Wren Cross Controversy Wins 'Campus Outrage' Award

By Payton Hoegh | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - William and Mary President Gene Nichol's decision to remove the historic Wren Cross from a campus chapel received an "award" this week for the most "outrageous" campus controversy of the year.

The Collegiate Network (CN) each year sets out to expose egregious acts of intolerance by university officials to highlight what it describes as "the decline of education."

College students submit examples of politicization by campus officials, and from these, the CN chooses the five worst cases for its Campus Outrage Awards. The winning submission receives a cash prize.

"It was a tough choice as always," CN Executive Director Steve Klugewicz told Cybercast News Service on Friday. "We just thought that this was the most egregious [submission]."

Late last year, Nichol ordered the removal of the cross from the chapel on the grounds that he had received complaints about non-Christians being offended by its display.

The move drew criticism from students and alumni and was eventually overturned.

Klugewicz said Nichol had "told all these tall tales of Jewish students and Muslim students being offended," but when a Virginia state legislator asked him for evidence of the complaints, he had only been able to produce one letter.

Nichol had then "stonewalled on Freedom of Information Act requests ... asking for all the correspondence he received complaining about the cross," Klugewicz added.

"It was obviously his decision; he did it with no consultation. He just overthrew 70 years of tradition in the chapel. Claiming that it is offensive is ridiculous, and maybe the people who are offended -- if there were that many -- should learn a lesson in toleration themselves," he said.

Nichol drew further criticism shortly after his decision, when a "Sex Workers' Art Show" visited the campus. When Nichol was asked why he allowed the program to be held, he said that while he didn't approve of the show, "it is not the practice ... of universities to censor or cancel performances because they are controversial."

"The politically correct presidency of Gene Nichol is just so typical of the left-wing college president -- doing things in secret to try to secularize the campus and not stopping things that are obviously not in the students' interests," Klugewicz said.

"There are so many things wrapped up here. This is a specific case, but it is so symptomatic of what goes on with college presidents across the country," he said.

Michael Connelly, director of university relations at the school, responded to the award Thursday in an emailed statement to Cybercast News Service.

"William and Mary hopes to create citizen scholars, even though we don't always agree with them," he said.

Earlier, Connelly defended Nichol's decisions, telling Cybercast News Service that the president lacked the power to stop the sex workers' show.

The Collegiate Network says on its website that it "focuses public awareness on the politicization of American college and university classrooms."

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