- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 9, 2008

RICHMOND — State legislators have made the unusual move of summoning four College of William & Mary board appointees to the Capitol to answer questions about a Sex Worker’s Art Show on campus and other recent concerns.

The lawmakers said the Monday night show — which featured monologues and performances by porn actors, strippers and other sex workers — brought ridicule and embarrassment to the state. The issue arose just as the campus community was settling down after a 2006 incident in which a cross was removed from Wren Chapel

“Quite frankly, members of this committee — and others in the House — are not sure what to make of all of these events and how they advance the teaching, research and public service mission of William & Mary,” said Delegate Mark R. Cole, Spotsylvania Republican and chairman of the panel, which recommends confirmation of gubernatorial appointees.

Delegate Clarence “Bud” Phillips, Dickenson Democrat, pressed the board members for assurances that they will strive to protect the school’s reputation and ensure it is known “for all the right reasons.”

“Every member of our board of visitors is committed to doing exactly what you’re asking,” said Henry Wolf, the school’s vice rector and one of three board members up for reappointment.

The House unanimously confirmed the appointments yesterday. Mr. Wolf, Anita Poston and John Gertelman were reappointed to the board by Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat. The new member is Kathy Hornsby.

Some committee members were particularly critical of college President Gene R. Nichol, who removed the cross and allowed the sex-workers program — over the objections of critics who said such an event should not be held on state property.

“If any president of a college has put Virginia in a bad light, it’s Mr. Nichol,” said Delegate Jeffrey M. Frederick, Prince William Republican. “Perhaps we should reconsider Mr. Nichol’s tenure.”

According to the Daily Press in Newport News, Va., Mr. Nichol tried to work with students to have the event held at an off-campus venue. When students were unable to find one, citing the First Amendment, Mr. Nichol relented.

Public university boards of visitors have full authority over hiring and firing presidents. Mr. Nichol’s three-year contract expires in June, and William & Mary’s board is in the process of its customary performance evaluation.

In 2006, Mr. Nichol removed a cross from Wren Chapel to make students and visitors of non-Christian faiths feel more welcome, prompting an outcry from critics who called the move a slap at Christianity and a breach of the school’s heritage. One college donor withdrew a $12 million pledge.

After months of turmoil, the cross was returned to the chapel in a plexiglass-like case from which it can be removed and placed on the altar by request.

Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William Republican, did not attend the committee meeting but complained in a letter to Mr. Cole about “turning the public property of the college into a bawdy house venue for pimps, prostitutes and dominatrix.”

The show was brought to campus by students and funded by donations, ticket fees and student-activity fees administered by the student government. Mr. Wolf told the committee the board does not meddle in how the student-activity fees are spent.

Delegate Terrie L. Suit, Virginia Beach Republican, asked what the board will do to ensure this doesn’t happen again. Mr. Wolf said the board probably will review policies about the appropriate use of school property but suggested there is little else it can do without infringing on students’ free-expression rights.

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