WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – Some College of William and Mary alumni are holding back donations until an 18-inch cross that was removed from the campus' Wren Chapel altar after more than 60 years is permanently restored.
Campus President Gene Nichol ordered the cross removed in October to make the chapel more welcoming to students of all faiths.
Nichol told the Board of Visitors in November that he ordered the cross to be removed because it “sends an unmistakable message that the chapel belongs more fully to some of us than others,” reported the school’s newspaper, The Flat Hat.
The Board of Visitors will meet on Thursday and Friday. Some alumni are urging the panel to override Nichol’s decision. But the board has thus far yielded to Nichol.
Despite the college being a public institution, the cross has been on display since about 1940. It could previously be removed by request and now it can likewise be returned by request.
William and Mary alum Vince Haley, who graduated in 1988, launched a Web site in response to the ruling, named www.savethewrencross.org, which petitions Nichol’s decision and calls for the return of the cross. More than 13,600 people have signed their names to the petition list.
The group Campus Ministers United has supported the current decision. The organization is made up of both Jewish and Christian clergy.
Since Jan. 31, more than 1,100 students, alumni and others have signed an online petition in support of Nichol at www.thepetitionsite.com.
Haley said Nichol should not have acted without consulting students, faculty and alumni, and that the decision smacks of liberal "efforts to rid the public landscape of religious symbols."
But Nichol, who became president in 2005, said perhaps 20 people mentioned concerns about the chapel's cross to him as he went around the country during his first year and a half in the job, talking to people about the university.
"Does that marvelous place belong to everyone, or is it principally for our Christian students?" Nichol said. "Do we actually value religious diversity, or have we determined, because of our history, to endorse a particular religious tradition to the exclusion of others?"
Both Nichol and Haley are Catholics who have each spent time in the chapel.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.