- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Administrators at the College of William & Mary, responding to months of harsh criticism from alumni, today ordered the immediate return of a cross to the school’s Wren Chapel.

Alumni angered by the removal of the cross in October threatened to withhold millions of dollars of donations — including one $12 million gift.

College President Gene Nichol announced the decision at 4:30 p.m. at a press conference with the co-chairs of a special presidential committee charged with studying the role of religion at public universities.

“This has been a challenging task for the committee, but it has produced a compromise that allows for permanent display of the cross in the chapel, while remaining welcoming to all,” Mr. Nichol said. “I fully embrace it.”

The 14-member committee, co-chaired by religion prof. James Livingston and law prof. Alan Meese, issued its unanimous recommendation earlier than its deadline of the Board of Visitors (BOV) meeting next month.

The 18-inch brass cross will be returned for permanent display in a glass case at the Williamsburg college’s Wren Chapel “in a prominent, readily visible place,” the recommendation says.

The committee calls for a plaque explaining the 313-year-old public school’s Anglican heritage and connection to Williamsburg’s historic Bruton Parish, which donated the cross around 1940.

The recommendation, billed as a compromise, stipulates that the chapel “be available to house sacred objects of any religious tradition for use of worship and devotion by members of the college community.”

“We hope that this policy regarding the display of the Wren cross will put this immediate controversy to rest,” Mr. Livingston and Mr. Meese said in a joint-statement today. “We knew our short-term mission was to come up with a proposal that would allow this college to come together and move forward as a community. We are confident this recommendation accomplishes that goal. We now look forward to examining the broader question of the role of religion at a public university.”

Mr. Nichol removed the cross from permanent display in October in an attempt to make the chapel “equally open and welcoming to all.” The decision prompted criticism and support from students, faculty and alumni and drew national headlines.

The Faculty Assembly and Student Senate stood behind the president, but at least 25 alumni threatened to withhold donations to the school until the original policy was reinstated — including one benefactor who last week withdrew a $12 million pledge.

College officials said they hope the committee’s recommendation will end divisions.

“The committee membership recognized that further division among our broad university community is unhealthy and it worked intensely to come to a unanimous recommendation, having considered a wide range of sincerely held views of alumni, faculty, students and friends of the college,” college Rector Michael K. Powell said.

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