Published March 05, 2014
Purdue University blinked in its battle with a pair of married alums over a dedication plaque that included a reference to God.
Purdue graduates Michael and Cynthia McCracken invoked the almighty in a conference room plaque they earned for a $12,500 donation to the School of Mechanical Engineering in 2012, asking that it state, "To those who seek to better the world through the understanding of God's physical laws and innovation of practical solutions. In honor of Dr. William `Ed' and Glenda McCracken."
Purdue officials balked, saying the dedication could be considered a government endorsement of religion since it is a public institution. Without notifying the family, the university installed a plaque that only mentioned McCracken’s parents. That prompted other alumni to raise hell, and perhaps more importantly, to withhold their own donations. On Wednesday, Boilermaker bosses relented, allowing the original language plus the words: "Dr. Michael and Mrs. Cindy McCracken present this plaque in honor of Dr. William "Ed" and Glenda McCracken and all those similarly inspired to make the world a better place."
School officials say they were never looking for a fight with McCracken.
"We never had a disagreement in principle with Dr. McCracken," Purdue Vice President for Development Amy Noah said in a statement. "Purdue’s initial response reflected our recognition of the legal requirement to remain neutral on matters of religion, but we were always sympathetic to his disappointment.
"We certainly never intended to get into a disagreement with a valued donor or inadvertently expose Purdue to a potential legal crossfire," Noah's statement continued. "Since receiving Dr. McCracken’s request to reconsider in late January, we have been considering ways to accommodate his wishes. We’re very pleased to have achieved that outcome and remain grateful for his generosity.
Michael McCracken said he will continue to donate to his alma mater, but that he did not regret taking his old school on.
“I believe that there are certain situations in life where one must decide if they are going to stand for their principles -- regardless of whether or not it is the easiest or most convenient option," McCracken said. "That is why my wife and I felt it so important to resolve this issue instead of ignoring it. Our Founding Fathers understood the importance of freedom of speech and religious freedoms, yet recognized their dependence on God."
Robert Kelner, the attorney who represented the McCrackens, had previously said the First Amendment allowed the proposed wording as private speech and the McCrackens were prepared to sue if the dispute wasn't resolved.
"Purdue asked Dr. McCracken to supply language of his choice in recognition of his and his wife's generous pledge to their alma mater," Kelner said last week. "He chose language that honors the values instilled by his parents - Ed, also a Purdue alumnus, and Glenda, who recently passed away."
The McCrackens were being supported in the dispute by the Liberty Institute, a Plano, Texas-based conservative advocacy group.