Statement of the Board of Visitors of The College of William and Mary

February 8, 2007

Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch!news&s=1045855934842

The President's decision to alter the policy governing the display of the cross inside Wren Chapel has sparked a vigorous and passionate debate about religion, history, tradition, values and diversity. The Board of Visitors has heard from countless people both supporting and opposing the decision. Today, in an unprecedented move, the Board of Visitors invited individuals from several constituencies with diverse viewpoints to share their views on this controversial issue. We are grateful for their counsel. While the debate has separated pros and cons into separate camps, what is most inspiring is what binds them rather than divides them a deep, unflinching love of William and Mary. We love its history and tradition. We love its singularly unique character. We love our experiences and the memories that have made indelible marks on our lives. And we love the promise that the College's greatest days remain ahead. It is the depth of this feeling that explains why so much passion has come to the surface over this issue.

The Wren Chapel is a particularly unique and special place. It both serves as a vital link to our celebrated past and as a modern, living space for religious and spiritual observance. We must preserve both aspects of its character or something profound will be lost. The Board believes the inherent nature of the building is now and should forever be a Chapel and that its religious heritage is indispensible to its historical character. Whether eternally present or not, a single religious symbol does not itself change that character of a holy place.

President Nichol made a decision to alter the policy governing the display of the cross with the sincere intention of striking a balance between the growing religious diversity of our students and the College's Christian heritage. As he has explained artfully, he cares deeply for William and Mary and the change was intended to promote important values of inclusion and diversity values the Board certainly shares. His motives were sincere and his objectives noble. Of this, we are uniformly convinced.

In handling this matter, however, even President Nichol has acknowledged that mistakes have been made. As he freely admits, the President is new and he is learning. A decision, such as this one, that so deeply affects the history and traditions of our school and bears on its values, past and present, should be a shared one. It should be a product of collective thought, discussion and even debate. It is a decision that should involve all stakeholders including the Board, alumni, faculty, students and long loyal friends of the College. We owe it to our community to do better and are persuaded that President Nichol agrees.