhold any future contributions to the college,” he wrote in a Feb. 16 letter to another former board member. He added that he had a “very large contribution” in the making before President Tim Sullivan retired from William & Mary in 2005.

Mr. McGlothlin is chairman of Bristol-based the United Co., a privately held conglomerate whose businesses range from coal, oil and gas to financial services and golf courses. He has been a major donor to the college, but it is not known whether he is the one withholding the $12 million pledge.

In October, Mr. Nichol decided a cross displayed in the school’s Wren Chapel should be stored in a sacristy to make the chapel welcoming to students of all faiths.

Advocates of keeping the cross pointed to the school’s founding 300 years ago as an institution of the Anglican Church.

The cross, they argued, should be displayed not only as a symbol of faith, but as an acknowledgment of history and tradition.

Mr. Nichol’s supporters, however, say no cross was displayed in the chapel’s early history. They also say the school, which has been public since 1906, is obligated to make people of different faiths feel comfortable.

The 18-inch brass cross had been displayed on the altar since about 1940, during secular events as well as religious services.

In the intervening months, nearly 17,000 people have signed an online petition at savethewrencross.org calling for a reversal of the policy. The college also has hosted a debate on the topic.

Some alumni questioned Mr. Nichol’s leadership in the matter.

A graduate of the college’s law school has filed a federal lawsuit to force the school to return the cross.

Mr. Nichol recently created a committee of clergy, professors, students and alumni to study the Wren Chapel’s use. It will make a recommendation to the Board of Visitors in mid-April.

The university last month announced that it raised $502.7 million for its seven-year fundraising campaign, which was scheduled to raise $500 million by June 30.

In addition, Virginia Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William Republican, unsuccessfully tried to introduce an amendment to the state budget withholding the state’s half of Mr. Nichol’s roughly $300,000 salary.

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.

Staff writer Natasha Altamirano contributed to this report.

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