Is this committee really necessary?

Not long ago, I wrote about the controversy at the College of William & Mary over the unilateral decision of its President Gene Nichol to remove the cross from the college’s Wren Chapel. In light of his unwillingness to consult with others prior to making his decision, as well as his wife’s past actions as counsel for the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, it seemed to me that Nichol was imposing his sensibilities on the rest of the college community under the pretense that the cross offends “others.”
Nonetheless, as the Washington Times reports, Nichol is sticking to his guns. At his recent “state of the college” address, Nichol defended his decision and announced that he will create a “presidential committee” to study the role of religion at public universities.
The need for such a committee, if one exists, appears to stem largely from Nichol’s decision to remove the cross and from the ensuing uproar (in that sense, it’s almost as if then President Clinton had formed a committee to study the problem of presidents having sex with interns). Since Nichol regards his decision on the cross as final, it’s difficult to avoid the suspicion that he hopes to use the new committee to wage new wars against the college’s Christian community, as his wife did at UNC.
Nichol’s implicit claim that there is a broad issue in need of study also seems inconsistent with his assertion that the decision to remove the Wrenn cross stemmed from very specific and narrow concerns having to do with the special role of the Wren chapel in college life and the particular experiences in the chapel of a few prospective students. Nichol’s good faith seems very much open to question.
On the plus side, though, law professor Alan Meese, leader of the faculty assembly, will co-chair the committee. Meese was a law clerk for the outstanding appeals court judge Frank Easterbrook and for then Justice Scalia. Perhaps Meese will be able to ensure that the committee does no harm.
Those wishing to learn more about these developments and/or sign a petition in favor of reversing Nichol’s cross removal decision can go here.


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